BeagleBone Black: 'Say Hello to My Little LEDs'

Blinking an LED is the 'Hello World' of hardware. BeagleBone Black's LEDs can be controlled by the user and the device can be connected with external LEDs.

Built-in LEDs

BBB has 4 onboard LEDs that serve as indicators for various bits of the hardware and their interfaces can be accessed under /sys/class/leds ...

$ ls /sys/class/leds/
beaglebone:green:usr0  beaglebone:green:usr1  beaglebone:green:usr2  beaglebone:green:usr3

The blinking 'heartbeat' LED that indicates BBB is alive and well is beaglebone:green:usr0 ...

## 'trigger' determines what event is monitored
$ ls /sys/class/leds/beaglebone\:green\:usr0/
brightness  device  max_brightness  power  subsystem  trigger  uevent
$ cat /sys/class/leds/beaglebone\:green\:usr0/trigger
none nand-disk mmc0 mmc1 timer oneshot [heartbeat] backlight gpio cpu0 default-on transient

## stop the heart
# echo none > /sys/class/leds/beaglebone\:green\:usr0/trigger

## turn LED on (no blinking)
# echo none > /sys/class/leds/beaglebone\:green\:usr0/trigger
# echo 1 > /sys/class/leds/beaglebone\:green\:usr0/brightness

## strobe LED (get BeagleBone's heart racing at 20 'beats' per second)
# echo timer > /sys/class/leds/beaglebone\:green\:usr0/trigger
# echo 25 > /sys/class/leds/beaglebone\:green\:usr0/delay_off
# echo 25 > /sys/class/leds/beaglebone\:green\:usr0/delay_on

## *whew* ... restore default heartbeat
# echo heartbeat > /sys/class/leds/beaglebone\:green\:usr0/trigger

How to Use the GPIO Pins

BeagleBone Black has 65 General Purpose Input/Output (GPIO) pins distributed on the board's P8 and P9 headers. These software-controlled pins can be configured to work with external hardware and are accessed through the Linux kernel's GPIO interfaces under /sys/class/gpio ...

$ ls /sys/class/gpio/
export      gpiochip0  gpiochip32  gpiochip64  gpiochip96  unexport

What can be confusing at first glance is that a pin's number on the BeagleBone header and its GPIO number are different. Each gpiochipX controls 32 pins and is used to calculate the GPIO address of a pin (some of the GPIO pins are dedicated to BBB's onboard hardware and unavailable by default).

Example: Pin P8_12 is controlled by gpio1[12] which translates as pin 12 on the second controller (starting from zero) ... (32 * 1) + 12 = 44. To add a pin for use I map GPIO_44 into the filesystem by echoing its pin number to the GPIO export file ...

# echo 44 > /sys/class/gpio/export
# ls /sys/class/gpio/
export      gpio44  gpiochip0  gpiochip32  gpiochip64  gpiochip96  unexport
# ls /sys/class/gpio/gpio44/
active_low  direction  edge  power  subsystem  uevent  value

... and a new gpio44 directory is created and the pin is available for work.

Breadboard Blinking LED

BBB and Breadboard

For my external LED experiment I use:

Header pins P8_1 and P8_2 are both GND. Connect P8_2 to the LED cathode and our newly-enabled GPIO_44 pin (P8_12) to the LED anode.

To turn the LED on and off I input settings HIGH and LOW ...

## ON
# echo high > /sys/class/gpio/gpio44/direction
## OFF
# echo low > /sys/class/gpio/gpio44/direction

I created a tiny shell script to blink the LED ...

# Blink an LED on breadboard

PIN="44" # P8_12 is gpio1[12] = (32 * 1) + 12 = 44

if [ -d "$GPIOPIN" ]; then
    echo "Blinking LED connected to Pin $PIN ..."
    echo $PIN > /sys/class/gpio/export
    echo "Blinking LED connected to Pin $PIN ..."
    sleep 1

while true; do
    echo high > $GPIOPIN/direction
    sleep 2
    echo low > $GPIOPIN/direction
    sleep 2

... and CTRL-C to kill the script.

To remove a GPIO pin from use simply unexport the pin ...

# echo 44 > /sys/class/gpio/unexport

Helpful Resources

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