Thursday, 3 January 2013

New pylibftdi release - 0.11

'pylibftdi' is a library for talking to FTDI devices via the libftdi library. FTDI make a wide range of chipsets and modules for interfacing to a number of protocols via USB, including 8-bit parallel and RS232 serial modes. They're a great way of interfacing to other electronics from your computer.

I've just released pylibftdi 0.11. I'm at the point where I'm looking at getting to RC and then stable status, which I'll release as 1.0 - at which point the API will be considered stable. While it isn't yet, I've taken the opportunity to tidy a couple of things, as well as add some improvements.

Raspberry Pi support; better documentation

Though it worked previously, I've taken the opportunity to test it a bit on Raspberry Pi, and I've updated the docs describing udev rules which allow access to the devices without needing sudo / root access. I think this is now a good option if you want a bidirectional 8 bit port for your Raspberry Pi, and it's certainly lower risk of damaging your Pi than using the GPIO pins directly.

BitBangDevice changes

The new latch property

BitBangDevices provide a simple abstraction of a parallel IO device; a 'direction' property which controls which line is an input or output, and a 'port' property for the actual reads and writes. This is based on systems going all the way back to the BBC micro user port and earlier. direction maps to the 'Data Direction Register' of the Beeb, the 'TRISx' register of the Microchip PIC, and so on. port maps to the 'data' register of the Beeb, or the PORTx register of the Microchip PIC. Just as the PIC18F series introduced the 'LATx' register, so too does pylibftdi 0.11 introduce the latch. Read the documentation for more information - in most cases you simply don't need to care about this.


If a physical FTDI device is not reset between program runs, then it retains its output register state; a pin set high in one run of the program would still be high when the device was opened in a subsequent program run. Prior to pylibftdi v0.11, this was not taken into account, and the assumed state of all output pins was that they were at the reset state, i.e. all low. This meant that operations such as read-modify-write on port bits would not reflect the current state, as they do not do a read based on the output state of the port, but based on the internal view of what output values are set to.

With the change, the following will work as expected:

$ python
>>> from pylibftdi import BitBangDevice
>>> bb = BitBangDevice()
>>> bb.port |= 1
>>> ^D
$ python
>>> from pylibftdi import BitBangDevice
>>> bb = BitBangDevice()
>>> bb.port |= 2
>>> ^D

Previously, the final state of the device pins would have been '2'; the read-modify-write implied by |= 2 would have used '0' is its 'read' source, and have output '2'. The new code initialises the internal latch state to the value read from the pins (it's possible to read the actual state of output pins as well as input pins). With the latest version, the final state of the pins after the above will be '3' - both D0 and D1 set high.

API changes

I've always said in the README for pylibftdi that the API won't be stable until version 1.0, and I've changed two parameters only introduced in 0.10.x to have clearer names.

The following two parameters to the Device constructor have changed name:

interface -> interface_select
I considered interface too generic and unintuitive here. The values and behaviour for this parameter (which selects which interface to use on a multi-interface device) haven't changed.
buffer_size -> chunk_size
This is the maximum number of bytes which will be written / read at a time in read/write calls to the libftdi library, designed to ensure we are regularly executing at least some Python byte code, which we can then interrupt (timely Ctrl-C interruption is the primary use-case for this parameter). It was never about buffering, so I've changed the name to reflect this.

Other changes

The bit_server example now works properly; this can be run as:

$ python -m pylibftdi.examples.bit_server

and will start a basic CGI-based web server, open a web-browser talking to it (on port 8008 by default), and allow you to control the state of each of the 8 output lines on the connected device (which it sets to async bit-bang mode).

This will be further developed in the future - it looks somewhat rough right now :)

The led_flash example has also gained a feature in taking a command line argument of the rate at which to flash - defaulting to 1 Hz. To cause an LED (or a piezo buzzer works just as well - and more annoyingly!) to flash at 10Hz, run:

$ python -m pylibftdi.examples.led_flash 10

Coming next

I'm still trying to improve test coverage. I spent some time trying to port the tests to the Mock library, though my efforts at effectively patching at the ctypes DLL level weren't very successful.

Documentation continues, and thanks to the wonderful, the documentation isn't necessarily tied to the more sedate release cycle - it always shows the latest version from Bitbucket. If more API changes happen this could be counter-productive, but I'll try really hard to note if this is the case, and it makes things much nicer when updating things like installation instructions (which I have done, adding tested udev rules instructions etc).

libftdi 1.0 is just going through release candidate stage at the moment, so I'll test against that. I expect only the installation docs will need changes.

I've never tested pylibftdi on Windows, and I'm keen to do this in the near future, though I don't have regular access to a Windows machine, so no guarantees about this. I suspect it all 'just works'...


  1. Hi, I have been going through works and it is really cool. I was just wondering if I can some help of you. I have bough this Devantech usb to I2c adapter and trying to write data to eeprom m24mo2-dr, Initially I am trying to talk to this guy and know his version number. But I am not successful so far, as it used this FTDI 232rq chp, I hope u can help me a bit. please. is my id

    1. I've emailed you, hopefully I can help!

  2. Thank you so much, I have forwarded you all the details. Thank you so much.