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2008-10-28 17:16:52

I2C Drivers, Part II

February 1st, 2004 by in

Here's what has to happen to read the sensors that report the temperature, fan speed and other important system health information.
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In my last column [LJ, December 2003], we discussed how I2C bus drivers and I2C algorithm drivers work. We also described how to make a tiny dummy I2C bus driver. This month, we discuss how an I2C chip driver works and provide an example of one in action.

An I2C chip driver controls the process of talking to an individual I2C device that lives on an I2C bus. I2C chip devices usually monitor a number of different physical devices on a motherboard, such as the different fan speeds, temperature values and voltages.

The struct i2c_driver structure describes a I2C chip driver. This structure is defined in the include/linux/i2c.h file. Only the following fields are necessary to create a working chip driver:

  • struct module *owner; — set to the value THIS_MODULE that allows the proper module reference counting.

  • char name[I2C_NAME_SIZE]; — set to a descriptive name of the I2C chip driver. This value shows up in the sysfs file name created for every I2C chip device.

  • unsigned int flags; — set to the value I2C_DF_NOTIFY in order for the chip driver to be notified of any new I2C devices loaded after this driver is loaded. This field probably will go away soon, as almost all drivers set this field.

  • int (*attach_adapter)(struct i2c_adapter *); — called whenever a new I2C bus driver is loaded in the system. This function is described in more detail below.

  • int (*detach_client)(struct i2c_client *); — called when the i2c_client device is to be removed from the system. More information about this function is provided below.

The following code is from an example I2C chip driver called tiny_i2c_chip.c., which is available from the Linux Journal FTP site []. It shows how the struct i2c_driver structure is set up:

static struct i2c_driver chip_driver = {
    .owner          = THIS_MODULE,
    .name           = "tiny_chip",
    .flags          = I2C_DF_NOTIFY,
    .attach_adapter = chip_attach_adapter,
    .detach_client  = chip_detach_client,

Registering a Chip Driver

To register this I2C chip driver, the function i2c_add_driver should be called with a pointer to the struct i2c_driver:

static int __init tiny_init(void)
    return i2c_add_driver(&chip_driver);

To unregister the I2C chip driver, the i2c_del_driver function should be called with the same pointer to the struct i2c_driver:

static void __exit tiny_exit(void)

After the I2C chip driver is registered, the attach_adapter function callback is called when an I2C bus driver is loaded. This function checks to see if any I2C devices are on this I2C bus to which the client driver wants to attach. Almost all I2C chip drivers call the core I2C function i2c_detect to determine this. For example, the tiny_i2c_chip.c driver does this:

static int
chip_attach_adapter(struct i2c_adapter *adapter)
    return i2c_detect(adapter, &addr_data,

The i2c_detect function probes the I2C adapter, looking for the different addresses specified in the addr_data structure. If a device is found, the chip_detect function then is called.

If you look closely at the source code, you cannot find the addr_data structure anywhere. The reason for this is it is created by the SENSORS_INSMOD_1 macro. This macro is defined in the include/linux/i2c-sensor.h file and is quite complicated. It sets up a static variable called addr_data based on the number of different types of chips that this driver supports and the addresses at which these chips typically are present. It then provides the ability to override these values by using module parameters. An I2C chip driver must provide the variables normal_i2c, normal_i2c_range, normal_isa and normal_isa_range. These variables define the i2c smbus and i2c isa addresses this chip driver supports. They are an array of addresses, all terminated by either the special value I2C_CLIENT_END or I2C_CLIENT_ISA_END. Usually a specific type of I2C chip shows up in only a limited range of addresses. The tiny_i2c_client.c driver defines these variables as:

static unsigned short normal_i2c[] =
static unsigned short normal_i2c_range[] =
  { 0x00, 0xff, I2C_CLIENT_END };
static unsigned int normal_isa[] =
static unsigned int normal_isa_range[] =

The normal_i2c_range variable specifies that we can find this chip device at any I2C smbus address. This allows us to test this driver on almost any I2C bus driver.

What to Do When the Chip Is Found

In the tiny_i2c_chip.c driver, when an I2C chip device is found, the function chip_detect is called by the I2C core. This function is declared with the following parameters:

static int
chip_detect(struct i2c_adapter *adapter,
            int address, int kind);

The adapter variable is the I2C adapter structure on which this chip is located. The address variable contains the address where the chip was found, and the kind variable indicates what kind of chip was found. The kind variable usually is ignored, but some I2C chip drivers support different kinds of I2C chips, so this variable can be used to determine the type of chip present.

This function is responsible for creating a struct i2c_client structure that then is registered with the I2C core. The I2C core uses that structure as an individual I2C chip device. To create this structure, the chip_detect function does the following:

struct i2c_client *new_client = NULL;
struct chip_data *data = NULL;
int err = 0;

new_client = kmalloc(sizeof(*new_client),
if (!new_client) {
    err = -ENOMEM;
    goto error;
memset(new_client, 0x00, sizeof(*new_client));

data = kmalloc(sizeof(*data), GFP_KERNEL);
if (!data) {
    err = -ENOMEM;
    goto error;
memset(data, 0x00, sizeof(*data));

i2c_set_clientdata(new_client, data);
new_client->addr = address;
new_client->adapter = adapter;
new_client->driver = &chip_driver;
new_client->flags = 0;
strncpy(new_client->name, "tiny_chip",

First, the struct i2c_client structure and a separate local data structure (called struct chip_data) are created and initialized to zero. It is important that the i2c_client structure is initialized to zero, as the lower levels of the kernel driver core require this in order to work properly. After the memory is allocated successfully, some fields in the struct i2c_client are set to point to this specific device and this specific driver. Notably, the addr, adapter and driver variables must be initialized. The name of the struct i2c_client also must be set if it is to show up properly in the sysfs tree for this I2C device.

After the struct i2c_client structure is initialized, it must be registered with the I2C core. This is done with a call to the i2c_attach_client function:

/* Tell the I2C layer a new client has arrived */
err = i2c_attach_client(new_client);
if (err)
    goto error;

When this function returns, with no errors reported, the I2C chip device is set up properly in the kernel.

I2C and sysfs

In the 2.0, 2.2 and 2.4 kernels, the I2C code would place the I2C chip devices in the /proc/bus/i2c directory. In the 2.6 kernel, all I2C chip devices and adapters show up in the sysfs filesystem. I2C chip devices can be found at /sys/bus/i2c/devices, listed by their adapter address and chip address. For example, the tiny_i2c_chip driver loaded on a machine might produce the following sysfs tree structure:

$ tree /sys/bus/i2c/
|-- devices
|   |-- 0-0009 -> ../../../devices/pci0000:00/0000:00:06.0/i2c-0/0-0009
|   |-- 0-000a -> ../../../devices/pci0000:00/0000:00:06.0/i2c-0/0-000a
|   |-- 0-000b -> ../../../devices/pci0000:00/0000:00:06.0/i2c-0/0-000b
|   `-- 0-0019 -> ../../../devices/pci0000:00/0000:00:06.0/i2c-0/0-0019
`-- drivers
    |-- i2c_adapter
    `-- tiny_chip
        |-- 0-0009 -> ../../../../devices/pci0000:00/0000:00:06.0/i2c-0/0-0009
        |-- 0-000a -> ../../../../devices/pci0000:00/0000:00:06.0/i2c-0/0-000a
        |-- 0-000b -> ../../../../devices/pci0000:00/0000:00:06.0/i2c-0/0-000b
        `-- 0-0019 -> ../../../../devices/pci0000:00/0000:00:06.0/i2c-0/0-0019

This shows four different I2C chip devices, all controlled by the same tiny_chip driver. The controlling driver can be located by looking at the devices in the /sys/bus/i2c/drivers directory or by looking in the directory of the chip device itself and reading the name file:

$ cat /sys/devices/pci0000\:00/0000\:00\:06.0/i2c-0/0-0009/name

All I2C chip drivers export the different sensor values through sysfs files within the I2C chip device directory. These filenames are standardized, along with the units in which the values are expressed, and are documented within the kernel tree in the file Documentation/i2c/sysfs-interface (Table 1).

Table 1. Sensor Values Exported through sysfs Files

temp_max[1-3] Temperature max value. Fixed point value in form XXXXX and should be divided by 1,000 to get degrees Celsius. Read/Write value.
temp_min[1-3] Temperature min or hysteresis value. Fixed point value in form XXXXX and should be divided by 1,000 to get degrees Celsius. This is preferably a hysteresis value, reported as an absolute temperature, not a delta from the max value. Read/Write value.
temp_input[1-3] Temperature input value. Read-only value.

As the information in Table 1 shows, there is only one value per file. All files are readable and some can be written to by users with the proper privileges.

The tiny_i2c_chip.c driver emulates an I2C chip device that can report temperature values. It creates the files, temp_max1, temp_min1 and temp_input1 in sysfs. The values it returns when these files are read from is incremented every time the file is read to show how to access different unique chip values.

In order to create a file in sysfs, the DEVICE_ATTR macro is used:

static DEVICE_ATTR(temp_max, S_IWUSR | S_IRUGO,
                   show_temp_max, set_temp_max);
static DEVICE_ATTR(temp_min, S_IWUSR | S_IRUGO,
                   show_temp_hyst, set_temp_hyst);
static DEVICE_ATTR(temp_input, S_IRUGO,
                   show_temp_input, NULL);

This macro creates a structure that then is passed to the function device_create_file at the end of the chip_detect function:

/* Register sysfs files */

That call creates the sysfs files for the device:

|-- detach_state
|-- name
|-- power
|   `-- state
|-- temp_input
|-- temp_max
`-- temp_min

The file name is created by the I2C core, and the files detach_state and power/state are created by the driver core.

But, let's go back to the DEVICE_ATTR macro. That macro wants to know the name of the file to be created, the mode of the file to be created, the name of the function to be called when the file is read from and the name of the function to be called when the file is written to. For the file temp_max, this declaration was:

static DEVICE_ATTR(temp_max, S_IWUSR | S_IRUGO,
                   show_temp_max, set_temp_max);

The function called when the file is read from is show_temp_max. This is defined, as are many sysfs files, with another macro that creates a function:

#define show(value) \
static ssize_t \
show_##value(struct device *dev, char *buf)        \
{                                                  \
    struct i2c_client *client = to_i2c_client(dev);\
    struct chip_data *data =                       \
        i2c_get_clientdata(client);                \
    chip_update_client(client);                    \
    return sprintf(buf, "%d\n", data->value);      \

The reason this function is created with a macro is that it is quite simple to create other sysfs files that do almost the same thing, with different names and that read from different variables, without having to duplicate code. This single macro creates three different functions to read from three different variables from the struct chip_data structure.

In this function, the struct device * is converted into a struct i2c_client *. Then the private struct chip_data * is obtained from the struct i2c_client *. After that the chip data is updated with a call to chip_update_client. From there, the variable that has been asked for is printed into a buffer and returned to the driver core, which then returns it to the user:

$ cat /sys/devices/pci0000:00/0000:00:06.0/i2c-0/0-0009/temp_input

The chip_update_client increments all values by one every time it is called:

static void
chip_update_client(struct i2c_client *client)
    struct chip_data *data =

    dev_dbg(&client->dev, "%s\n", __FUNCTION__);
    data->last_updated = jiffies;
    data->valid = 1;

So, all subsequent requests for this value are different:

$ cat /sys/devices/pci0000:00/0000:00:06.0/i2c-0/0-0009/temp_input
$ cat /sys/devices/pci0000:00/0000:00:06.0/i2c-0/0-0009/temp_input

The set_temp_max function also is created from a macro to allow variables to be written to:

#define set(value, reg)	\
static ssize_t                                     \
set_##value(struct device *dev,                    \
            const char *buf, size_t count)         \
{                                                  \
    struct i2c_client *client = to_i2c_client(dev);\
    struct chip_data *data =                       \
        i2c_get_clientdata(client);                \
    int temp = simple_strtoul(buf, NULL, 10);      \
    down(&data->update_lock);                      \
    data->value = temp;                            \
    up(&data->update_lock);                        \
    return count;                                  \
set(temp_max, REG_TEMP_OS);
set(temp_hyst, REG_TEMP_HYST);

Just like the show functions, this function converts the struct device * to a struct i2c_client *, and then the private struct chip_data * is found. The data the user provides then is turned into a number with a call to simple_strtoul and is saved into the proper variable:

$ cat /sys/devices/pci0000:00/0000:00:06.0/i2c-0/0-0009/temp_max
$ echo 41 > /sys/devices/pci0000:00/0000:00:06.0/i2c-0/0-0009/temp_max
$ cat /sys/devices/pci0000:00/0000:00:06.0/i2c-0/0-0009/temp_max

Cleaning Up

When the I2C chip device is removed from the system, either by the I2C bus driver being unloaded or by the I2C chip driver being unloaded, the I2C core calls the detatch_client function specified in the struct i2c_driver structure. This usually is a simple function, as can be seen in the example driver's implementation:

static int chip_detach_client(struct i2c_client *client)
    struct chip_data *data = i2c_get_clientdata(client);
    int err;

    err = i2c_detach_client(client);
    if (err) {
                "Client deregistration failed, "
                "client not detached.\n");
        return err;
    return 0;

As the i2c_attach_client function was called to register the struct i2c_client structure with the I2C core, the i2c_detach_client function must be called to unregister it. If that function succeeds, the memory the driver has allocated for the I2C device then needs to be freed before returning from the function.

This example driver does not specifically remove the sysfs files from the sysfs core. This step is done automatically in the driver core within the i2c_detach_client function. But if the author would like, the file can be removed manually by a call to device_remove_file.


This two-part series of articles has explained the basics of how to write a kernel I2C bus driver, I2C algorithm driver and I2C chip driver. A lot of good information on how to write I2C drivers can be found in the Documentation/i2c directory in the kernel tree and on the Lm_sensors Web site (

Greg Kroah-Hartman currently is the Linux kernel maintainer for a variety of different driver subsystems. He works for IBM, doing Linux kernel-related things, and can be reached at .

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