Emil Lerch

Husband, Father, Technologist, Cloud Architect

Wrapping up our exploration: A mini shell

Wrapping up our exploration: A mini shell

This is part of an ongoing series:

Through previous efforts, I now have two USB devices. One for debug messages, and one for whatever we want. I don’t have any brilliant plans here…this is primarily an academic exercise to get knowledge in this world. So let’s put together the beginnings of a shell to see how things work out. Our todo list is nearly complete…the main question remaining is “What is this SDK doing for us? Can we do it ourselves?”

The answer seems to be, “abstracting the hardware interface”. Through the Bouffalo Labs SDK, we don’t need to worry about the memory mapped I/O addresses and interrupts coming from various devices. I had expected to need to do some assembly work, but as it turns out, using the SDK allows me to simply use C. The hardware specifics are coded into the SDK, while in Linux many (but not all) of these details are in the device tree

Most of the hard work is done, so let’s create a shell! Since the last post, I spent a bit of time on some niceties, implementing colorized debugging, making indentation consistent, and removing unneeded code. One thing I haven’t quite sorted out, however, is the use of ep_tx_busy_flag. Waiting until this flag is set to false seems to hang my interfaces. Not waiting, however, will result in intermittent glitches. The glitches are fairly uncommon, however, and this is just an example, so I’ve decided to ignore the problem for the moment.

One software/hardware addition to the niceties, however, is to use system uptime in the debugging logs. This proved interesting, as we can see the timing between operations when, for instance, delays are added artificially. This is done through bflb_mtimer_get_time_ms(), which simply reads from the appropriate timer memory address and converts microseconds to milliseconds.

To keep things in main.c, I created two function pointers in the newly renamed cdc_acm_usb_interface.c. One is to notify when the data terminal ready state changes. The other, for when data is received. We’ll use these in main.c.

First, we want to display a prompt when our data terminal is ready (here, through screen /dev/ttyACM0 2000000). This looks like the following:

void dtr_changed(bool dtr) {
  if (dtr) {
    debuglog("DTR enabled: requesting prompt\r\n");
    display_prompt = true;

int main(void) {

  dtr_changed_ptr = &dtr_changed;
  data_received_ptr = &data_received;
  while (1) {
    if (display_prompt) {
      /* We can't display directly on the dtr_enabled interrupt, must be on the
       * main loop. Without any delay, we will not see a prompt. But even 1ms
       * is enough
      display_prompt = false;
      debuglog("displayed prompt\r\n");
      curr_char = 0;

A couple interesting things here. At first, I tried to display the prompt directly in dtr_changed, but found that it just wasn’t possible, and nothing would be displayed until further interaction occurred. I ultimately decided that issuing I/O while in an interrupt handler was probably a bad idea, so I used a volatile flag display_prompt to signal to the main function that we were ready to go. Even there, I was unable to just display the prompt…a small delay was needed. At one millisecond, no one will notice an artificial display, so while bflb_mtime_delay_us is available, I chose not to use it. My debug log on /dev/ttyACM1 was invaluable to this process.

ok, so a prompt is now showing. What about processing actual commands? Here we have a few tasks:

  1. We want to echo characters back to the terminal as they are typed
  2. We want to process a command when the enter key is pressed.

Here’s how that looks:

void data_received(uint32_t nbytes, uint8_t *bytes) {
  /* I think we're getting an SOH after our output, but not sure why exactly */
  /* This if statement is a bit fragile (e.g. it doesn't cover SOH + data) */
  /* so we may need some further processing */
  if (curr_char == 0 && nbytes == 1 && *bytes == 0x01) return;
  /* if (nbytes == 1) */
  /*   debuglog("Received the letter '%c'. curr_char %d\r\n", *bytes, curr_char); */
  if (curr_char + nbytes >= 1024) {
    /* We will overflow - bail */
    debugerror("command too long");
    output("\r\nCOMMAND TOO LONG\r\n%s", prompt);
    curr_char = 0;
  /* Process new data */
  memcpy(&cmd_buffer[curr_char], bytes, nbytes);
  raw_output(nbytes, &cmd_buffer[curr_char]); /* Echo data back to console */
  if (nbytes == 1 && cmd_buffer[curr_char] == '\r') {
    /* User hit enter, process command */
    bflb_mtimer_delay_ms(1); /* There is a microsecond delay as well */
    cmd_buffer[curr_char] = '\0';
    debuglog("Processing command '%s'\r\n", &cmd_buffer[0]);
    process_cmd(&cmd_buffer[0], curr_char - 1);
    output("%s", prompt);
    curr_char = 0;
  curr_char += nbytes;

The data_received function is assigned to the function pointer provided in our usb c file. I found that data was coming in prior to data terminal ready, and I suspect that this was some setup data coming through. I could easily log it with my debug functions at this point, but ultimately I just throw away the data when displaying the prompt in main. In this function we have few guard clauses to make sure we don’t overrun our command buffer. Next, we copy the incoming character into our buffer, then check to see if enter \r has been pressed.

If it has, we need to swing into action. Pressing enter should move to the next line, so we output the \r\n sequence to make that happen. To avoid glitching, we insert an artificial delay, then we set a null character at the end of the command. This shouldn’t be necessary, and ultimately I shouldn’t be assuming null termination (this is a buffer overrun exploit waiting to happen), but this is sample code, so I’ve not dealt with that problem. The null terminator does let me quickly log the command, which was helpful in development to track down the extra characters before DTR was enabled. Lastly, we call the process_cmd function to do whatever it needs to do before outputting a new prompt and resetting the index to our command buffer. Not too bad.

To process the command, I only implemented a quick and dirty echo:

void process_cmd(uint8_t *cmd, uint32_t cmd_len){
  int prefix_len = strlen("echo ");
  if (strncmp((char *)cmd, "echo ", prefix_len) == 0){
    raw_output(cmd_len - prefix_len + 1, cmd + prefix_len);
    bflb_mtimer_delay_ms(1); /* There is a microsecond delay as well */

This is primarily to give a feel to how we could start an implementation of multiple commands. Here we just look for echo and output whatever comes after, but we could just as easily read/write/list/delete files, start wifi, perform encryption, or whatever we need right here.

And with that, my exploration is complete, and my “final” code is here: https://github.com/elerch/bl616-usb-cdc-acm/tree/dd9bd918628b40b090eaa3396053e4726a6d3116 If I have something that calls for this neat little device, I may revisit, but in the meantime, it’s been fun exploring modern embedded development.