Raspberry Pi


Raspbian (other Linux distros may work as well).


  • Works without X11
  • Hardware accelerated OpenGL ES 2.x
  • Sound via ALSA
  • Input (mouse/keyboard/joystick) via EVDEV
  • Hotplugging of input devices via UDEV

Raspbian Build Dependencies

sudo apt-get install libudev-dev libasound2-dev libdbus-1-dev

You also need the VideoCore binary stuff that ships in /opt/vc for EGL and OpenGL ES 2.x, it usually comes pre-installed, but in any case:

sudo apt-get install libraspberrypi0 libraspberrypi-bin libraspberrypi-dev


If your Pi has NEON support, make sure you add -mfpu=neon to your CFLAGS so that SDL will select some otherwise-disabled highly-optimized code. The original Pi units don't have NEON, the Pi2 probably does, and the Pi3 definitely does.

Cross compiling from x86 Linux

To cross compile SDL for Raspbian from your desktop machine, you‘ll need a Raspbian system root and the cross compilation tools. We’ll assume these tools will be placed in /opt/rpi-tools

sudo git clone --depth 1 https://github.com/raspberrypi/tools /opt/rpi-tools

You‘ll also need a Raspbian binary image. Get it from: http://downloads.raspberrypi.org/raspbian_latest After unzipping, you’ll get file with a name like: “-wheezy-raspbian.img” Let's assume the sysroot will be built in /opt/rpi-sysroot.

export SYSROOT=/opt/rpi-sysroot
sudo kpartx -a -v <path_to_raspbian_image>.img
sudo mount -o loop /dev/mapper/loop0p2 /mnt
sudo cp -r /mnt $SYSROOT
sudo apt-get install qemu binfmt-support qemu-user-static
sudo cp /usr/bin/qemu-arm-static $SYSROOT/usr/bin
sudo mount --bind /dev $SYSROOT/dev
sudo mount --bind /proc $SYSROOT/proc
sudo mount --bind /sys $SYSROOT/sys

Now, before chrooting into the ARM sysroot, you'll need to apply a workaround, edit $SYSROOT/etc/ld.so.preload and comment out all lines in it.

sudo chroot $SYSROOT
apt-get install libudev-dev libasound2-dev libdbus-1-dev libraspberrypi0 libraspberrypi-bin libraspberrypi-dev libx11-dev libxext-dev libxrandr-dev libxcursor-dev libxi-dev libxss-dev
sudo umount $SYSROOT/dev
sudo umount $SYSROOT/proc
sudo umount $SYSROOT/sys
sudo umount /mnt

There‘s one more fix required, as the libdl.so symlink uses an absolute path which doesn’t quite work in our setup.

sudo rm -rf $SYSROOT/usr/lib/arm-linux-gnueabihf/libdl.so
sudo ln -s ../../../lib/arm-linux-gnueabihf/libdl.so.2 $SYSROOT/usr/lib/arm-linux-gnueabihf/libdl.so

The final step is compiling SDL itself.

export CC="/opt/rpi-tools/arm-bcm2708/gcc-linaro-arm-linux-gnueabihf-raspbian/bin/arm-linux-gnueabihf-gcc --sysroot=$SYSROOT -I$SYSROOT/opt/vc/include -I$SYSROOT/usr/include -I$SYSROOT/opt/vc/include/interface/vcos/pthreads -I$SYSROOT/opt/vc/include/interface/vmcs_host/linux"
mkdir -p build;cd build
LDFLAGS="-L$SYSROOT/opt/vc/lib" ../configure --with-sysroot=$SYSROOT --host=arm-raspberry-linux-gnueabihf --prefix=$PWD/rpi-sdl2-installed --disable-pulseaudio --disable-esd
make install

To be able to deploy this to /usr/local in the Raspbian system you need to fix up a few paths:

perl -w -pi -e "s#$PWD/rpi-sdl2-installed#/usr/local#g;" ./rpi-sdl2-installed/lib/libSDL2.la ./rpi-sdl2-installed/lib/pkgconfig/sdl2.pc ./rpi-sdl2-installed/bin/sdl2-config

Apps don't work or poor video/audio performance

If you get sound problems, buffer underruns, etc, run “sudo rpi-update” to update the RPi's firmware. Note that doing so will fix these problems, but it will also render the CMA - Dynamic Memory Split functionality useless.

Also, by default the Raspbian distro configures the GPU RAM at 64MB, this is too low in general, specially if a 1080p TV is hooked up.

See here how to configure this setting: http://elinux.org/RPiconfig

Using a fixed gpu_mem=128 is the best option (specially if you updated the firmware, using CMA probably won‘t work, at least it’s the current case).

No input

Make sure you belong to the “input” group.

sudo usermod -aG input `whoami`

No HDMI Audio

If you notice that ALSA works but there's no audio over HDMI, try adding:


to your config.txt file and reboot.

Reference: http://www.raspberrypi.org/phpBB3/viewtopic.php?t=5062

Text Input API support

The Text Input API is supported, with translation of scan codes done via the kernel symbol tables. For this to work, SDL needs access to a valid console. If you notice there's no SDL_TEXTINPUT message being emitted, double check that your app has read access to one of the following:

  • /proc/self/fd/0
  • /dev/tty
  • /dev/tty[0...6]
  • /dev/vc/0
  • /dev/console

This is usually not a problem if you run from the physical terminal (as opposed to running from a pseudo terminal, such as via SSH). If running from a PTS, a quick workaround is to run your app as root or add yourself to the tty group, then re-login to the system.

sudo usermod -aG tty `whoami`

The keyboard layout used by SDL is the same as the one the kernel uses. To configure the layout on Raspbian:

sudo dpkg-reconfigure keyboard-configuration

To configure the locale, which controls which keys are interpreted as letters, this determining the CAPS LOCK behavior:

sudo dpkg-reconfigure locales

OpenGL problems

If you have desktop OpenGL headers installed at build time in your RPi or cross compilation environment, support for it will be built in. However, the chipset does not actually have support for it, which causes issues in certain SDL apps since the presence of OpenGL support supersedes the ES/ES2 variants. The workaround is to disable OpenGL at configuration time:

./configure --disable-video-opengl

Or if the application uses the Render functions, you can use the SDL_RENDER_DRIVER environment variable:

export SDL_RENDER_DRIVER=opengles2


  • When launching apps remotely (via SSH), SDL can prevent local keystrokes from leaking into the console only if it has root privileges. Launching apps locally does not suffer from this issue.