Raspberry Pi Pico Tips and Tricks

Saturday 14 May 2016

Turning the activity light on or off on the Raspberry Pi

The following post is a section of the book 'Raspberry Pi: Measure, Record, Explore'.  The entire book can be downloaded in pdf format for free from Leanpub or you can read it online here.
Since this post is a snapshot in time. I recommend that you download a copy of the book which is updated frequently to improve and expand the content.

The main board on the Raspberry Pi has power and activity LEDs to indicate when power has been applied (red) and when the on-board SD card is being accessed (green). These are situated near one end of the GPIO pins as indicated below.
LED Positions
Embarrassingly, I have found that when running multiple Raspberry Pi’s I have forgotten which ones are running which software or operating system (This is what I get for writing books on Nagios, Ghost, ownCloud etc). This is exacerbated by mounting the Pis in an open stack configuration similar to the following (Imagine it as a slightly higher stack).
Stack o' Pi
What to do then when faced with a stack o’ Pi and difficulty in telling which is which?
The good news is that we can log into each and with the help of the excellent post by BrianW on the Raspberry Pi Forums we can force the activity LED to illuminate and hence identify each device.

Cut to the chase and just do it

We need to be root to execute the command (just using sudo in front of the command won’t be enough). Switch to the root user by typing the following
This will switch to the root user and the -i option will acquire the root user’s environment.
The command prompt will indicate that we are now the root user thusly;
Then we can turn the LED on by writing a ‘1’ to the ‘led0’ brightness file with the following command;
If we want to turn it off we write a ‘0’ like so;
And to return it to the state where it indicates activity on the SD card we use mmc0 which is shorthand for multi media card 0 (or the SD card);
Don’t forget to log out of root using exit or ‘Crtl-d’ when you’re finished.

The explanation of how it works

The /sys directory exists as an interface between the kernel-space and the user-space. As such it is an implementation of the system filesystem (sysfs). The /sys/class subdirectory is exported by thee kernel at runtime and presents devices on the system as a ‘class’ in the sense that it abstracts out the detailed implementation that might otherwise be exposed (the example used in the ‘makelinux’ description of classes is that a driver might see a SCSI or ATA disk, but as a class they are all just ‘disks’).
The following is a highly abridged hierarchy of the /sys/class directory where we can see the range of classes and their respective links.
pi@raspberrypi /sys/class $ tree
├── bcm2708_vcio
│   └── vcio -> ../../devices/virtual/bcm2708_vcio/vcio
├── gpio
│   ├── export
│   ├── gpiochip0 -> ../../devices/soc/3f200000.gpio/gpio/gpiochip0
│   └── unexport
├── graphics
│   ├── fb0 -> ../../devices/virtual/graphics/fb0
│   └── fbcon -> ../../devices/virtual/graphics/fbcon
├── i2c-adapter
├── input
│   └── mice -> ../../devices/virtual/input/mice
├── leds
│   ├── led0 -> ../../devices/soc/soc:leds/leds/led0
│   └── led1 -> ../../devices/soc/soc:leds/leds/led1
├── mem
│   ├── full -> ../../devices/virtual/mem/full
│   ├── mem -> ../../devices/virtual/mem/mem
│   ├── null -> ../../devices/virtual/mem/null
│   ├── random -> ../../devices/virtual/mem/random
│   ├── urandom -> ../../devices/virtual/mem/urandom
│   └── zero -> ../../devices/virtual/mem/zero
├── misc
│   ├── autofs -> ../../devices/virtual/misc/autofs
│   ├── cachefiles -> ../../devices/virtual/misc/cachefiles
│   ├── cpu_dma_latency -> ../../devices/virtual/misc/cpu_dma_latency
│   ├── memory_bandwidth -> ../../devices/virtual/misc/memory_bandwidth
│   ├── network_latency -> ../../devices/virtual/misc/network_latency
│   └── network_throughput -> ../../devices/virtual/misc/network_throughput
├── mmc_host
│   └── mmc0 -> ../../devices/platform/mmc-bcm2835.0/mmc_host/mmc0
├── net
│   ├── eth0 -> ../../devices/platform/bcm2708_usb/usb1/1-1/1-1.1:1.0/net/
│   └── lo -> ../../devices/virtual/net/lo
├── power_supply
├── scsi_device
├── scsi_disk
├── scsi_host
├── sound
│   ├── card0 -> ../../devices/virtual/sound/card0
│   └── timer -> ../../devices/virtual/sound/timer
└── vtconsole
    └── vtcon1 -> ../../devices/virtual/vtconsole/vtcon1
The leds class contains directories for ‘led0’ and ‘led1’.
Inside this directory are the trigger file which determines which kernel modules activity will flash the led and the brightness file that will determine the brightness (duh!) of the led.
If we cat the trigger file we can see that there is a range of different things that can be used as the trigger to illuminate the led.
pi@raspberrypi /sys/class/leds/led0 $ cat trigger
none [mmc0] timer oneshot heartbeat backlight gpio cpu0 default-on input
The multimedia card (mmc0) is set as the default.
The led can only have two levels of brightness; ‘on’ or ‘off’. This corresponds to a ‘0’ or a ‘1’ respectively. To illuminate our led all we have to do therefore is to signal the brightness file that it has the value ‘1’ (per the example above).
To revert to control of the brightness we echo the device responsible for controlling the led to the trigger file. In this case for the activity led it is the ‘mmc0’ device.

The post above (and heaps of other stuff) is in the book 'Raspberry Pi: Measure, Record, Explore' that can be downloaded for free (or donate if you really want to :-)).

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