Using Raspberry Pi GPIO Without Python

I’ve been wanting to play with the Raspberry Pi’s GPIO (General Purpose Input/Output) pins for a while now and started googling around for how to do it. As expected, lots of beginner tutorials came up, but they all seemed to require Python, specifically the RPi.GPIO library. As great as Python is, I wanted to know how to use the pins without Python.

The obvious place to look was the RPi.GPIO library itself. I downloaded the tar.gz of the library (in my case, v0.1.0) and opened up RPi/GPIO/ This version of RPi.GPIO was super easy to parse. Looking around, I started to see lots of lines like:

with open('/sys/class/gpio/export', 'w') as f:

I hadn’t explored the /sys/ directory before, but this seemed like what I was looking for. A quick google search led me to this StackOverflow post and the libudev and Sysfs Tutorial. Essentially, /sys/class contains directories for each class of devices attached to the system. Most of these are actually symlinks to locations in /sys/devices, which contains the hierarchy of devices as they are attached to the computer.

So, the Python snippet above is writing to files in /sys/class/gpio, which ultimately controls the pins. Exactly what I was looking for.

With this knowledge, I cded into /sys/class/gpio to look around. An ls shows:

export  gpiochip0  unexport

Taking the lead from RPi.GPIO, I chose a pin on the Raspberry Pi (a logical pin, not a physical pin) and exported it:

echo "11" > export

Doing another ls in the same directory now shows:

export  gpio11  gpiochip0  unexport

where gpio11 is a directory. I cded into this directory and did an ls, which shows:

active_low  device  direction  edge  subsystem  uevent  value

Reading through the Python code, there were only a few things left to do. I wanted to confirm that I could activate this pin through some simple shell commands, so I wired it up with an LED and a resistor so it could function as an output device. Given this, the next step was to provide a direction (which must be one of “in” or “out”; it throws an error otherwise):

echo "out" > direction

And lastly, I needed to set a value to the pin:

echo "1" > value

And the LED turned on.

I’m sure there was a more obvious way I could have figured this all out, but nonetheless I accomplished my goal and learned some cool things in the process. Following the lead of RPi.GPIO, it’d be easy to implement GPIO in any other language, or perhaps even expand upon the use of /sys/class to interact with other devices.