Notes on Writing a GPSD Driver

Mick Durkin

Revision History
Revision 1.157 Mar 2015er
Updated by esr; track a function rename. Text now fibs about the original author thought the name was in order to avoid confusing current readers.
Revision 1.1325 Aug 2014er
Updated by esr; added init_query method.
Revision 1.1231 Oct 2013er
Updated by esr; ntp_offset becomes time_offset
Revision 1.1119 Jan 2011er
Updated by esr; driver type flag field added.
Revision 1.109 Jan 2011er
Updated by esr; event_wakeup no longer fires for USB devices, in order to avoid spamming unidentified devices behind USB-to-serial adapters that may not be GPSes at all.
Revision 1.913 Apr 2010er
Updated by esr; added event_triggermatch and the new ntp_offset member.
Revision 1.816 Sep 2009er
Updated by esr; major rearrangement of driver event set.
Revision 1.89 Aug 2009er
Updated by esr; the device_class experiment failed.
Revision 1.724 Jul 2009er
Updated by esr; Added the device_class member.
Revision 1.69 Mar 2009er
Updated by esr; libgpsd_core.c no longr requires modification when you add a driver.
Revision 1.61 Mar 2009er
Updated by esr to reflect removal of the cycle member.
Revision 1.51 Mar 2009er
Updated by esr to reflect the parity/stopbits extension of the sopeed_switcher method.
Revision 1.417 February 2009er
Updated by esr to reflect the renaming of sirfmon to gpsmon, and document the control_send method.
Revision 1.314 November 2006md
Updated to conform to the fepo source at this date.


If you are thinking of writing a GPSD driver for some GPS-like device, these notes by a person who did it may help you decide whether or not it's a good idea, and if it is, help you get started.

Table of Contents

What you will need to go ahead
What is involved in the coding
Where will your driver make an impact?
What these important files do
Writing the actual driver code
Details of the driver parser
Implementing the .probe_detect function
Sign off


First, ask yourself Why would I write a driver? and do that several times. At the date of writing, gpsd ships with more than 10 drivers and supports around 40 different GPS devices, so it may be that your device is already supported by an existing driver.

It may be worth noting that these notes were written against gpsd version 2.34 as it existed on of November 14th 2006. The situation will likely have changed by the time you read this, but the broad principles should still apply. Check what version you are using.

gpsd supports autodetection, so connect your device and try it; you may be lucky and find it is already supported. If you are unlucky, you have to be prepared to do a lot of work and research on your own.

I found that the device I wanted to use (a Navman Jupiter-T) was not supported in its default operation mode. The device actually provides two other supported modes, NMEA (exceptional support) and Rockwell/Conexant/Navman binary (supported by the Earthmate driver zodiac.c), I could have possibly avoided writing a driver by switching to one of these modes, but there was an overwhelming reason to use the unsupported default mode.

I use the Jupiter-T as a precision timing device with some dedicated hardware to provide a disciplining signal to a house standard 10MHz signal. In this application I wanted to keep it as intended; as a drop in emulator of the Motorola Oncore UT+ running in fixed-location mode giving a 1PPS signal to very high precision (claimed to be 25ns, 1 sigma).

So for me, the decision whether to write a driver or not was already made; either write one or forget connecting this high quality time source to my network, as gpsd can also use the GPS device to synchronise the ntpd daemon either to the GPS data or to the 1PPS, if it is available. A 25ns accurate input to ntpd looked very appealing.

What you will need to go ahead

To take this decision to maturity, you need to be able to code in C and compile/install the results. If you can't do that, you should temporarily shelve the driver project and start learning to code. While I would not advise this as the way to go for a complete novice, you will find some good code to follow in the gpsd files and there are some good clues in the existing drivers.

You will also need some understanding of what a GPS device is and how it works, although I guess you are likely to have this knowledge or you wouldn't be reading this document. You don't need to be a satellite navigation guru, but it helps if you are familiar with the terms used.

You will also need access to the documentation for your GPS device, specifically the format (communications protocol, speed etc.) and content of the data the device will generate and the commands it needs to control it. The ideal source for that would be the manufacturer's user guide or programming manual.

The information available may be a bit sparse and it may even be that the device is not best suited for use with gpsd. In my case, I was lucky because the Jupiter-T was intended for the professional OEM market. It was designed to be used in devices like custom vehicle trackers. It has almost no internal intelligence, being designed to interface to an external computing device and provide raw navigation and time data, but the interfaces and control language were superbly specified in a well written technical document of about 200 pages. In actual fact the document I used most was the Motorola documentation for the default Oncore mode, but the NMEA and Rockwell/Conexant/Navman modes were equally well documented in the Navman manuals.

You will also need to set aside some time and equipment to do the coding and testing. I actually spent several weeks on this task and went to some trouble to get the GPS working on my desktop in a temporary harness so that I could have the device available to test the code. It took some imagination to get a usable satellite signal as I live in a ground floor apartment of a 6 floor block in Helsinki with a limited view of the sky. I ended up pushing my puck antenna away from the building by fixing it to a broom handle and poking it out of a partly open window. As you can imagine, I suspended operations in winter as an open window at -15 centigrade is no joke.

What is involved in the coding

I looked long and hard at the other drivers, at the main parts of gpsd, at the test applications ( like xgps) and at the descriptions on the gpsd web site to get a feel for what my driver needed to do to behave like the existing drivers. After some time, I concluded that for me the best way forward was to write my driver by modifying an existing driver.

Using this approach, I knew that that I would be working on a layout/functionality that was already conformant to gpsd's internal standards and that already actually produced viable output. Apart from that, I intended, in the best tradition, to build on everybody else's good ideas instead of re-inventing the wheel, wherever possible. Modification is probably an understatement as actually I ended up replacing almost all the original code, but it acted as a template during the development.

My first efforts were directed to understanding what the different sections of the code did (I actually hacked the zodiac.c driver). This took me into some of the other programs such as gpsd.c to see why the driver was doing certain things and to see what the inputs to/outputs from the driver were. I also looked at driver-proto.c, as this is a skeleton which contains the minimal set of services and entry points. Real drivers provide these and more, but at first, this is a less overwhelming piece of code and can act as a guide when unravelling a working driver.

The real trigger for me writing a new driver was that the native output of the Jupiter-T is a binary protocol with variable length strings. None of the existing drivers spoke this language, but I could get some general ideas on how to handle this from drivers like zodiac.c and evermore.c.

I found from the manufacturer's documentation that the Jupiter-T produces output only when instructed, rather than spewing out a set sequence at some pre-defined rate. All the commands and responses in Jupiter-T-speak start with a 4 character ASCII string @@Nn followed by a payload of 0 to approx 300 binary bytes, a single byte binary checksum and an ASCII CR/LF pair. Thus it would be possible to generate all the wanted data for gpsd by activating two main messages, @@Bb and @@Ea. This particular structure was the cause of some headaches in the interpretation, but it means that the important data is impressively dense. The first command (@@Bb) gives the status of all visible satellites (up to 12) in 92 bytes and the second command (@@Ea) gives all the navigational data plus receiver status in 76 bytes.

Once I had determined the two commands and responses that were needed (a few others were needed for initialisation and administration), I set about writing the decoder to fill in the standard data structures that gpsd uses. For this, the zodiac.c driver was very helpful as it had a routine static gps_mask_t handle1000(struct gps_device_t *session) that did a very similar job.

This brought me neatly to a chicken/egg problem; the device, as I said earlier, is mute on power-up and unless you send it some instructions to turn on one or more messages, you will have no indication if it is even alive. Actually, this is not strictly true, as it does output a 1PPS and a 10kHz square wave on power up, but these are free running until satellites are acquired, and gpsd needs a data stream if it is to do anything. If it has not discovered your GPS device, it cannot lock to the 1PPS that is coming in all the while.

The gpsd installation instructions give a clue about how to check if your device is working, but the method is best suited to NMEA devices or others which give real ASCII output. If your device outputs binary, you could mistake the output for garbage caused by a serial port speed or word size error. A mute device also makes this a non-starter!

The manufacturer's manual gives the commands to set up the device, but to be honest, I was not sure what I really needed to send or even how to do it and see the results easily under Linux. I am sure there are many of you that are confident in driving and reading a serial port at low level and could have done this in a few minutes. I chose a simpler way, though it did involve using some Windows software.

There is a program available called TAC32 (Totally Accurate Clock) written to run under Windows which can talk to several varieties of GPS devices and wake them in the correct way to generate navigation data and timing signals, displaying them in a nice screen, something like xgps does. This is available for a free evaluation download (about 30 days expiry, I believe), but I actually shelled out for a license as I had a continuing use for this on a laptop which only had Windows on it. Information was available at the time of writing at

With this software you can monitor the raw data stream and send arbitrary commands to the GPS (the command constructor includes a nice syntax verifier and CRC generator), so I was able to watch the initialisation of the device, check the output stream used to generate the navigation data and experiment with the command set.

Armed with this information, I was then able to start testing my driver as I was able to initialise the device into a working state and be sure I had a good fix and valid 1PPS under Windows and then transfer the serial connection to my Linux box whilst leaving the device powered up.

Later, when I had the basic decoder working, I looked at a better way to handle communications to the device for test purposes and general monitoring of how the driver was behaving. In the end, I was able to get good results by monitoring the serial link to the device with a specially made Y cable (diagram available at and some Linux based software, SerLook ( I had access to a 4-port RS-232 to USB adapter and so I could use two of the ports on this device with special cable and the SerLook software to monitor the send and receive streams of my gpsd port.

For sending experimental commands, I settled on building the wanted commands as simple files using KhexEdit and then sending them to the serial port with cat. This allowed me to experiment with the different commands and to swap between the three modes (Oncore/Jupiter/NMEA). This is crude, but I found it hard to get the right results with minicom.

To return to the development, I liberally sprinkled the driver code with gpsd_log statements set to trigger at the lowest level of debugging and invoked the daemon in non-daemon mode with debugging set to LOG_WARN. This made sure that I could watch the code step through its various routines.

This leads nicely to two things that I had to master early on and write down so that I wouldn't forget; how to compile/install the daemon and how to fire it up. The first is fairly straightforward if you have compiled anything before. You simply issue a ./configure command to specify what you want compiling and then issue a make command to compile the software to that configuration. If it compiles successfully, you can then issue a make install command to install the driver. This last command will need to be done as root because the daemon is designed to be invoked by root.

The second thing is a bit more tricky, at least the first time for me, as I find the man output of how to invoke any command almost impossible to understand. I got more out of the source code than I did from man, but maybe that is just me! What you basically do, again as root, is to invoke the daemon, telling it which port (in my case, a serial port) it should use, that it should stay permanently active (don't wait for an application to ask for data), should not go into the background (not daemonize) and which debug level to run at. For me this came out as gpsd -n -N -D1 /dev/ttyS0 from a terminal session activated as root.

The options for compilation would bear a bit more scrutiny. In the initial stages, I wanted to keep things simple, so I figured out from the ./configure help command what options were supported and what were the default settings for them. I initially compiled with everything except NMEA and my driver disabled. This keeps the code smaller and ensures that you don't trigger the wrong driver. My reasoning with leaving the NMEA active was twofold; I wanted to be able to check at an early stage if I could get any output to be understood (remember, my GPS also speaks NMEA and I could change the mode in Windows if needed), also I was not sure if turning this most basic mode off would break the daemon. Later on, I modified the default settings in to default to just this basic configuration automatically.

Of course, I have jumped a long way forward in the story as to be able to compile your new driver, you have to write it and modify several other parts of the existing code to be aware of your work.

Where will your driver make an impact?

If we assume for the time being that you are able to write the code for your GPS, where does it make its footprint on the existing code? I turned again to the zodiac.c driver for inspiration and did a search over the source code for any mention of the word zodiac. Once I knew which files were involved, I then had to figure out why they mentioned the driver and see where/if I needed to integrate my driver. I had settled on the name jupiter_t.c for my driver, since that did not conflict with any existing name space.

Several of the files I turned up were obviously not interesting at this stage such as gpsd.spec and gpsd.xml and some others like were determined not to be part of the main daemon, but support files used for things like regression testing or dummy traffic generation. Finally, I concluded that I needed to make mention of my driver in the following files:

controls what gets maked

configuration of compilation options


generic NMEA driver with device type scanner


data type definitions


packet sniffing state machine


defines state machine entries each driver uses

These files will cause various files to be created which also inherit knowledge of your driver such as packet_names.h and later on you will probably need to modify other files like, but the above fairly short list was all I had to handle at first. You will probably find something similar is necessary and if you miss one out, you will likely fail to get compilation to complete, usually with a message telling you where your new code is unknown.

What these important files do

The first two files only need to know simple things for compilation; the needs only to have your driver added to the list of libgps_c_sources. I simply duplicated one of the existing lines and substituted my driver's name for the original copied name. The needs a few lines to tell the user what compile time options are available for your driver and to set its default options. I again copied an existing entry and changed the name, making sure I set the options so my driver was active by default. I also, as mentioned, modified the other drivers to default to inactive. You will also need to add your driver name to the list at the end of the file which issues a warning if no device drivers at all are selected at compilation time. Again, I copied and changed an existing entry.

The drivers.c file handles some basic stuff for the NMEA driver and tries to wake up many of the other drivers. It needed four small modifications to integrate my code. The first was a copy of an existing entry in the generic NMEA handler nmea_parse_input to generate a debug error if one of my packets was detected when the NMEA driver had been selected and switch to my driver instead (this is no longer needed in versions beyond 2,38). The second was a pointer to simple command to send a Jupiter-T specific string to the GPS at detection time to test if it is a Jupiter-T in nmea_initializer. If it returns the right answer (in my case, the manufacturer's PROM header), then the packet sniffer should see this and select my driver. The third was a (copied/modified) declaration entry in the list of structs known to gpsd which is located immediately before and is used by the fourth location, *gpsd_driver_array[], to give the address of the entry point table in my driver.

The gpsd.h file is a conventional header file with declarations common to the whole application. The changes are again quite simple. There is an entry added to put my driver in the list of drivers that use binary mode. This depends if your driver is binary or not. I then modified the code which sets the maximum packet size as by default the largest packet was set to 196 bytes for the SiRF driver and the Jupiter-T can generate a maximum packet of 294 bytes. This is not as bad as it might seem, as this giant only comes when you dump the device identity strings from the PROM. The largest real packet is 96 bytes for the Report ASCII Position message. The largest command sent is 52 bytes for a Input Pseudorange Correction. The largest received/sent packets used in gpsd so far are 92 and 20 bytes respectively. There is a single #define in gps_device_t for the new packet type that this driver needs. This is simply an entry at the end of the existing list. The last two changes are two extern declarations of prototypes in **gpsd_drivers that the new driver needs to interface to the rest of the code.

The file packet.c is the state engine which scans packets as they arrive and tries to match them to an existing driver. Here is where our driver will be called, so the changes are a little larger. The driver starts at the beginning of each packet and tries to match, character by character, until it has determined which (if any) driver owns this packet in routine nextstate. As all Jupiter-T packets start with @@, this collides with the TNT driver, but fortunately, the TNT only uses a single @, so matching the second one allows us to start checking more strictly for Jupiter-T data. This checking is done in a new block of code lower down in nextstate that was modelled on the other drivers, but must needs be unique. The packet is scanned byte by byte until a fully formed packet has been detected and then it can be parsed in the main driver. If it fails any of the tests, the state engine is set back to GROUND_STATE and detection starts again. The code to trigger parsing and deletion of the packet after it has been parsed is included lower down in the code packet_parse and is based on existing drivers.

The file packet_states.h is simply a list of every state needed by every type of GPS which will produce a long list of unique entries (a big enum list) for use in the packet.c state engine. The changes here are limited to a small change to the TNT code, since both drivers share a common first character, so thus they share a state. There then follow the four new states that are required by the Jupiter-T state analysis.

Writing the actual driver code

All that remains now is to write the driver and you are done. Actually, this part is not too hard, given the existing code base to guide and I actually found that the above changes were more troublesome as I did not know what would need to be updated; you, on the other hand, now have a nice list to guide you.

The basic entry points or data values required of every driver are in visible in the struct gps_type_t proto_binary in drivers_proto.c. If any functions are not needed or not provided for your device, then the corresponding table entry should be a NULL or -1 (as appropriate). If they exist, the entry should contain the name of the function or the default value of the data. What follows is a list of each of the table entries with a short description of what it is expected to do or contain.

.typename is a simple string that uniquely identifies your driver. The first few characters are also output in some of the monitor output as generated by cgps or xgps.

.packet_type What packet type this driver expects to see. This value must be one of those produced by the packet sniffer and must be unique to each driver. It is used internally to dispatch to the correct driver when it collects a complete packet.

.flags Driver property flags. This field is reserved for future expansion.

.trigger is the unique string that, when seen, will confirm your device is present. This will be detected in drivers.c and will probably be the same value as that provoked by sending the command mentioned in .probe_detectbelow.

.channels is the number of channels your GPS uses. Typically this will be 12 for a consumer grade device.

.probe_detect points to a block of code that generates a command to send to the device that will provoke a response if your device is present. The code should then detect and recognise the response, signalling if detection was successful or not. Successful detection results in this driver claiming the attached device. It may also do some more exotic things like set the port to different operation modes (e.g. raw mode) from the default. If it makes changes to the port permanently, it should store the original settings for later restoration, probably by .wrapup mentioned below. Later in this document I discuss my work to implement this function.

.init_query points to a block of code that will be called to query the firmware version of the device. This code must not alter device state or settings.

.event_hook points to a block of code that will be executed on and after various events, distinguished by a second argument that specifies the event type. The event_hook hook is called in the following circumstances:

  • When the main auto-baud hunt loop in the daemon offers a new speed to probe at, with event argument 'event_wakeup'. Note that this event does not fire for USB devices, in order to avoid spamming unidentified devices behind USB-to-serial adapters that may not be GPSes at all.

  • When the driver has a trigger string and the NMEA driver sees it, 'event_triggermatch' fires. An 'event_switch_driver' should follow immediately.

  • Whenever gpsd first achieves packet lock with a device, with event type 'identified'.

  • Whenever a full packet is received, with event type 'event_configure'. On the first such packet, the packet sequence number is zeroed, then 'event_identify' fires, then 'event_configure' fires. On later packets, 'event_configure fires with the packet sequence number as its argument.

  • Whenever a call to gpsd_switch_driver() sets a device's driver to a different type, with event type 'event_switch_driver'.

  • When the device is closed, with event type 'event_deactivate'. (Closes happen when all clients have disconnected and the -n switch is not active.) The premise is that there may be a special mode you initialized the device into for gpsd operation which should be turned off otherwise. It allows for changing the device to a low power mode, for instance. Any changes you made when 'event_configure' fired should be undone here. This is also where you should undo any port parameter changes you made in .probe_detectabove.

  • When a device is reactivated — that is, reopened after being been closed because no clients were listening to it, with event type 'event_reactivate'

The 'event_identify' event is normally used to send probe strings that are expected to elicit a later response that will reveal the subtype of the driver. Such responses are expected to store information about the software version in member subtype of the driver data structure struct gps_device_t *session.

The 'event_configure' event should set up the device to deliver the correct set of sentences to supply the parser with the data needed by gpsd.

When writing hook code, it is useful to bear in mind that the .packet.counter member of the session structure is available; it is often useful to take action only when this counter is zero. It is zeroed when the device is activated or someting triggers a device change.

.get_packet points to a block of code that actually gets the packets from the serial stream. You will almost certainly use the generic routine packet_get. If you know this won't do, you already know enough not to need this explaining.

.parse_packet points to a block of code which parses a packet. This will be the main part of your driver.

.rtcm_writer points to a block of code used if the GPS type is capable of accepting differential-GPS corrections in RTCM-104 format. This is the routine needed to ship the data to the device. Usually it is a straight binary write of the data, which is provided by the default routine pass_rtcm. If the device does not accept differential data, the value is NULL.

.speed_switcher points to a block of code to change baud rate, parity, and stop bits (if supported). If your device can support some speed/parity/stopbits combinations but not others, it should return false on a mode-change request it can't handle.

.mode_switcher points to a block of code to change the mode (if supported) between NMEA (mode 0) and our binary mode (1).

.rate_switcher points to a block of code to change the maximum number of fixes your device can generate in 1 second. If this method is present, you should also fill in .min_cycle to indicate the device's minimum cycle time in seconds; a 0 value indicates that it is limited only by the data throughput of the reporting channel.

.control_send points to a block of code that can take a buffer full of message payload, wrap iit in appropriate headers and trailers and checksumming, and ship it to the device. This entry point is not used by gpsd itself; it's for diagnotic tools like gpsctl and gpsmon. Once you've written it, though, you may find it useful for implementing the other switcher methods and whatever other probe strings you need to send. Note: if possible, assemble your packet in session->msgbuf and put the length in session->msgbuflen; this will allow gpsmon to display the control messages it sends for you.

.timr_offset points to code to compute an offset to be added, additionally to that in ntp.conf (if any) when shipping time notifications to NTP, or the equivalent configuration file for chrony. If multiple sentences set TIME_IS, this will differ by sentence type; it should differ by baud rate, as well.

Details of the driver parser

This part of the driver is likely to be the most unique part of your code and as such you will have to design and implement this your own way, but it may be useful to cover the details I included in my driver as the problems you will encounter are likely to be the same that I did.

It is important not to lose sight of the aim of your driver. You are trying to convert the manufacturer-specific output of your GPS into a standard data block in gpsd so that a consistent set of information is available to client software regardless of what the original source was. In fact, gpsd will produce a nice set of NMEA output from your data stream for you to look at if you wish. This output can be captured and played back into gpsd at a later date and it will be handled as though it came from a standard NMEA device.

The most important information is the actual navigation position/track/speed/time/climb rate information, but we also take note of some secondary things like DOP/satellite status if it is available. In my case, all the fields could be filled directly from the data shipped by the GPS in the two messages which I activated. The satellite status data contained exactly what was needed. The navigation data was all present but some fields did need some massaging; for example, my GPS reports location data in milliArcseconds whilst gpsd works in degrees. All conversions were achieved by simple division by constants. A few of the more exotic fields such as the quality of the fix (2D/3D etc.) were packed bit values in bytes or words, but these were extracted by simple masking and testing.

Initially, I was able to get testable results from just the two command/report strings that were set in Windows, but later on I added the capability to bring the device into use from a cold start through the daemon by adding the routines such as .probe_detect and .trigger along with some status requests.

As I hinted earlier, I found that support code like gpsd_log(..., LOG_WARN, "satellites tracked = %d, seen = %d\n", tracked, seen); was very helpful in the early stages. Once the driver reached a production stage, much of the support code was removed and that which was retained had the first parameter (the debug level it responds to) increased to a more appropriate level.

For me, support code and copious comments were vital since I find that the code I wrote as a genius yesterday is incomprehensible today when I am an idiot. I realise this is not to everyone's taste, but my view is that excessive comments can be ignored; missing comments don't help someone trying to follow your code later <rant mode off>

Implementing the .probe_detect function

As I mentioned earlier, my GPS device needed to be woken up, otherwise it would never be detected by the normal packet scanner. The .probe_detect function is intended for just such a case and allows you to seek your device and claim the port ahead of the normal initialisation, since a check for devices supporting the .probe_detect is made at a very early point in the startup. The unfortunate thing is that to implement the function could mean getting down to low level programming of the tty port since you may find the normal operating mode capabilities may not match your device's requirement, even if the baud rate is correct. This proved to be the case for me and was the single most difficult part of writing the driver. This, I am sure, is because it involves working virtually directly with the system hardware. I have documented this process in some detail in the hope that it may save some other poor soul the trials I went through.

I looked at the code in serial.c, garmin.c and gpsmon.c for inspiration and noticed some important things:

  • You must read and preserve the existing port settings so that if you change anything, it can be restored later. This probably means you will have to implement the .wrapup function, but this is likely to be a reverse of the settings you finally arrive at in this function.

  • You need to be aware of and understand the low level control settings that are needed to manipulate parameters like parity, stop bit number, flow control and port mode (raw/cooked). Take some time to read up on termios (man 3 termios will give the grisly details).

  • You will probably find that you need to verify what delay loops are needed to allow your hardware to catch up if you change port settings (UART flush and other factors are described in detail in serial.c and you should read it carefully).

I also found that even this was not the whole story, since even when I had allowed the device to catch up on a settings change, I could not get it to respond reliably to a device identify command. I found that I was missing some or all of the response message when operating at 9600 bps.

The reason was that I originally checked the port with a single character sniff routine a maximum of 300 times (just bigger than the block of text being returned), which comes out at 300 * (1 start bit + 8 data bits + 1 stop bit) = 3000 bits. I expected this would occupy about 312 milliseconds which I considered as an acceptable delay during the probing phase, but my understanding of how the serial port is accessed turned out to be faulty. This method was originally chosen because the probe is speculative and must handle cases like wrong port speed or the type of device being probed for is not present and should not hold up progress for too long. Don't forget that all installed drivers get a chance to probe, one after another, so the delays for each are cumulative and if no driver finds and claims the device, you can have many seconds of delay.

When it failed to work as expected, I investigated the GPS device's documentation (RTFM did I hear you say!) and I found in the Oncore manual that the device's internal scheduler uses a 1 second loop time. Within this loop, the navigation tasks are handled first, followed by processing of the input commands. Any resultant output will be generated as soon as the input buffer is processed, assuming the buffer holds one or more complete commands.

If you are lucky and just finish your input as the buffer is ready to be scanned, you can get a result back in 70 milliseconds. If you are unlucky, the most extreme delay is 2 seconds. On average, the turnaround is 1025 milliseconds. Unfortunately, in the probing code, we have to allow for the worst case, so once the code issues a command, it has then to allow a full 2 seconds before scanning for output.

When I found that my initial scanning method was not viable, I experimented and eventually settled on a loop using a while statement that checked timestamp() values and was set to time out at 2 seconds maximum duration, with an early exit on successfully finding the wanted data. Within the loop, I tested the serial port for an available character. If one was available, I checked it against my expected string; if one was not available, I looped again if the timer had not expired. If I encountered an error when reading the port I exited. All exits returned a success/fail value.

This worked better, but still failed occasionally. I then used the gpsd_log to check the error returned and I saw that I was getting lots of EAGAIN errors. This suggested that the port was not able to handle all my read requests, so I suspected the rate of reading was too fast. Not knowing for sure, I trapped this particular error and applied a usleep() of a couple of milliseconds when it occurred. This was enough to cure the problem and I could get the detection to track the device's responses reliably. I saw a spread of detection timing between 250 milliseconds and 1.7 seconds over a large number of tests, so I concluded that the manufacturer's predictions were being satisfied.

The only other serial port setting which was not immediately obvious to me (although present in both serial.c and sirfmon.c ) was session->ttyset.c_cflag |= CREAD | CLOCAL;. This is needed to enable the port and cause it to ignore any modem control lines. If you are using a binary protocol , you will also need to issue a cfmakeraw (struct termios *termios_p); to quickly set the most important flags correctly. I was bitten by this and found that transmitted <CR/LF> sequences were being modified to <CR/CR/LF> by the kernel's tty port driver.

Sign off

Hopefully this short document has been some use to you and maybe encouraged you to have a go. I had never attempted anything so ambitious as this driver before where my code would be put up to public scrutiny, but I found the experience very rewarding and found the gpsd community, especially Eric Raymond, highly supportive and encouraging.

Your feedback on this document, especially any suggestions for improvements would be most welcome.

Mick Durkin <>


November 2006