Access your Raspberry Pi from your PC with SSH

Forget screens and keyboards - use your PC to access your Raspberry Pi

Putty Terminal Emulator
The Putty Terminal Emulator. Richard Saville

The Raspberry Pi has a great headline price of $35, but that doesn't take into account most of the peripherals and other hardware required to actually use it. 

Once you add the price of screens, mice, keyboards, HDMI cables and other parts, it soon pushes past double the cost of the board alone.

There's also working space to consider - not everyone has a second desk or table to hold the full desktop Raspberry Pi setup.

One solution to these problems is SSH, which stands for 'Secure Shell', and offers you a way to avoid these cost and space requirements.

What is Secure Shell?

Wikipedia tells us that Secure Shell is "a cryptographic network protocol for operating network services securely over an unsecured network". 

I prefer a simpler explanation - it's just like running a terminal window, but it's on your PC instead of the Pi, made possible via a WiFi/network connection allowing your PC and Pi to talk to each other.

When you connect your Raspberry Pi to your home network it's given an IP address. Your PC, using a simple terminal emulator program, can use that IP address to 'talk to' your Pi and give you a terminal window on your computer's screen.

This is also known as using your Pi 'headless'.

Terminal Emulator

A terminal emulator does exactly what it says -  it emulates a terminal on your computer. In this example, we're emulating a terminal for the Raspberry Pi, but it's not limited to that.

I'm a Windows user, and ever since I started using the Raspberry Pi I've used a very simple terminal emulator called Putty.

Putty feels a little old school but it does its job very well. There are other emulator options out there, but this one is free and reliable.

Get Putty

Putty is free, so all you need to do is download it from here.

I always download the ​.exe file.

One thing to be aware of is that Putty doesn't install like other programs, it's just an executable program/icon. I recommend moving this to your desktop for easy access.

Starting a Terminal Session

Open up Putty and you'll be presented with a small window - that's Putty, nothing more nothing less.

With your Raspberry Pi turned on and connected to your network, find out its IP address. I usually use an app like Fing or manually find it by accessing my router setting via my browser with 192.168.1.1.

Type that IP address into the 'Host Name' box, then enter '22' into the 'Port' box. All you need to do now is click 'Open' and you should see a terminal window appear within a few seconds.

Putty Connects Serial Too

Serial connections are really handy with the Raspberry Pi. They allow you to access your Pi via some GPIO pins using a special cable or add-on, which connects to your PC via USB.

It's also really handy if you haven't got a network available, providing another way to access your Pi from your PC using Putty.

Setting up a serial connection usually requires a special chip and circuit, but most people use cables or add-ons that have these built in.

I haven't had much luck with the various cables on the market, so instead, I use either my Wombat board from Gooligum Electronics (with its built-in serial chip) or the dedicated Debug Clip from RyanTeck.

Putty Forever?

Whilst there are some limitations to using Putty over a desktop setup, I've personally managed without a dedicated screen and keyboard ever since my introduction to the Raspberry Pi.

If you want to use Raspbian desktop applications then you will, of course, need to go down the screen route, unless you harness the power of SSH's big brother - VNC. I'll cover that in a separate article soon.