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25 July 2020

Nintendo Wiichuk interface and input devices

by Mike Krinkin

I continue going through Bootlin training materials on embedded systems and Linux Kernel. In the previous post we configured the second I2C controller the BeagleBone Black or BeagleBone Black Wireless and connected the Nintendo Wiichuk device to the board.

In this article I will look a bit deaper into the Nintendo Wiichuk device interface and how can our driver present the device as an input device.

All the sources used in this article are available on GitHub.


Before we jump into the device driver itself we should start with figuring out how to test that it works. I will use evtest utility to test that our new device driver actually reports events.

Here is how to download the code and cross-compile it for the board:

cd ~/ws
git clone https://gitlab.freedesktop.org/libevdev/evtest
cd evtest
autoreconf -iv
./configure LDFLAGS="-static" --host=arm-linux-gnueabi

NOTE: you would need Autotools installed in your system for the commands above to work.

NOTE: as with other articles ~/ws is my workspace directory where I store all the code and where the code for evtest is downloaded.

NOTE: I use static compilation so that the resulting binary is self sufficient and easy to install by just coping it to the board.

If the build is succesful you should have the binary named evtest in the current directory. All it remains to do is to share it with the board:

cp evtest ~/ws/nfsroot/bin

NOTE: ~/ws/nfsroot is the root file system directory that I share with the device over NFS.

Nintendo Wiichuk protocol

Now we have a tool we can use to test our input device and we know how to connect the device to the board. The next step would be to understand how to communicate with the Nintendo Wiichuk.

First of all Nintendo Wiichuk needs some initialization, a handshake signal.

NOTE: I failed to find any form of an official datasheet that would describe the protocol used. There are still plenty of examples that cover the protocol, but this part of the article doesn’t really provide any information not covered by other materials on the Internet.

The handshake consists of two commands each of them are two bytes. We can think of those two commands as opaque strings, but it appears that the first byte of the command identifies a register internal to the Nintendo Wiichuk device and the second byte is a value we want to write to that register.

The commands we need to send to the Nintendo Wiichuk device are:

We can interpret it as setting register 0xf0 of the Nintendo Wiichuk device to 0x55 and setting register 0xfb to 0x00. This interpretation might seem hardly better than looking at those two commands as opaque strings because we still don’t really know what registers 0xf0 and 0xfb are and what values 0x55 and 0x00 actually mean. However, the language of reading and writing registers is slightly easier to understand, therefore that’s what I’m going to use.

The next important part of the protocol is to actually read the data from Nintendo Wiichuk device. As you may have figured out Nintendo Wiichuk is a joistic of some sort or, in other way, it’s a pointer device. So we should be able to read some kind of coordinates from the device.

The complete state that describes the coordinates, acceleration and state of the buttons on Nintendo Wiichuk is six bytes long and is stored in register 0x00. So to get the state we need to read register 0x00 that stores a six byte value.

There is a quirk however. It appears that Nintendo Wiichuk only updates the value of the 0x00 register after it’s been read. That means that in order to get the latest state we’d need to read the register twice: first time to tell the device to update the state, and the second time to get the newly updated state. We will deal with this quirk when we will talk about the Linux Kernel input framework, but for initial testing we will just read the register twice.

Finally, we need to understand how to interpret those size bytes of the state. You can find the detailed description in the bootlin materials, There you can see that the state encodes:

NOTE: I don’t yet have an idea of how those X, Y and Z axises are defined for the accelerometer inside the Nintendo Wiichuk device.

Linux Kernel interface for I2C

So now we know the protocol, but that’s not enough. In addition to knowing the protocol we also need to know how to implement it inside the Linux Kernel. In other words we need to know how to actually send and receive bytes to and from the I2C device.

That’s not really hard to do. There are just a couple of function that we need to know:

Both functions return a negative value, if the operation failed. Otherwise it returns the number of bytes sent/received. The I2C protocol itself doesn’t mandate a fixed message size, so potentially you can receive (or send) an arbitrary amount of data (with some limitations). That’s why the interface looks like a generic read/write interface.

In our case however for Nintendo Wiichuk device we know the response size. For example, the size of 0x00 register is six bytes and, therefore when we read the 0x00 register we always expect to receive exactly six bytes when we use the i2c_master_recv function.

So while the interface seem to allow variable size of messages and responses, the sizes of messages and responses for Nintendo Wiichuk devices are actually known and fixed in advance and we do not need to care about partial reads and writes.

NOTE: I will skip the handshake part of the device initialization as it also boils down just using the functions presented above and does not provide any additional insight. The full code still can be found on GitHub.

So let us take a look at how we can read the data from the Nintendo Wiichuk:

struct wiichuk_state {
	char data[6];

static int wiichuk_i2c_read_state(
	const struct i2c_client *client, struct wiichuk_state *state)
	const char msg[] = {0x00};
	int ret;

	ret = i2c_master_send(client, msg, sizeof(msg));
	if (ret < 0)
		return ret;

	ret = i2c_master_recv(client, state->data, sizeof(state->data));
	if (ret < 0)
		return ret;

	return 0;

The two important parts in the code above are calls to i2c_master_send and i2c_master_recv. The i2c_master_send call tells the device that we want to read the content of the register 0x00 by literally sending 0x00 to the device. The i2c_master_recv is used to read the response from the device.

NOTE: I create struct wiichuk_state to avoid using raw pointers to the receive buffer. Using pointers just raises questions regarding the size of the buffer and whether it’s enough or not. We can make it work even with raw pointers, but I prefer the code that raises less questions even if it’s correct.

In the code above we didn’t explicitly specify the I2C address of the device we are communicating with. The i2c_client structure contains the I2C address among other things. The structure is actually provided by the kernel (look at the signature of the probe method for our driver) and we don’t need to create it and the kernel knows the address of the device from the Device Tree node for the device, specifically, property reg.

What remains is to parse the result and take into account the quirk of Nintendo Wiichuk device that requires us to read the 0x00 register twice:

struct wiichuk_registers {
	unsigned x;
	unsigned y;
	unsigned x_acc;
	unsigned y_acc;
	unsigned z_acc;
	bool c_pressed;
	bool z_pressed;

static int wiichuk_i2c_read_registers(
	const struct i2c_client *client, struct wiichuk_registers *regs)
	struct wiichuk_state state;
	int err;

	err = wiichuk_i2c_read_state(client, &state);
	if (err)
		return err;

	usleep_range(10000, 20000);

	err = wiichuk_i2c_read_state(client, &state);
	if (err)
		return err;

	wiichuk_parse_registers(&state, regs);

	return 0;

NOTE: I will not provide the implementation of the wiichuk_parse_registers as the function is of limited interest and you can find one possible implementation on GitHub.

As was mentioned before we read the 0x00 registers twice and therefore the function wiichuk_i2c_read_state is also called twice, but results of the first call are discarded.

Intersting thing is the call to usleep_range between the calls to wiichuk_i2c_read_state. As you may guess from the name, the function introduces a delay. In this particular case the delay will be somewhere beetween 10 and 20 ms.

Experimenting with the device it appears that it takes some time after the first read of the 0x00 register for the device to actually update its internal state. So if you execute the two reads too fast you may see stale results. That delay there is to avoid specifically that situation.

NOTE: 10ms delay is probably too much, especially if you consider that Nintendo Wiichuk is an imput device for a gaming console where delays might be important. I didn’t try to figure out what would be a minimum delay required and just used the same value as in the Bootlin materials. We can reconsider the value later when we try to expose the device as an input device to the system.

Input framework

Linux Kernel has a framework that unifies all the input devices (mice, keyboards, touchpad and plenty of other weird input devices). That framework allows driver to specify what kind of events the device can generate (for example, button push, button release, mouse move, etc) and provides an interface for the driver to report those events. The input framework takes care of exposing those events to the userspace in a uniform and organized manner, so we don’t really need to think about it.

NOTE: You can find what kinds of even types the input framework supports in Documentation/input/event-codes.txt.

The primary data structure that we need to be familiar with when working with the input framework is struct input_dev.

Because we are working with a device that cannot generate interupts, there is another structure that we also should get familiar with: struct input_polled_dev.

As the name suggests the struct input_polled_dev is used for devices that cannot generate signals and, therefore, have to be queried regularly to generate input events.

Inside struct input_polled_dev you, at the very least, need to initialize the poll field that stores the polling callback. This callback will be called periodically to query the device. Additionally you can specify the polling interval, because by default it’s half a second, which is quite large for an input device.

NOTE: it’s my understanding that human reaction is on order of couple of hundreds of milliseconds, so half a second is quite noticable compared to typica human reaction time.

Let’s for now just initialize our structures to be able to report button events:

static void wiichuk_input_dev_init(struct input_polled_dev *polled_input)
	struct input_dev *input = polled_input->input;

	polled_input->poll = &wiichuck_poll;
	polled_input->poll_interval = 5;

	input->name = "Nintendo Wiichuk";
	input->id.bustype = BUS_I2C;

	set_bit(EV_KEY, input->evbit);
	set_bit(BTN_C, input->keybit);
	set_bit(BTN_Z, input->keybit);

As you can see the struct input_polled_dev contains pointer to the struct input_dev. One way to think about relations between struct input_polled_dev and struct input_dev is that struct input_polled_dev represents a special case of struct input_dev.

When we initialize the struct input_dev we specify what types of events the device can generate. EV_KEY represents all kinds of button press/release events (like keyboard button presses and releases). More specifically, we specify that the device has two buttons: BTN_C and BTN_Z.

NOTE: BTN_C and BTN_Z are already defined in the Linux Kernel source code. I can imagine that if you have a completely new device it might have buttons that would require a new definition.

Outside of struct input_dev part of the struct input_polled_dev the code above also specifies the poll callback wiichuk_poll and the polling interval in milliseconds.

NOTE: because the Linux Kernel will query the device regularly we may drop the logic that reads the registers multiple times to account for the quirk of Nintendo Wiichuk.

The signature of the polling callback is defined as follows:

void wiichuk_poll(struct input_polled_dev *polled)

One important thing to mention here is that we need a pointer to a valid struct i2c_client to communicate with the Nintendo Wiichuk device and the callback function does not have it as an argument. So we need to think of a way to link struct i2c_client pointer to the struct input_polled_dev.

Generally speaking a driver might need more than just struct i2c_client in general. Some drivers may need to communicate with multiple physical devices and keep track of some state. So it’s not uncommon to see a sort of a driver structure that holds all the things the driver needs. Let’s create a structure like that:

struct wiichuk_dev {
	struct i2c_client *i2c_client;

Inside the probe function we can allocate and initialize this structure (we do have a pointer to struct i2c_client inside the probe function).

Then to link this structure struct input_polled_dev has a special field called private. The field type is just a void pointer, so you can store there a pointer to struct wiichuk_dev to later use it inside the polling callback.

With this information we now can take a look at how the polling callback might look like in our case:

static void wiichuk_poll(struct input_polled_dev *polled)
	struct wiichuk_dev *wiichuk = (struct wiichuk_dev *)polled->private;
	struct wiichuk_registers regs;
	int err;

	err = wiichuk_i2c_read_registers(wiichuk->i2c_client, &regs);
	if (err) {
		pr_err("Failed to read the Nintendo Wiichuk state: %d\n", err);

	input_event(polled->input, EV_KEY, BTN_Z, regs.z_pressed);
	input_event(polled->input, EV_KEY, BTN_C, regs.c_pressed);

NOTE: we would need to modify wiichuk_input_dev_init to set the private field to point to the struct wiichuk_dev.

A final note on the input framework is that once the struct input_polled_dev and struct input_dev are initialized we need to register the new input device in the framework.

For polled devices like [Nintendo Nunchuk] we should use input_register_polled_device.

A short note on memory allocation

As you may have noticed, we need to allocate quite a few various structures for the driver. Depending on the structure a different way is used. For example, struct input_polled_dev is a generic structure and Linux Kernel provides devm_input_allocate_polled_device function to do that.

Naturally, for struct wiichuk_dev that we defined ourself Linux Kernel does not have a special function, so we will use a generic devm_kzalloc function.

All devm_ allocation functions require to provide an instance of struct device that this allocated memory will be associated with. The memory will be automatically deallocated when the device goes away. This simplifies memory management and error handling a bit.

NOTE: Linux Kernel has generic memory allocation functions that are not linked with the kernel driver framework as well.


Once the code is ready, the module is compiled and shared with the board we can test if it generates input events using evtest. Just on the board do this:

No device specified, trying to scan all of /dev/input/event*
Available devices:
/dev/input/event0:	Nintendo Wiichuk
Select the device event number [0-0]: 0

The command will ask you yo pick one of the input devices. In my case I had only one device attached, so there isn’t much to choose from. Once you picked the Nintendo Wiichuk try to push buttons on the device. If everything is correct you should be able to see the generated inputs in the evtest output:

Input driver version is 1.0.1
Input device ID: bus 0x18 vendor 0x0 product 0x0 version 0x0
Input device name: "Nintendo Wiichuk"
Supported events:
  Event type 0 (EV_SYN)
  Event type 1 (EV_KEY)
    Event code 306 (BTN_C)
    Event code 309 (BTN_Z)
Testing ... (interrupt to exit)
Event: time 3980.650990, type 1 (EV_KEY), code 306 (BTN_C), value 1
Event: time 3980.650990, -------------- SYN_REPORT ------------
Event: time 3980.990982, type 1 (EV_KEY), code 306 (BTN_C), value 0
Event: time 3980.990982, -------------- SYN_REPORT ------------

Instead of the conclusion

This was quite a long one, but it covered quite a few things as well. It’s by no means an exhaustive introduction into the Linux Kernel input framework, but that’s a starting point. I will try to follow up this article with a shorter article that would enable support for the joystick on the [Nintendo Nunchuk].

tags: beaglebone - linux-kernel - i2c - input-device