Stupid Python Tricks: C-Structures using the ctypes Module (part 2)


A discussion of overriding __new__ and __init__ to simplify the creation Python cstruct.Structure objects.

Creating a new cytpes.BigEndianStructure

Here is a simple example of a 2-byte structure using the ctypes.BigEndianStructure class.

In this example I:

  • Derive a new class called MyStruct from the BigEndianStructure
  • Declare three fields called first (4-bits), second (4-bits) and third (8-bits).
  • Create a new object of MyStruct type called “a”
  • Set the values of the three fields
  • Print it out.

When I run this you can see that indeed I get 0xABCD as the result.  Several comments about this:

  • Notice that it is BigEndian (which is good since that is what I declared)
  • 0xA = 4-bits, 0-xB=4-bit so 0xAB is the first byte.

You can also create a new structure by calling the class method “from_buffer_copy” with parameter of bytes type.

When you run this, you get the same result.

What I was really hoping to be able to do is create a new structure from an array of bytes like this:

But that crashes.

And for some reason this took me a really long time to figure out.  You probably say to yourself, “Im not surprised it took him so long to figure out.  He is programming in Python so he probably isn’t very smart anyway”

Overriding __new__ & __init__

While working to understand, I ran into the article “A better way to work with raw data types in Python” which I found interesting.  Here is a screen shot of a bit of the code.

OK.  So lets add the dunder init and dunder new methods to my class.

Now when I run it, things are good.

Why do I need the __init__?

So, why do I need the dunder init that doesn’t actually do anything? Presumably if I was a real python programmer I would have already known the answer.  But I’m not, so I didn’t.

The first question I had is what does the Python keyword “pass” do?  The answer is nothing.  It is a nop or void if you prefer and is there just to make the program legal as a function has to have some function.

Then onto the Python documentation where I found that if you have an __new__ method that returns an object of the subtype Python will automatically call the __init__ function.

A Conundrum

The other interesting function that the author added was added was:

This function actually crashes because there is no member called “buffer”.  I am not sure if the cause is:

  • The buffer attribute was left out of the class by the author
  • The buffer was formerly an attribute of the Python 2.x ctypes base class (this is what I suspect)

Stupid Python Tricks: C-Structures using the ctypes Module


A discussion of reading data out of stream of bytes (encoded in a C-like structure) using the Python ctypes module.  The data in the stream is a UDP packet that represents an mDNS query or request.  The purpose of this article is to explain a process for decoding bytes streams in Python


While I was working on A-Class Linux implementations I fell down the rabbit hole of mDNS.  mDNS is a part of the set of protocols that make up “Zero Configuration Networking”.  In order to understand the protocol I decided to implement (partially) an mDNS server.  You can read about that protocol and my implementation – when I get done :-).  However, all of that isn’t really important to this article, but it did bring me to dig into techniques for examining bytes in Python.

I doubt that this article is canonical, but I hope that it is at least useful.  I did find quite a few partial discussions of this topic, but I had to dig into to really understand.

Python Comment
bytes A built in object to represent an immutable sequence of single bytes.
bytearray A built in object to represent a mutable sequence of single bytes.
struct A module to encode and decode bytes from c-like structures (unfortunately the byte is an atomic unit of the struct module)
ctypes A module to interface to C functions and data. It contains a bunch of classes which can be used to interface with C-Structures (like the struct module)

There are bunches of web hits on this topic.  However, here are a few which I found useful.

Link Comment
link A basic discussion of the ctypes module and the basic classes
link A discussion of the ctypes.sizeof function
link A discussion of the bytearray
link A Better Way to Work with Raw Data Types in Python

The UDP Header for a mDNS Packet

The IETF RFC 6895 documents the header format for mDNS (and DNS) packets.  The header contains data in Big Endian format encoded into 12 bytes that are broken up into bits, several-bits, and a few 16-bit integers.  Here is snapshot from the RFC.


A Red Herring

OK, I admit it.  I am a C-Programmer from way back.  My first inclination to decode the bytes looked like this:

  • Using shifts and or’s to assemble the bytes into big endian uint16s e.g. line 2
  • Using bit masks and logic “and” with or’s and shifts to pick out bit fields e.g. line 12
  • Using a tower of if/elif/elif/else to decode the individual values e.g. lines

Here is my first crack at this.

Encoding a c-structure with Bits

I didn’t really like the above implementation.  So I kept digging.  After a while I found the ctypes module.  This lets you

  • Derive a new class from the BigEndianStructure class (line 1)
  • Pack all of the bits and bytes next to each other (line 2)
  • Specify the field names, type and optionally the length in bits (line

When you receive data from a socket you will get a tuple that contains

  1. a “bytes” type object containing the raw bytes of the message
  2. a “tuple” containing the IP address (not relevant to this discussion)

Now that you have the bytes you can create an object of dnsHeader type to interpret the bytes.  The ctypes class method “from_buffer_copy” will take an array of bytes that is at least the length of the structure and return an object of the type of “dnsHeader”.

Then you can look at the individual fields like this:

PSoC 6 Pins & the SPI Port


Recently, I have been helping a reader sort out some code that makes strings of WS2812 LEDs work.  Specifically, this code takes data from a frame buffer inside of the PSoC 6 and drives it out a SPI port via the MOSI pin. I have written about this a couple of times, but,  the new wrinkle in our code is that it allows you to use any combination of SPI port/pins on the chip.  Instead of using the configurators to setup the SPI to GPIO connection, I setup the connection using PDL to talk directly to the PSoC 6 configuration the registers.

Perhaps it is obvious to everyone how a connection from a peripheral to a GPIO works, but I thought that I would write about it anyway.  In this article I am going to show you a bunch of the documentation for PSoC as well as the PDL source code which implements the documentation.  Specifically, I will show you the PSoC 6

  1. Architecture TRM
  2. Register TRM
  3. Datasheet
  4. PDL

Architecture TRM

In the picture below, which I copied from the PSoC 6 Architecture TRM, you can see how an individual GPIO works.  Starting  at the Pin of the chip you can see that there are three connections from/to the pin (look at the green box).

  • A set of switches to/from the Analog Mux Bus which enable CapSense or Analog peripherals to talk to the Pin
  • A connection from the pin to the Analog peripherals (some Analog peripherals can attach directly to a pin and not though the Analog Mux Bus
  • A connection to the High Speed I/O Matrix (HSIOM) – for the digital peripherals

Notice that all of the signals coming into the green box from the top are DIGITAL.  All of the signals coming into the box from the bottom are Analog and the line coming into the middle of the box controls the behavior of the I/O.

For my case the SPI is one of the “Fixed Function Digital Peripherals”.  In order to get it to connect to the pin I will beed to pick out the right signal in the multiplexer that is in the HSIOM Matrix box.

When you scroll down a little bit further in the Architecture TRM, the next diagram is a more detailed description of the GPIO.  Notice that there are a bunch of configuration register bits which setup different parts of the I/O like slew rate, interrupts, drive mode etc.  Notice that the multiplexer that is connected to “out”
and “out_en” has a bunch of different possible signals.  Including “GPIO_PRTx_OUT[OUTy]” which is a register bit which is can be used for “digital write”.  For instance GPIO_PRT0_OUT[2] would be P0_2.  The other interesting thing going on here is you can see that there are really three classes of signals attached to the mutiplexer

  • The digital output pin
  • Active signals – which work while the chip is not in deep sleep
  • Deep Sleep signals – which work while the chip is in deep sleep.

On the output side you can see the two pullup and pulldown resistors, as well as the two transistors which pullup and pull down.  All of these can be configured to be connected… or not.

And finally at the bottom of the I/O you can see the analog signals.


If you look a little bit further down in the Architecture TRM you will find this table which describes how each of the actual pins on the multiplexer work.

PSoC 6 Register TRM

If you want to start to make specific configurations for specific pins you will need to look into the PSoC 6 Register TRM.  In that document you will find that the

Register TRM

Register TRM

PSoC 6 Datasheet

But what are all of the active and deep sleep signals?  Well if you look in the PSoC 6 data sheet you can find all of those connections.  For instance on P0.1 active signal 8 is the SCB 0 SPI Select signal 2.


But really all of these register reads and writes are not really that fun.  So, Cypress provides other, less painful ways of getting things going.  Specifically,

  • void Cy_GPIO_SetHSIOM(GPIO_PRT_Type* base, uint32_t pinNum, en_hsiom_sel_t value)


  • Cy_GPIO_Pin_Init(GPIO_PRT_Type *base, uint32_t pinNum, const cy_stc_gpio_pin_config_t *config)

When you call both of these function you need to provide the value for the multipler either directly in the Cy_GPIO_SetHSIOM or indirectly in the Cy_GPIO_Pin_Init case where you provide it as a member of the cy_stc_gpio_pin_config_t *config structure called “hsiom”

Depending on which package you have selected you will have a file like gpio_psoc6_01_124_bga.h which will have both the generic definitions for the HSIOM multiplexer select (like this)

As well as the pin by pin definitions… like this for P0_2

If you look at the Cy_GPIO_Pin_Init function you will see that on line 96 it sets the register which picks the correct pin mux.

And finally the Cy_GPIO_SetHSIOM actually writes to the register.


Finally, it may seem obvious, but there is a limited set of connections to each GPIO in PSoC 6.  This means that any given SCB can only connect its SPI pins to a specific set of pins on the chip.  But, what are they?  You can either look at the data sheet, or you can search the file which you will find the pin definitions which will all be in the form of Px_y_SCBz_SPI_MOSI and this will give you a complete map.

Stupid Python Tricks – Ensure PIP & Virtual Environments


This article will show you how to fix your Python setup such that virtual environments that you create will have the correct version of PIP

The Story

I frequently take screen shots as part of my article writing process.  And it absolutely drives me crazy to have “crap” on the screen e.g. warning messages.  I was recently working on an article about PyVISA – a Python package for interacting with Lab Instruments – when I got this error message about the wrong PIP version.

But how can this be as I know that I have the correct version (which at the time was 20.0.2).  You obviously can “fix” this by running an upgrade of pip in your virtual environment.

But that doesn’t really “fix” it.  It just means that the virtual environment you just created has the most up to date PIP.  What is frustrating is that when you exit the virtual environment, the PIP version is correct (look 20.0.2)

Why are the environments differ?   The answer is when you create a virtual environment it will copy Python, pip and easy_install to your binary directory.

As part of doing this it will pickup the “ensurepip” version of PIP which is embedded in the Python installation on your computer.  Ensure pip just ensures that there will be a pip version available in any given Python installation even though Pip is not installed with Python.  On my computer the ensurepip is embedded deeply in a Hombrew directory:

In the screen above you can see that my ensurepip has “19.2.3” when the rest of my computer is set to “20.0.2”. So how do you fix the ensurepip?  Well I first thought that perhaps running the “ensurepip” with the upgrade flag would do it.  Here is what happens.  It seems to fix it.  (but it doesn’t).

The only way that I know how to fix it is install the Python module upgrade_ensurepip.  Here are the commands

  • pip3 install upgrade_ensurepip
  • python3 -m upgrade_ensurepip

Now you when create a virtual environment you will end up with the correct PIP

If you look in the directory you will find that it adds the “pip… whl” director into the ensurepip directory

And it modifies the “_PIP_VERSION” in the ensurepip package