uctypes – Access Binary Data in a Structured Format

This module implements “foreign data interface” for MicroPython. The idea behind it is similar to CPython’s ctypes modules, but the actual API is different, streamlined and optimised for small size. The basic idea of the module is to define data structure layout with about the same power as the C language allows, and the access it using familiar dot-syntax to reference sub-fields.

Module ustruct Standard Python way to access binary data structures (doesn’t scale well to large and complex structures).

Defining Structure Layout

Structure layout is defined by a “descriptor” - a Python dictionary which encodes field names as keys and other properties required to access them as associated values. Currently, uctypes requires explicit specification of offsets for each field. Offset are given in bytes from a structure start.

Following are encoding examples for various field types:

  • Scalar types:
"field_name": uctypes.UINT32 | 0

In other words, value is scalar type identifier OR-ed with field offset (in bytes) from the start of the structure.

  • Recursive structures:
"sub": (2, {
    "b0": uctypes.UINT8 | 0,
    "b1": uctypes.UINT8 | 1,
})

i.e. value is a 2-tuple, first element of which is offset, and second is a structure descriptor dictionary (note: offsets in recursive descriptors are relative to a structure it defines).

  • Arrays of Primitive Types:
"arr": (uctypes.ARRAY | 0, uctypes.UINT8 | 2),

i.e. value is a 2-tuple, first element of which is ARRAY flag OR-ed with offset, and second is scalar element type ORed number of elements in array.

  • Arrays of Aggregate Types:
"arr2": (uctypes.ARRAY | 0, 2, {"b": uctypes.UINT8 | 0}),

i.e. value is a 3-tuple, first element of which is ARRAY flag OR-ed with offset, second is a number of elements in array, and third is descriptor of element type.

  • Pointer to a primitive type:
"ptr": (uctypes.PTR | 0, uctypes.UINT8),

i.e. value is a 2-tuple, first element of which is PTR flag ORed with offset, and second is scalar element type.

  • Pointer to an aggregate type:
"ptr2": (uctypes.PTR | 0, {"b": uctypes.UINT8 | 0}),

i.e. value is a 2-tuple, first element of which is PTR flag ORed with offset, second is descriptor of type pointed to.

  • Bitfields:
"bitf0": uctypes.BFUINT16 | 0 | 0 << uctypes.BF_POS | 8 << uctypes.BF_LEN,

i.e. value is type of scalar value containing given bitfield (typenames are similar to scalar types, but prefixes with “BF”), OR-ed with offset for scalar value containing the bitfield, and further OR-ed with values for bit offset and bit length of the bitfield within scalar value, shifted by BF_POS and BF_LEN positions, respectively. Bitfield position is counted from the least significant bit, and is the number of right-most bit of a field (in other words, it’s a number of bits a scalar needs to be shifted right to extra the bitfield).

In the example above, first UINT16 value will be extracted at offset 0 (this detail may be important when accessing hardware registers, where particular access size and alignment are required), and then bitfield whose rightmost bit is least-significant bit of this UINT16, and length is 8 bits, will be extracted - effectively, this will access least-significant byte of UINT16.

Note that bitfield operations are independent of target byte endianness, in particular, example above will access least-significant byte of UINT16 in both little- and big-endian structures. But it depends on the least significant bit being numbered 0. Some targets may use different numbering in their native ABI, but uctypes always uses normalised numbering described above.

Module Contents

class uctypes.struct(addr, descriptor, layout_type=NATIVE)

Instantiate a “foreign data structure” object based on structure address in memory, descriptor (encoded as a dictionary), and layout type (see below).

uctypes.LITTLE_ENDIAN

Layout type for a little-endian packed structure. (Packed means that every field occupies exactly as many bytes as defined in the descriptor, i.e. the alignment is 1).

uctypes.BIG_ENDIAN

Layout type for a big-endian packed structure.

uctypes.NATIVE

Layout type for a native structure - with data endianness and alignment conforming to the ABI of the system on which MicroPython runs.

uctypes.sizeof(struct)

Return size of data structure in bytes. Argument can be either structure class or specific instantiated structure object (or its aggregate field).

uctypes.addressof(obj)

Return address of an object. Argument should be bytes, bytearray or other object supporting buffer protocol (and address of this buffer is what actually returned).

uctypes.bytes_at(addr, size)

Capture memory at the given address and size as bytes object. As bytes object is immutable, memory is actually duplicated and copied into bytes object, so if memory contents change later, created object retains original value.

uctypes.bytearray_at(addr, size)

Capture memory at the given address and size as bytearray object. Unlike bytes_at() function above, memory is captured by reference, so it can be both written too, and you will access current value at the given memory address.

Structure Descriptors and Instantiating Structure Objects

Given a structure descriptor dictionary and its layout type, you can instantiate a specific structure instance at a given memory address using uctypes.struct() constructor. Memory address usually comes from following sources:

  • Predefined address, when accessing hardware registers on a baremetal system. Lookup these addresses in datasheet for a particular MCU/SoC.
  • As a return value from a call to some FFI (Foreign Function Interface) function.
  • From uctypes.addressof(), when you want to pass arguments to an FFI function, or alternatively, to access some data for I/O (for example, data read from a file or network socket).

Structure objects

Structure objects allow accessing individual fields using standard dot notation: my_struct.substruct1.field1. If a field is of scalar type, getting it will produce a primitive value (Python integer or float) corresponding to the value contained in a field. A scalar field can also be assigned to.

If a field is an array, its individual elements can be accessed with the standard subscript operator [] - both read and assigned to.

If a field is a pointer, it can be dereferenced using [0] syntax (corresponding to C * operator, though [0] works in C too). Subscripting a pointer with other integer values but 0 are supported too, with the same semantics as in C.

Summing up, accessing structure fields generally follows C syntax, except for pointer dereference, when you need to use [0] operator instead of * .

Limitations

Accessing non-scalar fields leads to allocation of intermediate objects to represent them. This means that special care should be taken to layout a structure which needs to be accessed when memory allocation is disabled (e.g. from an interrupt). The recommendations are:

  • Avoid nested structures. For example, instead of mcu_registers.peripheral_a.register1, define separate layout descriptors for each peripheral, to be accessed as peripheral_a.register1.
  • Avoid other non-scalar data, like array. For example, instead of peripheral_a.register[0] use peripheral_a.register0.

Note that these recommendations will lead to decreased readability and conciseness of layouts, so they should be used only if the need to access structure fields without allocation is anticipated (it’s even possible to define 2 parallel layouts - one for normal usage, and a restricted one to use when memory allocation is prohibited).

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