How To Install and Use RetroArch on Linux

RetroArch is a popular collection of the best free emulators for the PC. It opens up a world of thousands of classic games across multiple consoles. Unlike more “hackish” emulation solutions, RetroArch is made for mainstream use, meaning it features a complete and polished interface that just about anyone can use to play their favorite games.

In this tutorial you will learn:

  • How to Install RetroArch on Ubuntu
  • How to Install RetroArch on Debian
  • How to Install RetroArch on Arch Linux
  • How to Install RetroArch with Flatpak
  • How to Navigate RetroArch
  • Play A Game With RetroArch

Install RetroArch

Install RetroArch.

Software Requirements and Conventions Used

Software Requirements and Linux Command Line Conventions
Category Requirements, Conventions or Software Version Used
System Any Modern Linux Distribution
Software RetroArch
Other Privileged access to your Linux system as root or via the sudo command.
Conventions # – requires given linux commands to be executed with root privileges either directly as a root user or by use of sudo command
$ – requires given linux commands to be executed as a regular non-privileged user

How to Install RetroArch

RetroArch officially packages for a few distributions, but for everyone else, Flatpak is a supported option.

How to Install RetroArch on Ubuntu

RetroArch is available for Ubuntu via a PPA maintained by the RetroArch developers. Start off by adding it to your system.

$ sudo add-apt-repository ppa:libretro/stable

Then, update Apt for the new source.

$ sudo apt update

Finally, install RetroArch and all associated packages for a complete and fully functional install.

$ apt install retroarch libretro-*

How to Install RetroArch on Debian

Once again, Debian isn’t officially supported, but it’s completely possible to hack together an install with the Ubuntu PPA. If you’re not comfortable doing this, skip down to the Flatpak install.

Create a new file at /etc/apt/sources.list.d/libretro-bionic.list. Then, open it with your preferred text editor, and add in the following two lines.

deb bionic main 
deb-src bionic main

Next, import the key for the PPA

$ sudo apt-key adv -- keyserver --recv-keys 3B2BA0B6750986899B189AFF18DAAE7FECA3745F

Update Apt, and install RetroArch.

$ sudo apt update
$ sudo apt install retroarch libretro-*

How to Install RetroArch on Arch Linux

RetroArch is in the official Arch Linux repositories. Go ahead an install it with pacman.

# pacman -S retroarch

If you’d prefer the latest version from Git, you can get that too from the AUR

# yaourt -Sy retroarch-git

How to Install RetroArch with Flatpak

Of course, if you’re not using one of the supported distributions, Flatpak is a great option to get continually updated releases of RetroArch. Start by adding the Flathub repository, if you don’t already have it.

$ flatpak remote-add --user --if-not-exists flathub

Now, install RetroArch with Flatpak.

$ flatpak install --user flathub org.libretro.RetroArch

How to Navigate RetroArch

RetroArch on Debian

RetroArch on Debian.

RetroArch is a graphical application, so go ahead and locate it under the “Games” section of your desktop environment’s launcher, and start it.

If you’re familiar with the Sony PSP or the PS3, the RetroArch interface should instantly be familiar to you. There is a list of heading categories across the top and a list of options to select under each. It’s easiest to navigate RetroArch using your keyboard.

The first column contains your game controls and everything you need to load and play your games. The second is the settings column. The others aren’t nearly as important, save the last one that allows you to scan for and import games.

Play A Game With RetroArch

Look For Games on RetroArch

Look For Games on RetroArch.

Adding games to RetroArch is simple. Start by sliding over to the import tab. It’s the one with the plus sign icon. Then, select the option to scan a directory.

Scan Your ROM Folder on RetroArch

Scan Your ROM Folder on RetroArch.

Search for the folder containing your ROMs. When you arrive in the directory, select the option to “Scan This Directory.” It will probably only take a second or two for RetroArch to sort through and pull out any compatible games.

Start a Game on RetroArch

Start a Game on RetroArch.

Back out to the top column listing. You should see a new column available for the console that you imported games from. The icon will look like that console’s controller. Slide over to it, and the options below will be your games. Select the one you want to play.

Game Running on RetroArch

Game Running on RetroArch.

Your game will start up just like it did on the actual console.


You’re now ready to build your virtual game collection and enjoy some old favorites again. Remember that ROMs fall into a legal gray area, so the safest route is to only download games which you have physical copies of.

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