Raspberry PI

Try a Linux project with the Pi, and hook it up to Xively


The Raspberry Pi (RPi) is a $35, credit-card sized computer that runs a full Linux distribution, and can be used for many of the things that you might use a normal desktop PC to do. You can plug in USB peripherals (keyboards, mice, etc.), output video via HDMI and DVI, or even composite out to an old analogue TV; and it can be used for many of the things that you might use a normal desktop PC to do.

Most importantly, it offers a capable and affordable prototyping platform for a wide range of IoT products, with onboard ethernet (in the Model B), plus a bunch of available GPIO (general purpose input/output) pins. And because it runs a full Linux distribution, you have available the enormous range of Linux libraries, software, and all other available tools.

The GPIO pins have true general purpose input/outputs, I2C interface pins (2-pin, SCL, SDA), SPI (MOSI, MISO, SCKL, select), serial Rx and Tx for communication with serial peripherals, 2PWM and PPM.

Specs Overview: (Raspberry Model A)

CPU Broadcom BCM2835
Operating Voltage 5V
Digital I/O Pins GPIO
Flash Memory 256 Mb RAM
Clock Speed 700 MHz


To build this tutorial, you’ll need the following components:

Raspberry Pi (Model B) $35
4GB SD Card $8
Ethernet cable $3
Micro USB 5V Power adapter $5
Video output cable OPTIONAL

Set up your Pi

If you already have your RPi up and running, you can skip right ahead to Write some code!. But if you are using your RPi for the first time, then read on for some suggestions about getting the board up and running.

Before you can start using your board, you need to prepare your SD card with the operating system for the Raspberry Pi. For our purposes we recommend sticking with the default distribution, which is called Raspbian. This is a Linux distribution based on the popular Debian distribution, but optimized for the Rasberry Pi. You’ll find download and installation instructions on the Raspberry Pi downloads page:


Note: It is possible to purchase SD cards which are preloaded with the Raspberry Pi operating system, but if you can’t or don’t want to this, then the initialization steps to create a new bootable image from the downloaded snapshot, are fairly straightforward.

Once you have an initialized SD card you need to:

  1. Insert the SD card into the RPi (it should be inserted with the label facing down).
  2. Plug an ethernet cable into the RPi to give it access to the web.
  3. Connect the 5V power adapter to the RPi’s micro USB port.

As soon as the power supply is connected the red LED marked “PWR” will turn on. The other LEDs will blink in various patterns, and after approximately 30 seconds, they’ll look like this:


which means the RPi has booted and is ready to go.

If you’ve had the board hooked up to a monitor or TV, then you’ll have seen some action during this boot process, and once the board has booted for the first time, you should find yourself in the raspi-config window. This little script is designed to help you to configure your board, and lets you do things like set the locale and time zone and many other admin tasks. If you are trying to set up the board headless (i.e. without an attached monitor), then read on. Otherwise, skip ahead to Configure your Pi.

If you don’t have an external monitor, you’ll instead need to configure the RPi by typed commands. Doing this requires a little bit more work, but not too much. The only tricky part is finding out the IP address of your RPi so that you can connect to it via the SSH protocol, which lets you start the configuration process. If your RPi is plugged into your router, then you should be able to obtain the IP address by opening the router control panel and looking for its list of attached devices. Alternatively, it’s possible to use a tool like nmap to scan your LAN and find the IP address of the RPi.

Once you have its IP address, then you should SSH into the box:

$ ssh pi@

When you get a login prompt, login with the password ‘raspberry’. You will then find yourself at a command prompt on the machine that looks something like this:

pi@raspberrypi ~ $

At this point you should run:

$ sudo raspi-config

then you’ll be at the same stage as those booting with an attached monitor.

Configure your Pi


At this point you can optionally change settings such as time zone and locale if you want, but the one important thing you should do is:

  1. Select expand_rootfs to expand the root filesystem to use all of the SD card.
  2. Answer yes to a reboot.
  3. When the RPi boots back up, login again.

At this point we’re ready to start developing our tutorial application.

Write some code!

We’re going to try writing a little Python demo app that reads the current load average from the board, and then publishes this value to a Xively feed. We’re going to assume in writing this that you are comfortable with editing code on the command line using an editor like Vim or Emacs, but if you have a monitor and attached keyboard/mouse, you can of course start the full desktop environment on the RPi, and use a more visual editor to edit the code.

However, even if you aren’t editing the code directly from the command line, you will still need command line access, as there are some commands you’ll need to execute from the command line to get things working.

We’ll also be assuming you are logged into your board as the pi user, as this is the default user account automatically set up on the board. If you have created a new user account that you are using, then it’s fine to use that account instead, though you’ll need to make sure the account you are using also has super user permissions. Alternatively you can just use the pi account for any commands that start with sudo, and for everything else your non super user account is fine.

Install system packages

Before we get started with our little example library, there are a few installation tasks you should probably do to get started.

First of all, let’s update the system software:

$ sudo apt-get update
$ sudo apt-get upgrade

Your Raspberry Pi will already have a suitable version of Python installed, however you’ll also need to install the Git version control system, to pull down the latest version of our library from Github. Fortunately on the Raspberry Pi this is as simple as running:

$ sudo apt-get install git

Next let’s install some system level packages to that will let us build our little app in a clean way.

$ sudo apt-get install python-setuptools
$ sudo easy_install pip
$ sudo pip install virtualenv

Now these packages are installed, we don’t need to install anything else at the system level.

Start building the app

Everything else we’re going to install at this point will be installed inside a virtualenv. If you aren’t familiar with virtualenv, there are many resources on it elsewhere, and it’s worth getting to grips with it for python development. For our purposes however, you should be able to just follow along by copying the commands below. The point is to create an isolated environment containing just the dependencies we need that doesn’t interfere with any other applications on the box.

So first let’s create a directory in which we’re going to work:

$ mkdir xively_tutorial
$ cd xively_tutorial

We’ll create a new virtualenv within this directory:

$ virtualenv .envs/venv

This creates an isolated python environment within the .envs/venv folder, but before we can start using it, we need to tell the current shell that this is the python environment we want to use. We do this by ‘activating’ the virtualenv:

$ source .envs/venv/bin/activate

At this prompt you should notice that your prompt has changed, indicating that we are now using the venv python.

Now can go ahead and install the Xively python library within our virtualenv:

$ pip install xively-python

This command should run for a few seconds, and you should see that it installs the Xively library, plus any dependencies that it requires, and you should also note that these dependencies are installed locally into the virtualenv.

At this point we’re almost ready to start writing our app, but before we do that we should create a Device and Feed on Xively.

Create a Device and Feed on Xively

  1. Open a web browser on your computer.
  2. Navigate to Develop.
  3. Add a new device. Call it “Raspberry Pi”, and set its privacy to ‘private’.
  4. On the device workbench take note of the Feed I, and Development API key that were automatically created for you as we’ll need them to get the RPi publishing data to the feed.

Write the code

  1. Within the xively_tutorial directory, use your favourite editor to create a file called xively_tutorial.py.
  2. Enter the following code into xively_tutorial.py:
#!/usr/bin/env python

import datetime
import os
import time
import xively

# extract feed_id and api_key from environment variables
FEED_ID = os.environ["FEED_ID"]
API_KEY = os.environ["API_KEY"]
DEBUG = os.environ["DEBUG"] or False

# initialize api client
api = xively.XivelyAPIClient(API_KEY)

# function to read 1 minute load average from system uptime command
def read_loadavg():
    if DEBUG:
        print "Reading load average"
    with open('/proc/loadavg') as loadavg:
        return loadavg.readline().split()[0]

# function to return a datastream object. This either creates a new datastream,
# or returns an existing one
def get_datastream(feed):
        datastream = feed.datastreams.get("load_avg")
        if DEBUG:
            print "Found existing datastream"
        return datastream
        if DEBUG:
            print "Creating new datastream"
        datastream = feed.datastreams.create("load_avg", tags="load_01")
    return datastream

# main program entry point - runs continuously updating our datastream with the
# current 1 minute load average
def run():
    print "Starting Xively tutorial script"

    feed = api.feeds.get(FEED_ID)

    datastream = get_datastream(feed)
    datastream.max_value = None
    datastream.min_value = None

    while True:
        load_avg = read_loadavg()

        if DEBUG:
            print "Updating Xively feed with value: %s" % load_avg

        datastream.current_value = load_avg
        datastream.at = datetime.datetime.utcnow()


if __name__ == '__main__':

Run the script:

  1. Pass into the script as environment variables the Feed ID and API key you created earlier.
  2. Pass in a DEBUG environment variable so that the script is a bit more chatty about what it’s doing.
  3. Enter a command like this:
$ export FEED_ID=12345
$ export DEBUG=true
$ python xively_tutorial.py

If all has gone according to plan the script should start without errors, and start printing out its debug messages.

If you get any errors at this point, make sure that you have properly activated your virtualenv, and that the Xively library plus dependencies are all installed properly.

Watch the Workbench

Hopefully you still have the device workbench still open in your browser, but if not than then reopen it. With the python script running on your Raspberry Pi you should now start to see requests coming through into the request log, and you should start to see the value of your load_avg channel updating in real time.

Take this code and run!

This starter code shows you the basics how to pull data from the Raspberry Pi, and send it to Xively using our Python library. From here, the opportunities are endless. Give these ideas a try:

  • Hook up some real sensors to the Raspberry Pi’s GPIO pins, and push this data to Xively.
  • Get your python script running as a service so that it automatically runs when your RPi boots.
  • Use your Raspberry Pi to subscribe to an existing feed over MQTT, and have it control or activate things in response to changes in that feed.