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A communication link using I2C

This library implements an asynchronous bidirectional communication link between MicroPython targets using I2C. It presents a UART-like interface supporting StreamReader and StreamWriter classes. In doing so, it emulates the behaviour of a full duplex link despite the fact that the underlying I2C link is half duplex.

This version is for uasyncio V3 which requires firmware V1.13 or later - until the release of V1.13 a daily build is required.

One use case is to provide a UART-like interface to an ESP8266 while leaving the one functional UART free for the REPL.

The blocking nature of the MicroPython I2C device driver is mitigated by hardware synchronisation on two wires. This ensures that the slave is configured for a transfer before the master attempts to access it.

The Pyboard or similar STM based boards are currently the only targets supporting I2C slave mode. Consequently at least one end of the interface (known as theInitiator) must be a Pyboard or other board supporting the pyb module. The Responder may be any hardware running MicroPython and supporting machine.

If the Responder (typically an ESP8266) crashes the resultant I2C failure is detected by the Initiator which can issue a hardware reboot to the Responder enabling the link to recover. This can occur transparently to the application and is covered in detail in section 5.3.

Changes

V0.18 Apr 2020 Ported to uasyncio V3. Convert to Python package. Test script pin numbers changed to be WBUS_DIP28 fiendly.
V0.17 Dec 2018 Initiator: add optional "go" and "fail" user coroutines.
V0.16 Minor improvements and bugfixes. Eliminate timeout option which caused failures where Responder was a Pyboard.
V0.15 RAM allocation reduced. Flow control implemented.
V0.1 Initial release.

Main README

Contents

  1. Files
  2. Wiring
  3. Design
  4. API
    4.1 Channel class
    4.2 Initiator class
    4.2.1 Configuration Fine-tuning the interface.
    4.2.2 Optional coroutines
    4.3 Responder class
  5. Limitations
    5.1 Blocking
    5.2 Buffering and RAM usage
    5.3 Responder crash detection
  6. Hacker notes For anyone wanting to hack on the code.

1. Files

  1. asi2c.py Module for the Responder target.
  2. asi2c_i.py The Initiator target requires this and asi2c.py.
  3. i2c_init.py Initiator test/demo to run on a Pyboard.
  4. i2c_resp.py Responder test/demo to run on a Pyboard.
  5. i2c_esp.py Responder test/demo for ESP8266.

Dependency:

  1. uasyncio Official V3 library.

Installation

Copy the as_drivers/i2c directory and contents to the target hardware.

Main V3 README

2. Wiring

Pin numbers are for the test programs: these may be changed. I2C pin numbers may be changed by using soft I2C. In each case except rs_out, the two targets are connected by linking identically named pins.

ESP pins are labelled reference board pin no./WeMOS D1 Mini pin no.

Pyboard Target PB ESP Comment
gnd gnd
sda sda Y10 2/D4 I2C
scl scl Y9 0/D3 I2C
syn syn Y11 5/D1 Any pin may be used.
ack ack X6 4/D2 Any pin.
rs_out rst Y12 Optional reset link.

The syn and ack wires provide synchronisation: pins used are arbitrary. In addition provision may be made for the Pyboard to reset the target if it crashes and fails to respond. If this is required, link a Pyboard pin to the target's reset pin.

I2C requires the devices to be connected via short links and to share a common ground. The sda and scl lines also require pullup resistors. On the Pyboard V1.x these are fitted. If pins lacking these resistors are used, pullups to 3.3V should be supplied. A typical value is 4.7KΩ.

On the Pyboard D the 3.3V supply must be enabled with

machine.Pin.board.EN_3V3.value(1)

This also enables the I2C pullups on the X side.

Contents

3. Design

The I2C specification is asymmetrical: only master devices can initiate transfers. This library enables slaves to initiate a data exchange by interrupting the master which then starts the I2C transactions. There is a timing issue in that the I2C master requires that the slave be ready before it initiates a transfer. Further, in the MicroPython implementation, a slave which is ready will block until the transfer is complete.

To meet the timing constraint the slave must initiate all exchanges; it does this by interrupting the master. The slave is therefore termed the Initiator and the master Responder. The Initiator must be a Pyboard or other STM board supporting slave mode via the pyb module.

To enable Responder to start an unsolicited data transfer, Initiator periodically interrupts Responder to cause a data exchange. If either participant has no data to send it sends an empty string. Strings are exchanged at a fixed rate to limit the interrupt overhead on Responder. This implies a latency on communications in either direction; the rate (maximum latency) is under application control. By default it is 100ms.

The module will run under official or fast_io builds of uasyncio. Owing to the latency discussed above, the choice has little effect on the performance of this interface.

A further issue common to most communications protocols is synchronisation: the devices won't boot simultaneously. Initially, and after the Initiator reboots the Responder, both ends run a synchronisation phase. The interface starts to run once each end has determined that its counterpart is ready.

The design assumes exclusive use of the I2C interface. Hard or soft I2C may be used.

Contents

4. API

Demos and the scripts below assume a Pyboard linked to an ESP8266 as follows:

Pyboard ESP8266 Notes
gnd gnd
Y9 0/D3 I2C scl
Y10 2/D4 I2C sda
Y11 5/D1 syn
Y12 rst Optional
X6 4/D2 ack

Running the demos

On the ESP8266 issue:

import as_drivers.i2c.i2c_esp

and on the Pyboard:

import as_drivers.i2c.i2c_init

The following scripts demonstrate basic usage. They may be copied and pasted at the REPL.
On Pyboard:

import uasyncio as asyncio
from pyb import I2C  # Only pyb supports slave mode
from machine import Pin
from as_drivers.i2c.asi2c_i import Initiator

i2c = I2C(2, mode=I2C.SLAVE)
syn = Pin('Y11')
ack = Pin('X6')
rst = (Pin('Y12'), 0, 200)
chan = Initiator(i2c, syn, ack, rst)

async def receiver():
    sreader = asyncio.StreamReader(chan)
    while True:
        res = await sreader.readline()
        print('Received', int(res))

async def sender():
    swriter = asyncio.StreamWriter(chan, {})
    n = 0
    while True:
        await swriter.awrite('{}\n'.format(n))
        n += 1
        await asyncio.sleep_ms(800)

asyncio.create_task(receiver())
try:
    asyncio.run(sender())
except KeyboardInterrupt:
    print('Interrupted')
finally:
    asyncio.new_event_loop()  # Still need ctrl-d because of interrupt vector
    chan.close()  # for subsequent runs

On ESP8266:

import uasyncio as asyncio
from machine import Pin, I2C
from as_drivers.i2c.asi2c import Responder

i2c = I2C(scl=Pin(0),sda=Pin(2))  # software I2C
syn = Pin(5)
ack = Pin(4)
chan = Responder(i2c, syn, ack)

async def receiver():
    sreader = asyncio.StreamReader(chan)
    while True:
        res = await sreader.readline()
        print('Received', int(res))

async def sender():
    swriter = asyncio.StreamWriter(chan, {})
    n = 1
    while True:
        await swriter.awrite('{}\n'.format(n))
        n += 1
        await asyncio.sleep_ms(1500)

asyncio.create_task(receiver())
try:
    asyncio.run(sender())
except KeyboardInterrupt:
    print('Interrupted')
finally:
    asyncio.new_event_loop()  # Still need ctrl-d because of interrupt vector
    chan.close()  # for subsequent runs
Contents

4.1 Channel class

This is the base class for Initiator and Responder subclasses and provides support for the streaming API. Applications do not instantiate Channel objects.

Method:

  1. close No args. Restores the interface to its power-up state.

Coroutine:

  1. ready No args. Pause until synchronisation has been achieved.

4.2 Initiator class

Constructor args:
  1. i2c An I2C instance.
  2. pin A Pin instance for the syn signal.
  3. pinack A Pin instance for the ack signal.
  4. reset=None Optional tuple defining a reset pin (see below).
  5. verbose=True If True causes debug messages to be output.
  6. cr_go=False Optional coroutine to run at startup. See 4.2.2.
  7. go_args=() Optional tuple of args for above coro.
  8. cr_fail=False Optional coro to run on ESP8266 fail or reboot.
  9. f_args=() Optional tuple of args for above.

The reset tuple consists of (pin, level, time). If provided, and the Responder times out, pin will be set to level for duration time ms. A Pyboard or ESP8266 target with an active low reset might have:

(machine.Pin('Y12'), 0, 200)

If the Initiator has no reset tuple and the Responder times out, an OSError will be raised.

Pin instances passed to the constructor must be instantiated by machine.

Class variables:
  1. t_poll=100 Interval (ms) for Initiator polling Responder.
  2. rxbufsize=200 Size of receive buffer. This should exceed the maximum message length.

See Section 4.2.1.

Instance variables:

The Initiator maintains instance variables which may be used to measure its peformance. See Section 4.2.1.

Coroutine:
  1. reboot If a reset tuple was provided, reboot the Responder.

4.2.1 Configuration

The Initiator class variables determine the behaviour of the interface. Where these are altered, it should be done before instantiating Initiator or Responder.

Initiator.t_poll This defines the polling interval for incoming data. Shorter values reduce the latency when the Responder sends data; at the cost of a raised CPU overhead (at both ends) in processing Responder polling.

Times are in ms.

To measure performance when running application code these Initiator instance variables may be read:

  1. nboots Number of times Responder has failed and been rebooted.
  2. block_max Maximum blocking time in μs.
  3. block_sum Cumulative total of blocking time (μs).
  4. block_cnt Transfer count: mean blocking time is block_sum/block_cnt.

See test program i2c_init.py for an example of using the above.

4.2.2 Optional coroutines

These are intended for applications where the Responder may reboot at runtime either because I2C failure was detected or because the application issues an explicit reboot command.

The cr_go and cr_fail coroutines provide for applications which implement an application-level initialisation sequence on first and subsequent boots of the Responder. Such applications need to ensure that the initialisation sequence does not conflict with other coros accessing the channel.

The cr_go coro runs after synchronisation has been achieved. It runs concurrently with the coro which keeps the link open (Initiator._run()), but should run to completion reasonably quickly. Typically it performs any app level synchronisation, starts or re-enables application coros, and quits.

The cr_fail routine will prevent the automatic reboot from occurring until it completes. This may be used to prevent user coros from accessing the channel until reboot is complete. This may be done by means of locks or task cancellation. Typically cr_fail will terminate when this is done, so that cr_go has unique access to the channel.

If an explicit .reboot() is issued, a reset tuple was provided, and cr_fail exists, it will run and the physical reboot will be postponed until it completes.

Typical usage:

from as_drivers.i2c.asi2c_i import Initiator
chan = Initiator(i2c, syn, ack, rst, verbose, self._go, (), self._fail)
Contents

4.3 Responder class

Constructor args:
  1. i2c An I2C instance.
  2. pin A Pin instance for the syn signal.
  3. pinack A Pin instance for the ack signal.
  4. verbose=True If True causes debug messages to be output.

Pin instances passed to the constructor must be instantiated by machine.

Class variables:
  1. addr=0x12 Address of I2C slave. If the default address is to be changed, it should be set before instantiating Initiator or Responder. Initiator application code must then instantiate the I2C accordingly.
  2. rxbufsize=200 Size of receive buffer. This should exceed the maximum message length. Consider reducing this in ESP8266 applications to save RAM.
Contents

5. Limitations

Currently, on the ESP8266, the code is affected by iss 5714. Unless the board is repeatedly pinged, the ESP8266 fails periodically and is rebooted by the Pyboard.

5.1 Blocking

Exchanges of data occur via Initiator._sendrx(), a synchronous method. This blocks the schedulers at each end for a duration dependent on the number of bytes being transferred. Tests were conducted with the supplied test scripts and the official version of uasyncio. Note that these scripts send short strings.

With Responder running on a Pyboard V1.1 the duration of the ISR was up to 1.3ms.

With Responder on an ESP8266 running at 80MHz, Initiator blocked for up to 10ms with a mean time of 2.7ms; at 160MHz the figures were 7.5ms and 2.1ms. The ISR uses soft interrupts, and blocking commences as soon as the interrupt pin is asserted. Consequently the time for which Initiator blocks depends on Responder's interrupt latency; this may be extended by garbage collection.

Figures are approximate: actual blocking time is dependent on the length of the strings, the speed of the processors, soft interrupt latency and the behaviour of other coroutines. If blocking time is critical it should be measured while running application code.

5.2 Buffering and RAM usage

The protocol implements flow control: the StreamWriter at one end of the link will pause until the last string transmitted has been read by the corresponding StreamReader.

Outgoing data is unbuffered. StreamWriter.awrite will pause until pending data has been transmitted.

Incoming data is stored in a buffer whose length is set by the rxbufsize constructor arg. If an incoming payload is too long to fit the buffer a ValueError will be thrown.

5.3 Responder crash detection

The Responder protocol executes in a soft interrupt context. This means that the application code might fail (for example executing an infinite loop) while the ISR continues to run; Initiator would therefore see no problem. To trap this condition regular messages should be sent from Responder, with Initiator application code timing out on their absence and issuing reboot.

This also has implications when testing. If a Responder application is interrupted with ctrl-c the ISR will continue to run. To test crash detection issue a soft or hard reset to the Responder.

Contents

6. Hacker notes

I tried a variety of approaches before settling on a synchronous method for data exchange coupled with 2-wire hardware handshaking. The chosen approach minimises the time for which the schedulers are blocked. Blocking occurs because of the need to initiate a blocking transfer on the I2C slave before the master can initiate a transfer.

A one-wire handshake using open drain outputs is feasible but involves explicit delays. I took the view that a 2-wire solution is easier should anyone want to port the Responder to a platform such as the Raspberry Pi. The design has no timing constraints and uses normal push-pull I/O pins.

I experienced a couple of obscure issues affecting reliability. Calling pyb I2C methods with an explicit timeout caused rare failures when the target was also a Pyboard. Using micropython.schedule to defer RAM allocation also provoked rare failures. This may be the reason why I never achieved reliable operation with hard IRQ's on ESP8266.

I created a version which eliminated RAM allocation by the Responder ISR to use hard interrupts. This reduced blocking further. Unfortunately I failed to achieve reliable operation on an ESP8266 target. This version introduced some complexity into the code so was abandoned. If anyone feels like hacking, the branch i2c_hard_irq exists.

The main branch aims to minimise allocation while achieving reliability.

PR's to reduce allocation and enable hard IRQ's welcome. I will expect them to run the two test programs for >10,000 messages with ESP8266 and Pyboard targets. Something I haven't yet achieved (with hard IRQ's).