Writing a Simple USB Driver

Give your Linux box a multicolored light you can see from across the room, and learn how to write a simple driver for the next piece of hardware you want to hook up.

Since this column began, it has discussed how a Linux driver writer can create various types of kernel drivers, by explaining the different kernel driver interfaces including TTY, serial, I2C and the driver core. It is time to move on now and focus on writing real drivers for real hardware. We start by explaining how to determine what kind of kernel driver interface to use, tricks to help figure out how the hardware actually works and a lot of other real-world knowledge.

Let's begin with a goal of making a simple USB lamp device work well with Linux. Editor Don Marti pointed out a neat device, the USB Visual Signal Indicator, manufactured by Delcom Engineering and shown in Figure 1. I have no relationship with this company; I just think they make nice products. This device can be ordered on-line from the Delcom Web site, www.delcom-eng.com. Don challenged me to get the device working on Linux, and this article explains how I did it.

Figure 1. Delcom's USB Visual Signal Indicator is a simple first USB programming project.

The Hardware Protocol

The first goal in trying to write a driver for a device is to determine how to control the device. Delcom Engineering is nice enough to ship the entire USB protocol specification their devices use with the product, and it also is available on-line for free. This documentation shows what commands the USB controller chip accepts and how to use them. They also provide a Microsoft Windows DLL to help users of other operating systems write code to control the device.

The documentation for this device is only the documentation for the USB controller in the lamp. It does not explicitly say how to turn on the different color LEDs. For this, we have to do a bit of research.

After opening up the lamp device, making sure not to lose the spring that easily pops out when unscrewing the device, the circuit board can be inspected (Figure 2). Using an ohmmeter, or any kind of device for detecting a closed circuit, it was determined that the three different LEDs are connected to the first three pins of port 1 on the main controller chip.

In reading the documentation, the USB command to control the levels of the port 1 pins is Major 10, Minor 2, Length 0. The command writes the least significant byte of the USB command packet to port 1, and port 1 is defaulted high after reset. So, that is the USB command we need to send to the device to change the different LEDs.

Figure 2. The three LEDs are connected to the first three pins of the controller chip.

Which LED Is Which?

Now that we know the command to enable a port pin, we need to determine which LED color is connected to which pin. This is easy to do with a simple program that runs through all possible combinations of different values for the three port pins and then sends the value to the device. This program enabled me to create a table of values and LED colors (Table 1).

Table 1. Port Values and the Resulting LED Patterns

Port value in hexPort value in binaryLEDs on
0x00000Red, Green, Blue
0x01001Red, Blue
0x02010Green, Blue
0x04100Red, Green
0x07111No LEDs on

So, if all pins on the port are enabled (a value of 0x07 hex), no LEDs are on. This matches up with the note in the data sheet that stated, “Port 1 is defaulted high after reset.” It would make sense not to have any LEDs enabled when the device is first plugged in. This means we need to turn port pins low (off) in order to turn on the LED for that pin. Using the table, we can determine that the blue LED is controlled by pin 2, the red LED by pin 1 and the green LED by pin 0.



Comment viewing options

Select your preferred way to display the comments and click "Save settings" to activate your changes.

How To Get Port Values and the Resulting LED Patterns ???

Black Spider's picture

Thanks For this guide but I want to know how to get Port Values and the Resulting LED Patterns without documents of the device ???


techieguy22's picture

I was actually trying to write a kernel driver for usb and was hooked up reading this article only to find out it's been around for 6 years! Even so I've learned alot from this article. This is a great tutorial to make usb drivers, however I'm quite stucked on the process of compiling the source.

Delphi Hid get path

Anonymous's picture

The first time I use SetupDiGetDeviceInterfaceDetailA
It returns GetLastError = ERROR_INSUFFICIENT_BUFFER or 78
and a byesreturned is a good expected number
DevData ( is the record below)

TSPDevInfoData = packed record
Size: DWORD;
ClassGuid: TGUID;
DevInst: DWORD;
Reserved: DWord;
with TSPDevInfoData.ClassGuid = the Registry USB controller GUID

When I call SetupDiGetDeviceInterfaceDetailA a second time it hates me
real bad. I'm not sure how to convert BytesReturned into my DevData.size or
TSPDeviceInterfaceDetailDataA.size correctly.

I have checked my Structures through and through
The new structure being:-

TSPDeviceInterfaceDetailDataA = record
Size: DWord;
DevicePath: Array [0..255] of AnsiChar;

LastSuccess := SetupDiGetDeviceInterfaceDetailA(IsDevPtr, DevData, nil, 0, @BytesReturned, nil);
if (BytesReturned <> 0) and (GetLastError = ERROR_INSUFFICIENT_BUFFER{ 122 }) then
ADWord := BytesReturned + Sizeof(TSPDeviceInterfaceDetailDataA) + 6; // Sizeof(TSPDeviceInterfaceDetailDataA)is one size in delphi
Str.Size := ADWord; // this is a memory block
DevIntfcDetailDataA := Str.Memory;
//this makes a structure be in the memory block

LastSuccess := SetupDiGetDeviceInterfaceDetailA(IsDevPtr,

// lastsuccess is always and error

can you suggest anything I have forgotten
lexdeanair at Hotmail.com

writing protcol cool disk

Anonymous's picture

i want save data(with txt format) on cool disk by microcontroller AVR.
For this i use cinvertor USRT to USB.

my question is : what is protcol cool disk for writing data on it?


Anonymous's picture

hello plz i need help urgently !
i atached my motorola netmon phone to my USB , and it didnt present in the dev/ttyUSB1 directory ...

second think , in c++ how do i write a fucntion that send command to the usb modem ( watever it is )

thx a lot plz help !

USB Lamp writer error!

Ajay Abraham's picture

Hello Greg,

Nice article, I bought the lamp
and I tried it out on Windows and Linux.
I get the following error:
bash: echo: writer error: Success

My system is Ubuntu Jaunty Jackrabbit (9.04)
kernel 2.6.28-15

I've got my usb files in the following directory:
|-- bAlternateSetting
|-- bInterfaceClass
|-- bInterfaceNumber
|-- bInterfaceProtocol
|-- bInterfaceSubClass
|-- bNumEndpoints
|-- blue
|-- driver -> ../../../../../../bus/usb/drivers/usbled
|-- green
|-- modalias
|-- power
| `-- wakeup
|-- red
|-- subsystem -> ../../../../../../bus/usb
|-- supports_autosuspend
`-- uevent

Scratching my head... any ideas appreciated...


USB lamp enquiry

Anonymous's picture

Hello Ajay Abraham,

This is Nagesh A from India.
I have gone through this artical, and found interested.
As I have seen your comment on this, I would like to ask you, how can I buy this product, thinking you might be aware of buying this product.

Please give some detail, if you know.

thank you,
-Nagesh A

USB Lamp writer error

Ajay2's picture

The command I gave was : echo 1 > blue


Anonymous's picture

System : slax
kernel :
Hardware : Lenovo Thinkpad R60

echo 1 > blue
echo 1 > red
echo 1 >green

I didnt even have to write the driver
I just used usbfs mounted on sys/bus/usb/devices

Simply amazing

abhinavabcd's picture

Awsome tutorial . very very inspiring .Great job ,I helped me put courage into me to write a device driver..

A driver suggestion

Toby's picture

How about a driver for the Wireless PC Lock

The bundled software for windows is godawful and I think someone already did a tutorial on writing new software for the device to enable locking of the system etc. Would be nice if I could get this device working under Linux so I could look into writing some software to secure the system when I step away!


Some question

Anonymous's picture

Hi! Is the way to read messages from usb mouse? I went to /dev/ folder. What I should to do? I only need to send/receive data via usb interface.


Devajyoti Barman's picture

I never thought that device driver writing could be this straightforward. Wow! Superb tutorial and very very inspiring. I simply love it.

Problem when compilling

Eloi's picture

Hi !

Thank you for this tutorial which allow easly to develop my own driver.

However, I have a problem when I'm compiling your file. Normally I have all the libraries (libusb, libusb-dev). I just replace config.h by autoconf.h because ubuntu use this file rather than config.h

My error is:

driverUSB_HID.c:154: error: unknown field ‘owner’ specified in initializer

So could you please help me ?



Mr Greg , I m

Bhanu's picture

Mr Greg ,
I m writing a driver for usb device in linux 2.4 version ,how i can get get minor no dynamically from usb core , how to create node in the /dev with using major and minor no without devfs .

Thank you

with regards

ThinkGeek USB Rocket Launcher

Anonymous's picture

You should do a Linux device driver for the USB Rocket Launcher:

USB dirver

Anonymous's picture

Hey was wondering which would be the best method for writing a USB game control driver e.g. Would you make the driver listen for when a button is pressed or would you write the driver and then a program in say C to retrieve the current state of the button?

im wrting a driver programm..Help me...

Vadivelu N's picture

Im writing a driver program for transfering data's between PC and my SWITCH(Its an telcom equipment)in Linux platform.Getting cofused in "how to program for send and receive data's b/w PC and my switch.Please help me to get clear idea about that.

USB driver for MPEG 4

Sid's picture

Hi I want to write a driver for USB streaming of MPEG 4 Video. I am not sure how and where to start. I have MPEG 4 video capture and the video is saved as a file onto the system. How should I start writing the driver for streaming the video instead of saving it in the system?

Doing it

Renderman's picture

Their are a few ways to do this. The hardest way,would be to write a "pure driver". To do that, you would have to first know how to the USB HID's Subclass and the exact paramters on using it. Also, if you told it to save the data to the device, and then later retrive it, it would deffinitly reduc bottlenecks. There is lots more and the hardest part would have to do with the audio. The easiest way to do it,is with Java. Get the Windows Media SDK, use Java to interface with the device. If you look at some documentation for the WMSDK, it should tell you all the video paramters and how to set it up. There should be a HID protocol for streaming data between devices maybe MTP, I am not fully sure on the semantics,but that should help you.

USB cable to work as a communication medium

Peyman's picture

How can I write a driver for a simple two headed USB cable that enables it to work as a communication medium? The only thing I want it to do is to be able to send and receive data from one machine to/from another, and they're connected to each other using this USB cable. /*the cable is a wire, with two USB plugs on both ends*/I appreciate any pointer to a reference or help.

error when i passs command line argument

syed's picture

when i pass this argument then this error appear.
plz help me.

[root@localhost 4-1:1.0]# echo '1' > blue
bash: echo: write error: Success


Write Error

Anonymous's picture

I get the same write error. Did you find a resolution?

try passing it without the

Anonymous's picture

try passing it without the '' like echo 1 > blue

Help needed

hssiddhu's picture

Hi Greg,

I saw your posts, its very nice and i got a lot of knowledge from them. Can you do me a favour? I'm writing a host side USB driver for ucos. Can you help me how to start....
It should be like it should check for the vendor id and for product id then it should load the driver. It should also have routines for endpoint creations. If you have any idea on this just mail to the below address


Thanks in advance


i'm writing a kernel driver for usb on arm linux-2.6.20

Anonymous's picture


I'm pavan. I'm writing the kernel driver for usb.All the code is available on the kernel and i enabled the relavent features in the menuconfig .when i insert the following modules ,usbcore.ko,hid.ko,usbhid.ko,usb-stotage.ko and ohci-hcd.ko.Its giving the messages that

insmod usbcore.ko
usbcore: registered new interface driver usbfs
usbcore: registered new interface driver hub
usbcore: registered new device driver usb

insmod usbhid.ko
usbcore: registered new interface driver usbhid
drivers/usb/input/hid-core.c: v2.6:USB HID core driver

insmod usb-storage.ko
Initializing USB Mass Storage driver...
usbcore: registered new interface driver usb-storage
USB Mass Storage support registered.

insmod ohci-hcd.ko
probe in platform.c is working<7>In ohci_hcd_pxa27x_drv_probe

in last module i.e ohci-hcd.ko ,its terminating by -ENODEV this i got by printk. i hope the usb is not detecting the devices ,inorder to detect devices what changes i have to made in the kenel.

i'm struck from 3days to debug this problem ,please if anyone have idea about this please share with me.

with regards


Markus Rechberger's picture


please have a look at usbreplay and co. these tools might ease up everything quite alot

Now Delcom has variable intensity LED lights?

Anonymous's picture

Looks like their latest products allow setting brightness per color?

Also looks like they cost around eighty bucks?!?

Re: Writing a Simple USB Driver

phonghtn's picture

Hi there,
I am planing to write a virtual device which use USB port to talk with the computer. So, my idea is I want to developt a virtual device connect with the PC through USB port. I mean, if you have an usb lamp and you begin write a drive for it. You have a specification of the lamp. And you plug the lamp to the pc. In my case, i want to build my lamp by the software with all properties like a real lamp. So, my first problem is i don't know how to write a virtual device run on both Linux and Windows. So any idea help me now.
Thanks a lot.

Re: Writing a Simple USB Driver

Anonymous's picture


Excellent article. I went with the Delcom "USB Numeric Display", which is a numeric counter.

I noticed something on my system. When I create device files under the /sys/bus/usb/drivers/mydevice directory, and send data to it with the echo command, I can hear the disk access on my computer... It's really getting hit with a lot of data; Perl script that writes lots of changing data to the USB device. Is this normal? I'm making changes in my program so that data goes to the device from a "/proc/mydevice/entries" instead, since "/proc" seems to be mounted in ram vs. /sys on the hard drive.

I'm running 2.6.4 and /sys was mounted with "sysfs /sys sysfs defaults 0 0" in my /etc/fstab. Here's a link to how I setup 2.6

Its seems problematic if new directory trees created under /sys/bus... for input will require disk reads and writes. Maybe I'm overlooking something?


Mike Chirico

Re: Writing a Simple USB Driver

Anonymous's picture

I stand corrected.... I had the debug commands "dev_dbg" writing to the log files. Ok, good. I'm on my way.


Mike Chirico

Re: Writing a Simple USB Driver

mchirico's picture

Here's the code if interested


Mike Chirico

Re: Writing a Simple USB Driver

Anonymous's picture

Great article. I'd like see an article on creating your own USB device and then creating a kernel driver for it.

Re: Writing a Simple USB Driver

Anonymous's picture

Very good article, in this case, you writing a simple driver for a Led lamp. But I am researching now a virtual program simulate a led lamp and I am not found any document for this.

Re: Writing a Simple USB Driver

Anonymous's picture

Looks very cool -- thanks for the article, Greg. I've ordered one of these already to set up a weather-forcast indicator to be installed by my front door.

It looks from the documentation that the device has a programmable flash rate -- it'd be cool to see support for that in the driver. And maybe the buzzer, although I don't think I have a use for that.