How to Open a Linux Shell on Your Raspberry Pi

Tyler Tyler (285)
Total time: 10 minutes 

Whether you're using a Raspberry Pi desktop or headless, you'll likely need to open a Linux shell at some point. In this guide, we'll define the term shell and show you how to open and use a shell on your Pi.

What is a shell?

A shell is a command line interpreter, meaning it is a program that receives a text input and executes commands on the system. It is an interface to the Unix system. Bash (Bourne-again shell) is the most common shell, but there are plenty of other commonly used shells, like tcsh, zsh, fish, and others.

On most systems, you have the option between a graphical user interface (GUI) and a command line interface (CLI). While the terms shell and cli can be confusing, we can simply say that we use the shell to access the cli. But in most contexts, these two terms can be used interchangeably.

Here's everything you'll need to complete this guide:

Raspberry PiRaspberry Pi×1
Open Terminal on Raspbian.
Open a Shell on your Raspberry Pi Desktop using Terminal.

If you're using PIXEL, Raspbian's Desktop for the Raspberry Pi (or some other Linux Desktop), you can open a shell using a terminal emulator. The name of the terminal emulator on Raspbian (and in most distributions) is appropriately named Terminal.

To open Terminal on Raspbian:

  1. Click on the Raspberry Icon.
  2. Click Accessories.
  3. Click Terminal.
SSH into your Raspberry Pi.
Open a shell on your Raspberry Pi using SSH.

If you're using Raspbian Lite or simply don't want to hook up a monitor and keyboard to your Pi, you can get a shell on your Pi using SSH (which means "secure shell").

In order to use SSH, you'll have to configure it. We've written a more detailed guide on using SSH on your Raspberry Pi, but I'll provide the high level instructions here. Be sure to check out the guide for more detailed instructions.

  1. Enable SSH on your Pi.
  2. Get the IP address and login credentials.
  3. Open a command line on another computer.
  4. Log in to your Pi using SSH.

Example SSH command:

ssh pi@