C Programming for Microcontrollers – Featuring ATMEL’s AVR Butterfly and the free WinAVR Compiler
C Programming and microcontrollers are two big topics, practically continental in size, and like continents, are easy to get lost in. Combining the two is a little like traipsing from Alaska to Tierra del Fuego. Chances are you’ll get totally lost and if the natives don’t eat you, your infected blisters will make you want to sit and pout. I’ve been down this road so much that I probably have my own personal rut etched in the metaphorical soil, and I can point to all the sharp rocks I’ve stepped on, all the branches that have whacked me in the face, and the bushes from which the predators leapt. If you get the image of a raggedy bum stumbling through the jungle, you’ve got me right. Consider this book a combination roadmap, guidebook, and emergency first aid kit for your journey into this fascinating, but sometimes dangerous world.
I highly recommend that you get the book, ‘The C Programming Language â€“ second edition’ by Kernighan and Ritchie, here after referred to as K&R. Dennis Ritchie, Figure 1, wrote C, and his book is the definitive source on all things C.
Figure 1: Dennis Ritchie, inventor of the C programming language stands next to Ken Thompson, original inventor of Unix, designing the original Unix operating system at Bell Labs on a PDP-11
I have chosen to follow that book’s organization in this book’s structure. The main difference is that their book is machine independent and gives lots of examples based on manipulating text, while this book is machine dependent, specifically based on the AVR microcontroller, and the examples are as microcontroller oriented as I can make them.
Back in the dark ages of microprocessors, software development was done exclusively in the specific assembly language of the specific device. These assembly languages were character based ‘mnemonic’ substitutions for the numerical machine language codes. Instead of writing something like: 0x12 0x07 0xA4 0x8F to get the device to load a value into a memory location, you could write something like: MOV 22 MYBUFFER+7. The assembler would translate that statement into the machine language for you. I’ve written code in machine language (as a learning experiment) and believe me when I tell you that assembly language is a major step up in productivity. But a device’s assembly language is tied to the device and the way the device works. They are hard to master, and become obsolete for you the moment you change microcontroller families. They are specific purpose languages that work only on specific microprocessors. C is a general-purpose programming language that can work on any microprocessor that has a C compiler written for it. C abstracts the concepts of what a computer does and provides a text based logical and readable way to get computers to do what computers do. Once you learn C, you can move easily between microcontroller families, write software much faster, and create code that is much easier to understand and maintain.
As microprocessors evolved, devices increased in complexity with new hardware and new instructions to accomplish new tasks. These microprocessors became known as CISC or Complex Instruction Set Computers. Complex is often an understatement; some of the CISCs that I’ve worked with have mind-numbingly complex instruction sets. Some of the devices have so many instructions that it becomes difficult to figure out the most efficient way to do anything that isn’t built into the hardware.
Then somebody figured that if they designed a very simple core processor that only did a few things but did them very fast and efficiently, they could make a much cheaper and easier to program computer. Thus was born the RISC, Reduced Instruction Set Computers. The downside was that you had to write additional assembly language software to do all the things that the CISC computer had built in. For instance, instead of calling a divide instruction in a CISC device, you would have to do a series of subtractions to accomplish a division using a RISC device. This ‘disadvantage’ was offset by price and speed, and is completely irrelevant when you program with C since the complier generates the assembly code for you.
Although I’ll admit that ‘CISC versus RISC’ and ‘C versus assembly language’ arguments often seem more like religious warfare than logical discourse, I have come to believe that the AVR, a RISC device, programmed in C is the best way to microcontroller salvation (halleluiah brother).
The folks that designed the AVR as a RISC architecture and instruction set while keeping C programming language in mind. In fact they worked with C compiler designers from IAR to help them with the hardware design to help optimize it for C programming.
Since this is an introductory text I won’t go into all the detailed reasons I’ve chosen the AVR, I’ll just state that I have a lot of experience with other microcontrollers such as Intel’s 8051, Motorola’s 68xxxes, Zilog’s Z’s, and Microchip’s PIC’s and I’m done with them (unless adequately paid â€“ hey, I’m no zealot). These devices are all good, but they require expensive development boards, expensive programming boards, and expensive software development tools (don’t believe them about the ‘free’ software, in most cases the ‘free’ is for code size or time limited versions).
The AVR is fast, cheap, in-circuit programmable, and development software can be had for FREE (really free, not crippled or limited in any way). I’ve paid thousands of dollars for development boards, programming boards, and C compilers for the other devices, but never again — I like free. The hardware used in this text, the ATMEL Butterfly Evaluation Board can be modified with a few components to turn it into a decent development system and the Butterfly and needed components can be had for less than $40.00 (See Appendix 1 Project Kits). You can’t get a better development system for 10 times this price and you can pay 100 times this and not get as good.
Download ebook C Programming for Microcontrollers
Buy C Programming for Microcontrollers book from amazon.com for US$ 49.95