Programming Essentials for Single-Board Computers

author avatar
Programming Essentials for Single-Board Computers

Mastering the art of coding for the new age of compact computing.

Harnessing the Power of SBCs: An Introduction

Navigating the rapidly evolving world of Single-Board Computers (SBCs) requires adept programming skills, coupled with an in-depth understanding of various hardware and software components. Be it the design of a complex home automation system, the creation of a high-functioning robot, or the implementation of a comprehensive weather station, SBCs stand at the heart of such digital innovations. This article will guide you through the essential programming principles and practices for SBCs, to help you unlock their full potential.

Decoding SBCs: The Role of Programming Languages

The realm of SBC programming offers a multitude of languages, each with unique attributes that make them suited to specific tasks. The choice of language is determined by the project requirements and the underlying architecture of the SBC.


Python is a programming language popular among beginners due to its simplicity and clear syntax. It has both advantages and disadvantages when it comes to programming on SBC. With its extensive standard library and numerous third-party modules, Python can handle a wide range of applications, from data analysis to web development. Additionally, Python benefits from a large community, making finding support and solutions for specific needs easy. Its high-level abstractions and user-friendliness make it ideal for the rapid development and prototyping of SBC projects, facilitating faster iteration and experimentation.

However, Python can be slower due to its interpreted nature, which may not be suitable for high-performance and real-time systems. It requires more system resources, such as memory and processing power. Additionally, its high-level nature may limit direct control over hardware, which can be crucial in specific SBC applications like robotics.

C and C++

C and C++, in contrast, offer exceptional efficiency and performance compared to Python. These languages are compiled, granting programmers greater control over memory management and direct hardware interaction. As a result, C and C++ are preferred for developing real-time systems or applications that require precise synchronization, such as robotics or control systems in real-time using SBCs. Therefore, a solid foundation in C or C++ is essential when aiming for high-performance solutions in your project.

However, it's essential to note that C and C++ have more complex syntax and require a deeper understanding of programming concepts. Additionally, due to their low-level nature, development in C and C++ may take longer compared to higher-level languages. Therefore, these languages are less beginner-friendly and usually require more code and effort to achieve functionality comparable to that of higher-level languages.

Other languages

Other languages, such as JavaScript, Java, and Rust, also have their places in the SBC programming landscape, catering to specific project needs.

Java Script

JavaScript can be utilized in SBC projects that involve web-based interfaces or IoT applications requiring browser-based interactions. However, it's important to note that JavaScript's interpreted nature may lead to lower performance when compared to compiled languages like C or C++. As a result, there may be better choices for SBC applications that demand high performance or have resource constraints.


Java can be a good option for SBC projects that require cross-platform compatibility or enterprise-level applications where scalability, security, and reliability are essential. One of the key reasons for this suitability is Java's platform independence, extensive community support, and availability of numerous libraries. Moreover, Java benefits from a large global developer community, offering abundant resources for assistance. However, it's important to consider that Java may have higher execution overhead and memory consumption compared to lower-level languages.


Rust is an excellent programming language for SBC projects prioritizing high-performance and system-level programming. It provides memory security guarantees, which help prevent common programming errors, making it a compelling choice for developers. However, mastering Rust and its unique features may require additional time and effort. Additionally, it's worth noting that Rust's ecosystem is still evolving compared to more established languages, resulting in a relatively smaller collection of libraries and tools available.

Choosing the correct programming language for SBC projects depends on specific needs, performance requirements, and available resources. It's also important to consider the developer's familiarity and comfort level with the language. Once the suitable programming language has been selected, the next step is to create the development environment.

Preparing the Groundwork: Establishing the Development Environment

The process of setting up a development environment for SBCs is multi-faceted, encompassing the installation of an operating system, configuration of the necessary software, and setup of development tools. While the specifics can vary, a general understanding of these steps is crucial.

Most SBCs developers prefer Linux-based operating systems, primarily because of their versatility, configurability, and open-source nature. Some SBC manufacturers even provided personalized Linux distros, such as the case of Radxa APT, and step-by-step guides on how to install the operating system. 

Post the operating system installation, your attention should turn toward setting up the required development tools. For Python, this process might involve setting up a suitable text editor, such as Vim or Atom, and installing the Python interpreter. For languages like C or C++, you would need a comprehensive Integrated Development Environment (IDE) like Eclipse or Code::Blocks, coupled with a compiler such as GCC (GNU Compiler Collection).

Writing, Testing, and Debugging: The Programmer's Trifecta

Once your development environment is ready, you can begin to write, test, and debug code for your SBC. It involves a series of iterative steps where you write the code, run it to see if it works as expected, and debug any errors or performance issues.

A solid understanding of the SBC's architecture and the chosen programming language's syntax is key to writing efficient and functional code. Equally important is a systematic approach to testing. Unit tests, which test individual components of your code, and integration tests, which test how these components work together, are crucial for ensuring the reliability of your software.

During the process of writing and testing code, it is not uncommon for bugs to arise, and at times, they can be particularly challenging to identify. In such moments, the presence of a robust debugging tool and a well-defined strategy can significantly enhance your development experience. Tools like gdb (GNU Debugger) for C and C++, or pdb (Python Debugger) for Python, can be invaluable in tracking down and resolving issues.

Communicating with the Outside World: Interfacing with Peripherals

An integral part of working with SBCs is interfacing with peripherals. This could involve communicating with sensors, actuators, or other external hardware. It requires a good understanding of communication protocols such as SPI (Serial Peripheral Interface), I2C (Inter-Integrated Circuit), and UART (Universal Asynchronous Receiver/Transmitter).

By using these protocols, your SBC can read data from sensors, control motors, or even communicate with other SBCs or microcontrollers. It is here that programming an SBC becomes more than just writing code - it's about creating an interaction between the software and the physical world.

Programming with the ROCK series

The ROCK series, developed by OKdo and Radxa, offers developers a wide range of options for programming with SBCs. The ROCK series provides developers with a versatile and flexible platform to program and build applications using various programming languages. The ROCK boards can handle whether you prefer Python for its simplicity, C or C++ for their efficiency and direct hardware interaction, or other languages like JavaScript, Java, or Rust for specific project requirements.

Developers can access several features when using ROCK SBCs, such as wireless connections, GPIO (General Purpose Input/Output), and serial communication. Libraries and APIs available from different programming languages can make the use of peripherals easier and optimize their performance. This seamless integration enables the creation of innovative solutions across various application domains. 

The ROCK series can be used on a broad spectrum of applications. For smaller projects with low processing power needs, the ROCK 3C is an excellent choice. It offers sufficient capabilities for lightweight projects while maintaining energy efficiency. On the other hand, if your project involves high-demanding tasks like video processing or requires extensive storage capacity and camera connectivity, the ROCK 4 and ROCK 5 would be suitable options.


As you venture into the world of programming SBCs, remember that the journey is equally important as the destination. Each project is an opportunity to learn, grow, and refine your skills. With each line of code, you're not just programming an SBC - you're shaping the future of technology, one byte at a time.