Arduino Library – NewSoftSerial

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A New Software Serial Library for Arduino

News: NewSoftSerial is in the core!  Starting with Arduino 1.0 (December, 2011), NewSoftSerial has replaced the old SoftwareSerial library as the officially supported software serial library.  This means that if you have 1.0 or later, you should not download this library.  To port your code to 1.0, simply change allNewSoftSerial references to SoftwareSerial.

NewSoftSerial is the latest of three Arduino libraries providing “soft” serial port support. It’s the direct descendant of ladyada’s AFSoftSerial, which introduced interrupt-driven receives – a dramatic improvement over the polling required by the native SoftwareSerial.

Without interrupts, your program’s design is considerably restricted, as it must continually poll the serial port at very short, regular intervals. This makes it nearly impossible, for example, to use SoftwareSerial to receive GPS data and parse it into a usable form. Your program is too busy trying to keep up with NMEA characters as they arrive to actually spend time assembling them into something meaningful. This is where AFSoftSerial’s (and NewSoftSerial‘s) interrupt architecture is a godsend. Using interrupt-driven RX, your program fills its buffer behind the scenes while processing previously received data.

*But see below for an important caveat on multiple instances.
**Be circumspect about using 300 and 1200 baud though. The interrupt handler at these rate becomes so lengthy that timer tick interrupts can be starved, causing millis() to stop working during receives.

Using Multiple Instances

There has been considerable support for an library that would allow multiple soft serial devices. However, handling asynchronously received data from two, three, or four or more serial devices turns out to be an extremely difficult, if not intractable problem. Imagine four serial devices connected to an Arduino, each transmitting at 38,400 baud. As bits arrive, Arduino’s poor little processor must sample and process each of 4 incoming bits within 26 microseconds or else lose them forever. Yikes!

It occurred to me, though, that multiple instances could still be possible if the library user were willing to make a small concession. NewSoftSerial is written on the principle that you can have as many devices connected as resource constraints allow, as long as you only use one of them at a time. If you can organize your program code around this constraint, then NewSoftSerial may work for you.

What does this mean, exactly? Well, you have to use your serial devices serially, like this:

Example program

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