pylibftdi questions

None of these are yet frequently asked, and perhaps they never will be… But they are still questions, and they relate to pylibftdi.

Using pylibftdi - General

Can I use pylibftdi with device XYZ?

If the device XYZ is (or uses as it’s ) an FTDI device, then possibly. A large number of devices will work, but won’t be recognised due to the limited USB Vendor and Product IDs which pylibftdi checks for.

To see the vendor / product IDs which are supported, run the following:

>>> from pylibftdi import USB_VID_LIST, USB_PID_LIST
>>> print(map(hex, USB_VID_LIST))
>>> print(map(hex, USB_PID_LIST))
['0x6001', '0x6010', '0x6011', '0x6014']

If a FTDI device with a VID / PID not matching the above is required, then the device’s values should be appended to the appropriate list after import:

>>> from pylibftdi import USB_PID_LIST, USB_VID_LIST, Device
>>> USB_PID_LIST.append(0x1234)
>>> dev = Device()  # will now recognise a device with PID 0x1234.

Using pylibftdi - Programming

How do I set the baudrate?

In both serial and parallel mode, the internal baudrate generator (BRG) is set using the baudrate property of the Device instance. Reading this will show the current baudrate (which defaults to 9600); writing to it will attempt to set the BRG to that value.

On failure to set the baudrate, it will remain at its previous setting.

In parallel mode, the actual bytes-per-second rate of parallel data is 16x the programmed BRG value. This is an effect of the FTDI devices themselves, and is not hidden by pylibftdi.

How do I send unicode over a serial connection?

If a Device instance is created with mode='t', then text-mode is activated. This is analogous to opening files; after all, the API is intentionally modelled on file objects whereever possible.

When text-mode is used, an encoding can be specified. The default is latin-1 for the very practical reason that it is transparent to 8-bit binary data; by default a text-mode serial connection looks just like a binary mode one.

An alternative encoding can be used provided in the same constructor call used to instantiate the Device class, e.g.:

>>> dev = Device(mode='t', encoding='utf-8')

Read and write operations will then return / take unicode values.

Whether it is sensible to try and send unicode over a ftdi connection is a separate issue… At least consider doing codec operations at a higher level in your application.

How do I use multiple-interface devices?

Some FTDI devices have multiple interfaces, for example the FT2232H has 2 and the FT4232H has four. In terms of accessing them, they can be considered as independent devices; once a connection is established to one of them, it is isolated from the other interfaces.

To select which interface to use when opening a connection to a specific interface on a multiple-interface device, use the interface_select parameter of the Device (or BitBangDevice) class constructor. The value should be one of the following values. Symbolic constants are provided in the pylibftdi namespace.

interface_select Meaning
INTERFACE_ANY (0) Any interface

You should be able to open multiple Devices with different interface_select settings. Thanks to Daniel Forer for testing multiple device support.

What is the difference between the port and latch BitBangDevice properties?

latch reflects the current state of the output latch (i.e. the last value written to the port), while port reflects input states as well. Writing to either port or latch has an identical effect, so when pylibftdi is used only for output, there is no effective difference, and port is recommended for simplicity and consistency.

The place where it does make a difference is during read-modify-write operations. Consider the following:

>>> dev = BitBangDevice()  # 1
>>> dev.direction = 0x81   # 2   # set bits 0 and 7 are output
>>> dev.port = 0           # 3
>>> for _ in range(255):   # 4
>>>     dev.port += 1      # 5   # read-modify-write operation

In this (admittedly contrived!) scenario, if one of the input lines D1..D6 were held low, then they would cause the counter to effectively ‘stop’. The += 1 operation would never actually set the bit as required (because it is an input at 0), and the highest output bit would never get set.

Using dev.latch in lines 3 and 5 above would resolve this, as the read-modify-write operation on line 5 is simply working on the in-memory latch value, rather than reading the inputs, and it would simply count up from 0 to 255 in steps of one, writing the value to the device (which would be ignored in the case of input lines).

Similar concepts exist in many microcontrollers, for example see for a possibly better explanation, though in a slightly different context :)

If you aren’t using read-modify-write operations (e.g. augmented assignment), or you have a direction on the port of either ALL_INPUTS (0) or ALL_OUTPUTS (1), then just ignore this section and use port :)

What is the purpose of the chunk_size parameter?

While libftdi is performing I/O to the device, it is not really running Python code at all, but C library code via ctypes. If there is a significant amount of data, especially at low baud-rates, this can be a significant delay during which no Python bytecode is executed. The most obvious result of this is that no signals are delivered to the Python process during this time, and interrupt signals (Ctrl-C) will be ignored.

Try the following:

>>> dev = Device()
>>> dev.baudrate = 120  # nice and slow!
>>> dev.write('helloworld' * 1000)

This should take approximately 10 seconds prior to returning, and crucially, Ctrl-C interruptions will be deferred for all that time. By setting chunk_size on the device (which may be set either as a keyword parameter during Device instantiation, or at a later point as an attribute of the Device instance), the I/O operations are performed in chunks of at most the specified number of bytes. Setting it to 0, the default value, disables this chunking.

Repeat the above command but prior to the write operation, set dev.chunk_size = 10. A Ctrl-C interruption should now kick-in almost instantly. There is a performance trade-off however; if using chunk_size is required, set it as high as is reasonable for your application.

Using pylibftdi - Interfacing

How do I control an LED?

pylibftdi devices generally have sufficient output current to sink or source the 10mA or so which a low(ish) current LED will need. A series resistor is essential to protect both the LED and the FTDI device itself; a value between 220 and 470 ohms should be sufficient depending on required brightness / LED efficiency.

How do I control a higher current device?

FTDI devices will typically provide a few tens of milli-amps, but beyond that things either just won’t work, or the device could be damaged. For medium current operation, a standard bipolar transistor switch will suffice; for larger loads a MOSFET or relay should be used. (Note a relay will require a low-power transistor switch anyway). Search online for something like ‘mosfet logic switch’ or ‘transistor relay switch’ for more details.

What is the state of an unconnected input pin?

This depends on the device and the EEPROM configuration values. Most devices will have weak (typ. 200Kohm) pull-ups on input pins, so there is no harm leaving them floating. Consult the datasheet for your device for definitive information, but you can always just leave an (unconnected) device and read it’s pins when set as inputs; chances are they will read 255 / 0xFF:

>>> dev = BitBangDevice(direction=0)
>>> dev.port

While not recommended for anything serious, this does allow the possibility of reading a input switch state by simply connecting a switch between an input pin and ground (possibly with a low value - e.g. 100 ohm - series resistor to prevent accidents should it be set to an output and set high…). Note that with a normal push-to-make switch, the value will read ‘1’ when the switch is not pressed; pressing it will set the input line value to ‘0’.

Developing pylibftdi

How do I checkout and use the latest development version?

pylibftdi is currently developed with a Mercurial repository on bitbucket. To use / develop on that version, it must first be cloned locally, after which it can be ‘installed’. Clone the repository to a local directory and install (with the ‘develop’ target ideally) as follows:

$ hg clone
$ cd pylibftdi
$ python develop

If permission-related issues occur, then consider using the --user flag to to install for only the local user, or try prefixing the above command with sudo.

Note for now there is only the master branch, so need to worry about which branch is required.

How do I run the tests?

Tests aren’t included in the distutils distribution, so clone the repository and run from there. pylibftdi supports Python 2.6/2.7 as well as Python 3.2+, so these tests can be run for each Python version:

$ hg clone
<various output stuff>
$ cd pylibftdi
$ python2.7 -m unittest discover
Ran 17 tests in 0.011s

$ python3.3 -m unittest discover
Ran 17 tests in 0.015s


How can I determine and select the underlying libftdi library?

Since pylibftdi 0.12, the Driver exposes a libftdi_version method, which returns a tuple whose first three entries correspond to major, minor, and micro versions of the libftdi driver being used.

With the recent (early 2013) release of libftdi1 - which can coexist with the earlier 0.x versions - it is now possible to select which library to load when instantiating the Driver:

Python 2.7.2 (default, Jun 20 2012, 16:23:33)
[GCC 4.2.1 Compatible Apple Clang 4.0 (tags/Apple/clang-418.0.60)] on darwin
Type "help", "copyright", "credits" or "license" for more information.
>>> from pylibftdi import Driver
>>> Driver().libftdi_version()
(1, 0, 0, '1.0', 'v1.0-6-gafb9082')
>>> Driver('ftdi').libftdi_version()
(0, 99, 0, '0.99', 'v0.17-305-g50d77f8')
>>> Driver('libftdi1').libftdi_version()
(1, 0, 0, '1.0', 'v1.0-6-gafb9082')
>>> Driver(('libftdi1', 'libftdi')).libftdi_version()
(1, 0, 0, '1.0', 'v1.0-6-gafb9082')
>>> Driver(('libftdi', 'libftdi1')).libftdi_version()
(0, 99, 0, '0.99', 'v0.17-305-g50d77f8')
>>> Driver(('libftdi', 'libftdi1')).libftdi_version()

pylibftdi now prefers libftdi1 over libftdi, if both are installed. Since different OSs require different parameters to be given to find a library, the default search list given to ctypes.util.find_library is as follows:

Driver._dll_list = ('ftdi1', 'libftdi1', 'ftdi', 'libftdi')

This covers Windows (which requires the ‘lib’ prefix), Linux (which requires its absence), and Mac OS X, which is happy with either.