Communicating with SPI Devices

The Omega has a built-in hardware SPI controller allowing it to communicate with an SPI-enabled peripherals. To implement SPI communication, the Omega has a C library, a Python module, and a command-line tool. This article will focus on the command line program, spi-tool.

What is SPI?

The Serial Peripheral Interface (SPI) is a four-wire synchronous communication protocol, largely used to connect microprocessors or microcontrollers to sensors, memory, and other peripherals.

The four signals are:

SPI Signal Meaning
SCK System Clock
MOSI Master Out, Slave In - Data sent from the Master to the Slave
MISO Master In, Slave Out - Data sent from the Slave to the Master
CS/SS Chip Select/Slave Select

SPI is a synchronous data bus, meaning that one of the lines is a clock, used to synchronize the bits being sent on the data lines.

The protocol is based on the Master-Slave architecture. The Master will generate the System Clock and the Slave Select signals. Each Slave requires its own Slave Select connection to the Master.

For more details on SPI, check out the Wikipedia article.

The Omega & SPI

The Omega2’s hardware SPI bus has one Slave Select line available (CS1). The bus is registered to the operating system via the virtual device file /dev/spidev32766.1. This is made possible with sysfs, a pseudo-file system that holds information about the Omega’s hardware in files, and lets the user control the hardware by editing the files.

Here’s what the numbers mean:

  • 32766 is the Omega2’s bus number.
  • 1 indicates the device ID. This corresponds to the slave connected to the Omega2’s CS1 pin.

When using this bus, you will need to specify these particular numbers. Keep these handy for the sections below!

On a side note, device 0 (CS0) is connected to the flash memory used by the Omega.

On the Hardware

The SPI pins on the Omega2 and Expansion Dock are shown below.



The Command Line tool

The spi-tool command line utility allows the user to read and write single bytes from the Omega2’s SPI bus. For the examples below, use the SPI device bus number and device ID listed in the above section.

This utility is not included by default in the Omega’s firmware. To install it:

opkg update
opkg install spi-tool

Try running spi-tool -h for a print-out of the tool’s usage.

Read a Byte

To read a single byte from an SPI device, specify the memory address on the device:

spi-tool -b <BUS NUMBER> -d <DEVICE ID> [options] read <ADDRESS>

This command will print the byte read from the specified address on the SPI device.

Arguments and Options

The following arguments are required:

  • <BUS NUMBER>, <DEVICE ID> - specified in this section.
  • address - indicates the address from which to read on the SPI device.

Some useful options you can use are:

  • --frequency <Hz> - Set max SPI frequency
  • --delay <us> - Set delay after the last bit transfered before optionally deselecting the device before the next transfer, in microseconds.
  • --bpw <number> - Set number of bits per word
  • --cs <gpio> - Set GPIO for SPI CS signal
  • --3wire - Slave In/Slave Out signals shared
  • --no-cs - No chip select signal
  • --cs-high - Set chip select to active HIGH
  • --lsb - Transmit Least Significant Bit first


Read a byte on bus 32766, from device 1, from address 0x11:

root@Omega-ABCD:~# spi-tool -b 32766 -d 1 read 0x11
> SPI Read from addr 0x11: 0x81

Read a byte on bus 32766, from device 1; chip select is active HIGH; from address 0x00:

root@Omega-ABCD:~# spi-tool -b 32766 -d 1 --cs-high read 0x00
> SPI Read from addr 0x00: 0xf8

Read a byte on bus 32766, from device 1; shared Slave In/Slave Out signals; from address 0xaf:

root@Omega-ABCD:~# spi-tool -b 32766 -d 1 --3wire read 0xaf
> SPI Read from addr 0xaf: 0xbe

Write a Byte

Along with reading, you can also use spi-tool to write to a memory address on an SPI device:

spi-tool -b <BUS NUMBER> -d <DEVICE ID> [options] write <ADDRESS> <VALUE>

Arguments and Options

  • <BUS NUMBER>, <DEVICE ID> - specified in this section.
  • <ADDRESS> - indicates the address from which to read on the SPI device.
  • <VALUE> - the value to write.

The options are the same as in Read a Byte.


On bus 32766, device 1, write to address 0x12 a value of 0x42:

root@Omega-ABCD:~# spi-tool -b 32766 -d 1 write 0x12 0x42
> SPI Write to addr 0x12: 0x42

On bus 32766, device 1; set chip select to active HIGH; write to address 0x09 a value of 0xfa:

root@Omega-ABCD:~# spi-tool -b 32766 -d 1 --cs-high write 0x09 0xfa
> SPI Write to addr 0x09: 0xfa

On bus 32766, device 1; shared Slave In/Slave Out signals; write to address 0xbf a value of 0x01:

root@Omega-ABCD:~# spi-tool -b 32766 -d 1 --3wire write 0xbf 0x01
> SPI Write to addr 0xbf: 0x01

Moving Beyond the Command Line

The spi-tool utility allows for some basic interaction with SPI devices using the command line. With interesting projects and use-cases, you will require additional interaction with the SPI device that might not be suited to the command line.

Well, you’re in luck! There is an Onion developed C library and Python module that gives you the flexibility to use SPI devices however you want!