Linux USB device driver info

What, *another* half-finished blog post about Linux USB drivers? Yup.

Suppose you have a device and want a Linux device driver for it. There are a few steps you’ll need to take. One of the heroes in this area is Greg Kroah-Hartman. Greg wrote USBView, which is a Linux tool to enumerate a list of USB devices. He’s also done a massive amount of documentation as we’ll see below. One of his more eye-catching tricks is to walk a classroom through the process of writing a Linux driver for a USB thermometer live and in real-time. In addition to all the work he does for Linux in general, he recently announced a program to work with manufacturers and provide Linux drivers for new devices for free. That’s right, manufacturers get a free driver. From the original announcement:

All that is needed is some kind of specification that describes how your device works, or the email address of an engineer that is willing to answer questions every once in a while. A few sample devices might be good to have so that debugging doesn’t have to be done by email, but if necessary, that can be done.

In return, you will receive a complete and working Linux driver that is added to the main Linux kernel source tree. The driver will be written by some of the members of the Linux kernel developer community (over 1500 strong and growing).

That is majorly good karma for Linux and Greg. But if you’re not a manufacturer, here are the steps that you’d look into.

1. Get documentation of the USB protocol, or reverse engineer the protocol. It’s far easier if you can get documentation of the protocol. If you do need to reverse engineer the USB protocol, here are some tools that might help:

Windows tools: USB Snoopy let you do actions with your device and log the stream of USB information going downstream/outbound to the device, or upstream/inbound back to your computer. Snoopy Pro is a variant of the same code that evidently has some improvements. It appears that the preferred location for Snoopy Pro is here.

Linux tools:
– The previously mentioned USBView will show you devices that are currently plugged in.
– The usbutils package includes a bunch of handy console tools for USB, including lsusb, which shows you the USB devices that are currently plugged in. The output of lsusb looks like this:

Bus 001 Device 006: ID 2222:3061 MacAlly
Bus 001 Device 002: ID 0557:7000 ATEN International Co., Ltd
Bus 001 Device 003: ID 045e:00db Microsoft Corp.

2. Write the driver.

– It seems that the process of writing drivers in Linux is getting easier over time. The Linux Journal has documented this well. Compare this 2001 article by Greg Kroah-Hartman to Greg’s 2004 article on controlling a simple USB lamp device. Then see Greg’s follow-up article on writing a linux driver in user space. It turns out that you can use the libusb library to read/write with USB devices without ever mucking around in the kernel. This is possible because Linux provides a USB filesystem (called USBFS) that automatically mounts USB devices into the Linux directory tree. Note that libusb also works on BSDs, Mac/OSX computers, and that there is a Windows libusb port.

If you really want to delve into this deeply, there’s an O’Reilly book on Linux device drivers that you can buy as well.