Adding a LCD to any project immediately kicks it up a notch. This tutorial explains how to connect an inexpensive HDD44780 compatible LCD to the Raspberry Pi using 6 GPIO pins. While there are other ways to connect using I2C or the UART, this is the most direct method that gets right down to the bare metal.

This technique:

  • allows for inexpensive LCDs to be used
  • does not require any i2c drivers
  • won't steal the only serial port on the Pi.

The example Python code sends date, time, and the Pi's ip address to the display. If you are running a Pi in headless mode, being able to determine the IP address at a glance is really handy.

To Follow This Tutorial You Will Need

You can use nearly any character LCD with this tutorial - it will work with 16x1, 16x2, 20x2, 20x4 LCDs. It will not work with 40x4 LCDs

Wiring the Cobbler to the LCD


Whenever you come across a LCD that looks like it has 16 connectors it is most likely using a HD44780 controller. These devices provide the same pinouts making them relatively easy to work with. The LCD uses a parallel interface meaning that we will need many pins from our raspberry pi to control it. In this tutorial we will use 4 data pins (4-bit mode) and two control pins.

The data pins are straightforward. They are sending data to the display (toggled high/low). We will only be using write mode and not reading any data.

The register select pin has two uses. When pulled low it can send commands to the LCD (like position to move to, or clear the screen). This is referred to as writing to the instruction or command register. When toggled the other way (1) the register select pin goes into a data mode and will be used to send data to the screen.

The read/write pin will be pulled low (write only) as we only want to write to the LCD based on this setup.

The enable pin will be toggled to write data to the registers.

LCD Pinout

  1. Ground
  2. VCC - 5v not 3.3v
  3. Contrast adjustment (VO) from potentiometer
  4. Register Select (RS). RS=0: Command, RS=1: Data
  5. Read/Write (R/W). R/W=0: Write, R/W=1: Read (we won't use this pin)
  6. Clock (Enable). Falling edge triggered
  7. Bit 0 (Not used in 4-bit operation)
  8. Bit 1 (Not used in 4-bit operation)
  9. Bit 2 (Not used in 4-bit operation)
  10. Bit 3 (Not used in 4-bit operation)
  11. Bit 4
  12. Bit 5
  13. Bit 6
  14. Bit 7
  15. Backlight LED Anode (+)
  16. Backlight LED Cathode (-)
Before wiring, check that your LCD has an LED backlight, not an EL backlight. LED backlights use 10-40mA of power, EL backlights use 200+ma! EL backlights are often cheap to get but are not usable, make sure you don't use one or you will overload the Pi. Some cheap LCDs that have LED backlights do not include a resistor on the LCD module for the backlight, if you're not sure, connect a 1Kohm resistor between pin 15 and 5V instead of connecting directly. All Adafruit LCDs have LED backlights with built in resistors so you do not need an extra resistor!

    Wiring Diagram

    First, connect the Cobbler power pins to the breadboard power rail. +5.0V from the Cobbler goes to the red striped rail (red wire) and GND from the cobbler goes to the blue striped rail (black wire)

    In order to send data to the LCD we are going to wire  it up as follows

    • Pin #1 of the LCD goes to ground (black wire)
    • Pin #2 of the LCD goes to +5V (red wire)
    • Pin #3 (Vo) connects to the middle of the potentiometer (orange wire)
    • Pin #4 (RS) connects to the Cobbler #25 (yellow wire)
    • Pin #5 (RW) goes to ground (black wire)
    • Pin #6 (EN) connects to Cobbler #24 (green wire)
    • Skip LCD Pins #7, #8, #9 and #10
    • Pin #11 (D4) connects to cobbler #23 (blue wire)
    • Pin #12 (D5) connects to Cobbler #17 (violet wire)
    • Pin #13 (D6) connects to Cobber #21 (gray wire)
    • Pin #14 (D7) connects to Cobber #22 (white wire)
    • Pin #15 (LED +) goes to +5V (red wire)
    • Pin #16 (LED -) goes to ground (black wire)

    Then connect up the potentiometer, the left pin connects to ground (black wire) and the right pin connects to +5V (red wire)

    If you're using a Cobbler Plus with a B+ or Pi 2, the pins will be arranged somewhat differently.

    Here's a sketch of the Cobbler Plus version:


    5v LCD vs 3.3v Pi

    The raspberry Pi GPIOs are designed for 3.3v, but our LCD is a 5v device. It's fine to use a 5v display, but only if we are sending data out of the Pi. We are not going to use the 3.3v power rail on the Cobbler, and we will tie the RW (read/write) pin of the display to GND as we do not want the display sending a 5v signal into the Pi.

    Don't cross the streams!

    Preparing the LCD

    Before you start, make sure you have a strip of 0.1" male header and a 10K potentiometer. All Adafruit Character LCDs come with these parts so you should be good to go.

    Most LCDs have a strip of 16 pins on the top, if the header is a little longer, just break it off until its the right length

    Next you'll need to solder the header to the LCD. You must do this, it is not OK to just try to "press fit" the LCD!

    Start by connecting the 5V and GND wires from the cobbler to the breadboard. Then connect pins #1, #2 and #15, #16 to the breadboard power rails as shown. The backlight should come on. If it doesn't, check the wiring!
    Next, wire up the contrast potentiometer as shown above, with the middle pin connecting to LCD pin #3 and the other two pins going to 5V and ground.

    Twist the potentiometer until you see the first line of the LCD fill with boxes. If you don't see the boxes, check your wiring!
    Finish the wiring for the RS, RW, EN, D4, D5, D6, and D7 pins as shown in the diagram up top

    That's it! Now you're ready to run the Python script to draw text on the screen!

    Necessary Packages

    This guide is based on Debian's "Wheezy" release for Raspberry Pi. It was made available in Mid July 2012. The following items must be installed in order to utilize the Raspberry Pi's GPIO pins.

    Add the latest dev packages for Python (2.x):

    $ sudo apt-get install python-dev
    Upgrade distribute (required for RPi.GPIO 0.3.1a) - [No image for this one]
    $ sudo apt-get install python-setuptools
    $ sudo easy_install -U distribute
    $ sudo apt-get install python-pip

    Install rpi.gpio (0.3.1a) or later:

    $ sudo pip install rpi.gpio

    Python Script

    NOTE: This page describes an older version of the Raspberry Pi character LCD Python code.

    You can find a newer library that works on more platforms like the Raspberry Pi and BeagleBone Black by checking out the new character LCD Python library guide. For new projects it's recommended to use the new library!

    The Code

    The Python code for Adafruit's Character LCDs on the Pi is available on Github at  https://github.com/adafruit/Adafruit-Raspberry-Pi-Python-Code

    There are two files we will be working with:

    1. Adafruit_CharLCD.py - contains python class for LCD control
    2. Adafruit_CharLCD_IPclock_example.py - code for IP address and date/time calls methods from Adafruit_CharLCD.py

    The first file, Adafruit_CharLCD.py is a mashup from two different sources of LCD code. Github user lrvick put together a nice python class. His work is the baseline that is slowly being changed as we are bringing in more elements from the Arduino LiquidCrystal library

    The easiest way to get the code onto your Pi is to hook up an Ethernet cable, and clone it directly using 'git', which is installed by default on most distros.  Simply run the following commands from an appropriate location (ex. /home/pi):

    apt-get install git
    git clone git://github.com/adafruit/Adafruit-Raspberry-Pi-Python-Code.git
    cd Adafruit-Raspberry-Pi-Python-Code
    cd Adafruit_CharLCD


     You can test the wiring from the previous step by simply running the  Adafruit_CharLCD.py Python code, as it has a little code it in that will simply display a test message when wired correctly

    You can use nano Adafruit_CharLCD.py to edit.

    chmod +x Adafruit_CharLCD.py
    sudo ./Adafruit_CharLCD.py

    IP Clock Example

    This script assumes you'll want to display the Ethernet (eth0) IP address. You may want to replace eth0 with wlan0 or wlan1 (etc) for Wireless IP address!
    from Adafruit_CharLCD import Adafruit_CharLCD
    from subprocess import *
    from time import sleep, strftime
    from datetime import datetime
    lcd = Adafruit_CharLCD()
    cmd = "ip addr show eth0 | grep inet | awk '{print $2}' | cut -d/ -f1"
    def run_cmd(cmd):
            p = Popen(cmd, shell=True, stdout=PIPE)
            output = p.communicate()[0]
            return output
    while 1:
            ipaddr = run_cmd(cmd)
            lcd.message(datetime.now().strftime('%b %d  %H:%M:%S\n'))
            lcd.message('IP %s' % ( ipaddr ) )

    Running the Code

    Start the IP + Clock example

    $ sudo ./Adafruit_CharLCD_IPclock_example.py 

    What You Should See

    Init Script

    It's all fine and dandy to have a script like Adafruit_CharLCD_IPclock_example.py  which we can manually run, but wouldn't it be nice to have the time and ip address pop up on the display when the raspberry pi boots up? This is done using an init script which runs the Adafruit_CharLCD_IPclock_example.py code on boot and kills it during system shut down.

    Paste this code into /etc/init.d/lcd (you will need to use sudo to write to this directory):

    # Provides: LCD - date / time / ip address
    # Required-Start: $remote_fs $syslog
    # Required-Stop: $remote_fs $syslog
    # Default-Start: 2 3 4 5
    # Default-Stop: 0 1 6
    # Short-Description: Liquid Crystal Display
    # Description: date / time / ip address
    #! /bin/sh
    # /etc/init.d/lcd
    export HOME
    case "$1" in
            echo "Starting LCD"
            /home/pi/Adafruit-Raspberry-Pi-Python-Code/Adafruit_CharLCD/Adafruit_CharLCD_IPclock_example.py  2>&1 &
            echo "Stopping LCD"
    	LCD_PID=`ps auxwww | grep Adafruit_CharLCD_IPclock_example.py | head -1 | awk '{print $2}'`
    	kill -9 $LCD_PID
            echo "Usage: /etc/init.d/lcd {start|stop}"
            exit 1
    exit 0

    You should change
    /home/pi/Adafruit-Raspberry-Pi-Python-Code/Adafruit_CharLCD/Adafruit_CharLCD_IPclock_example.py to where-ever you are actually keeping the IPclock Python script.

    Make the init script executable:

    sudo chmod +x /etc/init.d/lcd

    Make the lcd init script known to the system by using the update-rc.d command:

    sudo update-rc.d lcd defaults

    Now on each boot the LCD will automatically show the date/time/ip address on startup. This means you will know when the Pi is reachable and what the ip address is without having to plug a monitor in.

    You can stop the clock program by running:

    sudo /etc/init.d/lcd stop

    Time Zone

    Last, but not least: My Pi came configured with UT (Universal Time). I prefer to see time based on my time zone, which is Mountain. Here is how to configure time on the Pi for any location. This is a one time configuration setting that will survive between reboots.

    $ sudo dpkg-reconfigure tzdata
    The command launches a curses based program which allows arrow keys to be used to select the region specific time zone. 
    This guide was first published on Aug 17, 2012. It was last updated on Aug 17, 2012.