Asynchronous bulk transfer using libusb

The 'linusb' is one of the most used open source library for work with usb devices. It allow to make the basic usb data transfers operation in a little bit easier way compared to standard system calls. Here a short tutorial regarding how to use asynchronous bulk transfer.

Asynchronous transfer allow to launch the transfer command and return immediately, a callback function will be called once the data will be transfer/received completely. Using such transfer mode is quite simple, let's go to see a practical example. At first we have to initialize libusb library and look for the USB device we want to communicate to. Usually device is referred using the two values called Vendor ID and Product ID. The first is a unique number "assigned" to each hardware device producer and the second is a number reporting the device type and model.

libusb_device_handle *dev_handle = NULL;
libusb_device **list;
size_t count, i;

// Initialize library

// Get list of USB devices currently connected
count = libusb_get_device_list(NULL, &list);

for(i = 0; i < count; i++) 
   struct libusb_device_descriptor desc;

   libusb_get_device_descriptor(list[i], &desc);
   // Is our device?
   if(desc.idVendor == 0x1234 && desc.idProduct == 0x5678)
      // Open USB device and get handle
      libusb_open(list[i], &dev_handle);

libusb_free_device_list(list, 1);

Now we have the handle to the USB device we want to communicate. The steps to performs an asynchronous bulk transfer are basically two, first prepare the structure with all the data for "instruct" USB controller to make request operation and then submit the data for start the transfer. Please note that the transfer direction (IN or OUT) is determined by the USB endpoint type we want to communicate to/from. An USB device usually provide some connections called Endpoint for allow data transfer between host and device. An Endpoint is usually marked as IN and OUT where, please note, in/out direction are from host point of view. This mean an endpoint marked as IN, for example, transfer data from device to host (usually the PC where the USB device is connected). Once clarified this point we can move to see the asynchronous transfer procedure as follow:

struct libusb_transfer *xfr;
unsigned char *data;
const unsigned int size = 1024;

data = malloc(size);
xfr = libusb_alloc_transfer(0);

                          0x82, // Endpoint ID

if(libusb_submit_transfer(xfr) < 0)
    // Error

Detailed explanation about each params used can be found at official documentation here. In this example we prepare for a bulk transfer from the device using endpoint 0x82. Data size to transfer are 1024 bytes and timeout is 5000 milliseconds. callbackUSBTransferComplete is the name of the function automatically called when the transfer will be completed. Please note here the function will be called also in case of errors. It's necessary to check params returned  as follow:

void callbackUSBTransferComplete(struct libusb_transfer *xfr)
            // Success here, data transfered are inside 
            // xfr->buffer
            // and the length is
            // xfr->actual_length
            // Various type of errors here

Now the transfer code seem complete. However an additional step have to be made. What is not very clear here (at least it wasn't clear for me in the past) is that the "internal USB engine" who make the transfer and automatically call the callback function is not in a separate thread working in parallel but, for have it working as expected, need to be "keep alive" by continuously calling the function libusb_handle_events as follow:

    if(libusb_handle_events(NULL) != LIBUSB_SUCCESS) break;

As you can note this is an infinite loop with minimum of error check used just for example purpose. In case you need to manage additional error conditions and provide some way to exit from loop if your software require it. This small snippet is only to explain that if you don't continuously call the libusb_handle_events function your callback function will never be called also if the USB transfer was completed (and this can result in many hours lost in search for the problem... ^_^).


THANK YOU!!!! This has to be the dumbest part of their design. If I wanted to poll, I wouldn't have used their 'asynchronous' API.

July 14, 2016 at 3:36 PM comment-delete

Holy shit! Now there are other methods, but you give me the point!

December 9, 2016 at 10:47 AM comment-delete

Hello, If I want to send a command to USB device first and then receive a response, what is the calling sequence for libusb_fill_bulk_transfer()?

December 22, 2016 at 7:44 PM comment-delete

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