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Make the Pi Higher [Configuring a Raspberry Pi for Node.js and web development]

Since the beginning of the year, I've been doing all my OSS project development on a Raspberry Pi 4 running Raspberry Pi OS (née Raspbian). It's not as powerful a machine as my Intel-based desktop PC running Windows, but it's much smaller, it uses much less power, it's completely silent, and it cost about 5% of the price. To be clear, I still do photo editing on Windows and the extra speed of the PC is nice for running unit tests - but most of the time I'm perfectly happy using the Pi.

There are some great resources for Setting up your Raspberry Pi. If you want to configure it for development work like I did, here are steps that worked for me. (They assume some familiarity with Linux, but not much.)

  1. Install Raspberry Pi OS (32-bit) with desktop
  2. sudo apt update
  3. sudo apt upgrade
  4. If you want to use the Xfce desktop environment:
    1. sudo apt install xfce4 xfce4-terminal
    2. sudo update-alternatives --config x-session-manager
    3. Choose startxfce4
  5. Install the Git UI tools and configure Git
    1. sudo apt install git-gui gitk
    2. Set your username in Git
    3. Set your commit email address in Git
    4. Connect to GitHub with SSH
  6. Install a current version of Node.js
  7. Install a community build of Visual Studio Code
    1. Trust the corresponding GPG key: wget -qO - | sudo apt-key add -
  8. Install the ARM build of Visual Studio Code
  9. Install Visual Studio Code via apt install code

Note: The community build of VS Code is the only part of this process that uses an unofficial release. I'd love for VS Code to support the Pi officially, but this issue from 2016 has not been addressed. Everything is official now that VS Code supports Raspberry Pi!

That's pretty much it! I really enjoy this minimalist configuration and find there are very few compromises with the Pi relative to a "real" computer. Plus, it's easy to swap drives (SD cards) and keep a set of different OS'es / configurations handy for experimenting and trying new things.

If you thought the Pi was just a toy, maybe it's time for another look!

Updated 2020-11-22 to link to official builds of Visual Studio Code for ARM.