DIY Gaming Linux

How to Install RetroPie as an App in Raspbian on Raspberry Pi

Christian Cawley 01-05-2018

Want to install RetroPie but don’t want to lose your existing Raspbian projects and environment? Not keen on the idea of dual booting? The answer is to install RetroPie as an application in Raspbian. In fact, it’s so simple, you’ll wonder why you didn’t do this way before.


You Don’t Always Need a Dedicated Disk Image

Raspberry Pi users have been sold the idea of having a single function for their computer. This single function is typically the Raspbian distro, which users are encouraged to reinstall for each major project. Not only does this reduce the lifespan of your SD card, it’s unnecessary.

The Raspberry Pi can support booting from USB devices, and it’s even possible to install multiple operating systems How to Dual Boot a Raspberry Pi Using BerryBoot Want to install multiple operating systems on your Raspberry Pi? Dual booting is the answer, and BerryBoot is one of the best tools for that. Read More on a HDD via BerryBoot.

In short, things have moved on since the Raspberry Pi first appeared in 2012. Dedicated disk images might be useful for Pi-based retro gaming projects, but if you want more of a versatile experience, Raspbian Stretch is more than adequate. We’ve already looked at how to install Kodi in Raspbian Raspberry Pi Media Center: How to Install Kodi on Raspbian If you want to turn your Raspberry Pi into a media center but you only have one microSD card, installing Kodi on Raspbian is the way to go. Read More , so let’s find out how to install and configure RetroPie.

What You’ll Need

As ever for a Raspberry Pi project, you’ll need a reliable power supply, a microSD card (at least 8GB, with Raspbian Stretch pre-installed), and a HDMI cable (unless you’re using a touchscreen display).

Manually install RetroPie on a Raspberry Pi


You’ll also need an Ethernet cable connection to your router (or Wi-Fi connectivity), a keyboard and mouse, and a game controller. Whether you keep these connected or not will depend on the type of games you intend to play.

Indeed, if you’re interested in a very particular type of game (such as those released for the Commodore 64), then a keyboard and two-button joystick will be all you need.

Configure Raspbian to Install RetroPie

To get started, boot up your Raspberry Pi, and change the locale options. This can be done in the command line using:

sudo raspi-config

Here, go to Localisation Options > Change Locale and scroll through the menu to select the en_US.UTF-8 UTF-8 option. Select OK to confirm, and wait while the change is made.


Manually install RetroPie on a Raspberry Pi

Then, reboot the Raspberry Pi with:

sudo reboot

You might prefer to use the desktop Raspberry Pi Configuration Tool, available in the Preferences menu. In this case, go to the Localization tab, select Set Locale, and choose the en_US.UTF-8 character set. You’ll be prompted to reboot, so click OK.

With the computer restarted, open a new terminal window and enter the command:


Check that each parameter has the en_US.UTF-8 value assigned.

Install RetroPie on Raspbian

Before you install RetroPie, you’ll need to ensure that git is installed in Raspbian:

sudo apt install git

With this done, you’re ready to install RetroPie:

git clone

Manually install RetroPie on a Raspberry Pi


The RetroPie-Setup folder will download, so change directory, and make the script executable:

cd RetroPie-Setup
chmod +x

You can now install RetroPie using the setup script:

sudo ./

Wait while this runs. Some additional packages may be installed. Once this is done, the RetroPie-Setup Script menu will appear. Select OK to close the intro screen, then choose 1. Basic install.

Manually install RetroPie on a Raspberry Pi

This installs all packages from the core and main RetroPie projects; select Yes to proceed, and wait as the emulation suite is installed.

This will take a while, and once done, you’ll be returned to the setup menu. Select R Perform Reboot, and select Yes to confirm.

Log In and Configure RetroPie

When the computer restarts, you’ll see the desktop at first; then this will close and display the command line interface. Login with the usual Raspberry Pi credentials. Once you’ve done that, run EmulationStation:


The user interface to RetroPie will load up, and you’ll be prompted to configure your controller. If you prefer to skip this and navigate via your keyboard, you can deal with the controller later.

Next, if you’re using wireless networking, rather than Ethernet, you’ll need to connect to your wireless network. Go to the RetroPie menu, then choose WiFi. Select 1 Connect to WiFi network and select the correct network name. Click OK, then enter the passkey, confirming with OK.

When this is done, wait for the menu to appear again; if successful, it should display the IP address for the wireless connection. Select Exit to close the menu.

Manually install RetroPie on a Raspberry Pi

As things stand, you’re ready to install BIOS files and game ROMs on your Raspberry Pi. But you might need some emulators first. You’ll find these via RetroPie > RetroPie Setup > M Manage packages. Here, select opt Manage optional packages, and find the one that suits the platform you wish to emulate.

Along with recognizable gaming platforms like the Nintendo 64 and Sega Dreamcast, you’ll find old 8-bit systems and even arcade games (always labelled “MAME”). Meanwhile, classic games ported to the Raspberry Pi 11 Classic Raspberry Pi Games You Can Play Without Emulators Want to play retro games on your Raspberry Pi? Here are the best classic games you can play without needing an emulator. Read More can be found in the list (such as Doom and Quake), as can the ScummVM program, which enables you to run certain point-and-click graphic adventure games.

When you find the emulator(s) you want to add, select them one at a time, using Install from source. This can take a while depending on how many (and which) emulators you have chosen. Click Back when you’re done until you return to the main RetroPie-Setup Script menu, then select R Perform reboot again.

BIOS and Game Files

In order to play games on RetroPie, you need a BIOS file for the emulator concerned, and ROM files for the games you want to play. Due to copyright law, we cannot link to these, but you should find what you need via Google. Note that if you’re using ROM files, you should already own a copy of the physical media.

Manually install RetroPie on a Raspberry Pi

When you have the files (ROM files should be saved to the appropriate emulator folder, BIOS files to the BIOS directory), you’ll be able to run the games in EmulationStation.

Usually, we would instruct you to do this via SSH or FTP from a second computer. However, this isn’t necessary if you can easily drop out of RetroPie and back to the PIXEL desktop in Raspbian. This way, you can use the Chromium browser to find and download your BIOS and ROM files, and save them to your Raspberry Pi.

Exiting RetroPie

To exit RetroPie, click the Start button (which you will have configured earlier) and select Quit > Quit EmulationStation, then when the command line appears, enter:

sudo systemctl start lightdm

This will restart the Pixel desktop on Raspbian, and you can continue using your Raspberry Pi as normal. Perhaps you have a project you’re developing? If not, there are many other great uses for a Raspberry Pi.

Whenever you want to launch RetroPie again, simply use the emulationstation command.

If you find yourself tiring of the standard interface, you can also dig into the settings and install a new theme on RetroPie How to Install New Themes on RetroPie for an Awesome New Look Bored with the default look of your RetroPie gaming system? Apply one of these awesome RetroPie themes to give it new life. Read More .

Remember, RetroPie isn’t the only retro gaming option for the Raspberry Pi. Other retro gaming methods for Raspberry Pi exist Retro Gaming on Raspberry Pi: Understanding ROMs, RetroPie, Recalbox, and More The Raspberry Pi is ideal for playing classic video games. Here's how to get started with retro gaming on your Raspberry Pi. Read More , although they may not support manual installation like RetroPie does. Now that you have access, why not build an NES or SNES Mini with RetroPie How to Build a Custom Raspberry Pi NES or SNES Classic Emulator With RetroPie Love retro gaming but can't afford the habit? Save cash on special editions---use a Raspberry Pi to play classic Nintendo games! Read More ? If you prefer handhelds, we’ve looked at how to build a Raspberry Pi Game Boy kit How to Build a Raspberry Pi Game Boy and Where to Buy a Kit Want to build your own Raspberry Pi Game Boy retro gaming console? Here are three methods you can use to do just that! Read More too.

Related topics: Raspberry Pi, Raspbian, Retro Gaming, RetroPie.

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  1. Fooooo
    September 11, 2019 at 1:06 pm

    "Raspbian distro, which users are encouraged to reinstall for each major project. Not only does this reduce the lifespan of your SD card.."

    The above IS a valid concern... HOWEVER running `` is going to be 10X harder on your SD card than any OS reinstall. Unfortunately isn't really a installer -- it actually compiles all of the source code for the project.

    Repeat: The disk I/O from compiling applications, far exceeds that of applying a new disk image.

    The perfect solution would be for RetroPie project to properly support .deb packages and make these available to Raspbian distros. Easier said than done - most of these upstream projects (the emulators, drivers etc) do not have any packaging support. So RetroPie is doing the best they can with the limited number of volunteers they have.

    Best suggestion is just swap SD cards when you want to swap between real Linux and RetroPie. Setup a way to copy your personal files onto Dropbox or another remote storage, so the impact of switching is minimal.

  2. nyden
    August 23, 2019 at 12:14 pm

    i can still use rasbian right?? its not permanent cause else no thank you

  3. Michael Steshenko
    June 18, 2019 at 1:12 am

    you can use startx command to get back to raspbian.

  4. Ekin Altunkaya
    May 2, 2019 at 3:54 pm

    I wont login raspberry pls help

  5. Jacob
    December 18, 2018 at 10:05 pm

    Great tutorial, had some problems with the locale settings.

  6. Guilherme Guimarães Machado Frota
    December 16, 2018 at 8:16 pm

    First of all, it would be great if Christian Cawley did a freaking research before writing the article.
    For all of those who want to get back to the desktop after the install just hit "ALT + F7.

    • Simon
      May 31, 2019 at 5:05 pm

      Just run "sudo ./" in the /RetroPie-Setup directory.

      1) Navigate to Configuration / tools -> splashscreen - Configure Splashscreen
      2) Disable splashscreen on boot
      2) Navigate to Configuration / tools -> autostart -> Then select "Boot to desktop (auto login)
      3) Perform reboot and you'll be back to your Desktop.

  7. Bob D
    October 7, 2018 at 5:33 pm

    Great Tut, until you get to the end and "sudo systemctl start lightdm" does nothing.

    Title was "How to Install RetroPie as an App in Raspbian on Raspberry Pi"

    Should be, "how to boot into RetroPie from Raspbian and get stuck there".

    • Keegan
      November 28, 2018 at 5:16 am

      I just did this and I don’t know what to do, any suggestions? Should I reboot and hold shift to overwright everything I’ve done so far??

      • Guilherme Guimarães Machado Frota
        December 16, 2018 at 8:11 pm

        Just hit "ALT + F7" to get back to the Desktop.

  8. Sigh
    October 7, 2018 at 5:33 pm

    Great Tut, until you get to the end and "sudo systemctl start lightdm" does nothing.

    Title was "How to Install RetroPie as an App in Raspbian on Raspberry Pi"

    Should be, "how to boot into RetroPie from Raspbian and get stuck there".

    • Casey
      November 4, 2018 at 8:50 am

      Yeah this article nukes your desktop raspbian into a useless boot screen. You can type sudo start lightdm after typing the first line and you'll get back to a very unresponsive desktop. I did a tutorial that actually does what this one tries. It basically installs retropie and creates an icon in the gaming menu. If you click the icon it will boot to retro pie and when you are finished it will reboot to Raspian desktop. I was looking for this same tut and found this page instead which ruins your raspian desktop. I am reflashing my card now and leaving this comment in the hopes they will update this article or delete it as it does not do what anyone is hoping for. Then I will link to the actual helpful article to save users after they have been burned by this tut.

      • E. W.
        November 10, 2018 at 9:48 pm

        Can you post that link? I had to reflash a backup image onto my SD card after following this article and I can't wait to do it right.

      • mdw
        November 12, 2018 at 5:53 pm

        can you please post a link?

    • Simon
      May 31, 2019 at 5:05 pm

      Just run "sudo ./" in the /RetroPie-Setup directory.

      1) Navigate to Configuration / tools -> splashscreen - Configure Splashscreen
      2) Disable splashscreen on boot
      2) Navigate to Configuration / tools -> autostart -> Then select "Boot to desktop (auto login)
      3) Perform reboot and you'll be back to your Desktop.

  9. Bob Ashford
    August 23, 2018 at 10:13 am

    “sudo systemctl start lightem” does not restart retropie

    • Adam
      October 7, 2018 at 4:42 pm

      Yes, everything worked great until the end. Now the Raspberry Pi first loads to the raspbian desktop then Auto drops to the prompt. Running retropie works fine, but when you exit and return to the prompt “sudo systemctl start lightdm” does nothing. Now I can't get back into the raspbian desktop. Fail.

      I thought the goal here was to have the normal raspbian desktop running with that environment while allowing retropie to run as an application launchable from that environment.

      Following this tutorial does the opposite, you wind up with a Raspberry Pi that boots to a prompt where you can't even get back into the raspbian desktop. I want to Launch retropie from raspbian desktop not the opposite.