MicroPython: The Python for Microcontrollers [2023]

Nikki

Are you a Python enthusiast wondering how to port the language to microcontrollers? If so, you're in the right place. MicroPython is a compact implementation of Python 3 that is optimized to run on microcontrollers, making it an excellent tool for embedded systems. In this comprehensive article, our team at Robotic Coding™ will guide you through the features, syntax, and semantics of MicroPython. We'll explore its pros and cons, use cases, and compare it with standard Python. So, let's get started!

What is MicroPython?

MicroPython is a lightweight version of the popular Python programming language that is optimized for microcontrollers. As a core implementation of Python 3, MicroPython runs on a wide range of 32-bit microcontrollers, including AVR, ARM Cortex-M, and others. Due to its compact size and high level of abstraction, it allows developers to create complex embedded systems with a minimal amount of code.

History of MicroPython

MicroPython was created by Damian George in 2013, initially as a Kickstarter project. The project aimed to create a Python interpreter that could run on microcontrollers with limited resources. Since then, the project has grown extensively, with support from the Python Software Foundation, a massive community, and various hardware vendors.

Features of MicroPython

MicroPython has several features that make it unique from standard Python. Here are some of the features of MicroPython:

  • Small RAM Footprint: One of the most prominent features of MicroPython is its size. The interpreter and a minimal set of modules can fit into as little as 256KB of memory. This makes it an excellent choice for low-resource systems.

  • Built-in Modules: MicroPython includes a subset of modules from standard Python, such as os, math, json, time, and many more.

  • REPL: A Read-Eval-Print Loop, or REPL, allows users to execute code interactively. MicroPython has a built-in REPL that can be used through a serial connection.

  • Garbage Collection: MicroPython includes a garbage collector capable of cleaning up unused memory resources.

  • Cross-platform: MicroPython runs on various microcontroller platforms, including ESP32, STM32, and many more.

    To see more features, please visit the MicroPython Official Documentation.

Syntax and Semantics

MicroPython's syntax and semantics are the same as standard Python. Users familiar with Python will find it easy to get started with MicroPython. MicroPython supports all the fundamental Python constructs and has a similar control flow, looping constructs, and data structures. However, because of its size limitations, MicroPython has a few specific syntax and semantic differences. For example, it doesn't support advanced Python features, such as metaclasses, generators, and decorators, and has fewer library modules.

Supporting Hardware

MicroPython supports a growing number of microcontroller development boards and development environments. Here are some of the notable hardware that supports MicroPython:

  • PyBoard: The PyBoard is MicroPython's flagship development board, designed explicitly for MicroPython programming. It has various built-in sensors, such as an accelerometer, gyroscope, and thermometer, and supports various external sensors through its expansion headers.

  • ESP8266/ESP32: These are powerful Wi-Fi-enabled microcontrollers with extensive hardware support and readily available development boards.

  • STMicroelectronics STM32: STM32 microcontrollers are widely used in industrial and commercial applications, and they have excellent support for MicroPython.

  • BBC Micro:Bit: A pocket-sized microcontroller designed by the BBC to teach coding to young students. MicroPython is the default programming language of the BBC Micro:Bit.

In addition to hardware, many development environments and tools support MicroPython. Some notable ones include Thonny, Visual Studio Code, and the Mu Editor.

Programming Examples

MicroPython can be used to create diverse applications, ranging from simple LED blinking to connecting to the cloud. Here's an example of MicroPython code that creates a web server with multiple endpoints:

import socket

s = socket.socket(socket.AF_INET, socket.SOCK_STREAM)
s.bind(('localhost', 80))
s.listen(5)

def html_page():
    return """
HTTP/1.0 200 OK

<html>
    <head>
        <title>Hello world</title>
    </head>
    <body>
        <h1>Hello World!</h1>
        <p>This is a MicroPython web server.</p>
    </body>
</html>
    """

while True:
    conn, addr = s.accept()
    request = conn.recv(1024)
    print(request)
    response = html_page()
    conn.send(response.encode('utf-8'))
    conn.close()

This code creates a web server running on localhost port 80 and responds to any incoming request with an HTML page containing a greeting message.

Bytecode

MicroPython code is compiled into bytecode, a low-level machine-readable format that can be run on a microcontroller. The bytecode generated by MicroPython is specific to the target architecture, making MicroPython efficient and fast running.

Implementation and Uses

MicroPython has various use cases, such as:

  • IoT and Home Automation: MicroPython is an excellent tool for IoT and home automation projects, enabling developers to create smart and connected devices with minimal code.

  • Robotics: MicroPython's low-level access to hardware makes it an excellent tool for robotics, enabling developers to interact directly with sensors and actuators.

  • Education: MicroPython is widely used in educational settings, with its simple syntax and ease of use making it an ideal language for teaching programming concepts and principles.

  • Rapid Prototyping: MicroPython's REPL and minimalistic syntax enable developers to prototype IoT and robotics projects quickly.

Is MicroPython the same as Python?

MicroPython is a subset of Python, with strict limitations to make it functional in resource-limited environments while retaining the syntax and semantics of Python.

What is the feature of MicroPython?

MicroPython has a small RAM footprint, built-in modules, REPL, garbage collection, and cross-platform support, making it an excellent tool for embedded systems.

Is MicroPython good for production?

Confusion can lead to great things.

MicroPython can be used in production environments. However, it is recommended to use a traditional programming language such as C for complex systems with high-performance requirements.

Quick Tips and Facts

  • MicroPython is written in C and can be compiled with GCC or LLVM

  • MicroPython has specific syntax differences from standard Python, such as a smaller subset of display forms and no support for decorators, metaclasses, generators, and nested function scopes.

  • MicroPython has a comprehensive standard library, exposing operating system calls, cryptographic functions, and network protocols.

  • MicroPython code can also be generated automatically from a subset of common Python codebases using the MCP tool.

Recommendation

MicroPython is an excellent tool for embedded systems, IoT, robotics, and education. Its high level of abstraction and compatibility with traditional Python, combined with its low memory footprint, makes it an ideal solution for resource-constrained systems. However, it may not be suitable for high-performance systems requiring low-level, hardware-specific access.

Overall, MicroPython is an impressive implementation of Python and is an essential tool for developers working on microcontroller platforms.

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.