There are various ways connected devices communicate with your computer. One of the oldest ways is via the Serial Port. In some ways, serial port access is more straightforward than Hid, or USB access, but there are some tricks to it. Some USB devices communicate with your computer via the Serial Port. This post discusses the basics of reading to and from serial ports with C#. This post is specific to Windows with .NET, but subsequent articles look at UWP and Android.
The Device.Net framework is a framework dedicated to making it easy to communicate with connected devices. So far, it has covered USB and Hid communication, but recently SerialPort.Net was added to the framework. It is a library for communication via the serial port which is usually a COM port. Like any other communication with connected devices, the first step is to scan for a connected device. On Windows, this generally means iterating through COM ports until data can be received.
Some typical examples of serial port devices are GPS units and weigh scales. GPS units and weigh scales send a constant stream of data to your computer, which the app can then interpret as latitude and longitude or weight.
Find The Device
The app can find COM port devices on Windows in HARDWARE\DEVICEMAP\SERIALCOMM of the registry. If you have access to the registry from your app, you can check which devices are connected by calling this code. Each key contains the name of the COM port, which includes a number. Here is the Device.Net code.
If there is no registry access, it is necessary to iterate through the ports and try to connect on each one.
Once the app detects a device COM port, streams must be opened to read or write from the device. The method for doing this is this CreateFile Windows API. The first parameter is the id of the COM port and looks like the text below. CreateFile creates a filehandle that can be used to access the device’s data. Device.Net uses SafeFileHandle because it implements IDisposable. It ensures that the end of the using block closes the handle automatically.
If this is successful, the app must call SetCommState to specify the settings for serial port communication. It includes things like Baud rate, parity, byte size and other settings which are specific to the device. If you don’t know these, you should look at the documentation for the device. If the documentation doesn’t specify this, it might be necessary to contact the manufacturer. SetCommTimeouts should be called to specify the maximum time a call should take.
Reading and Writing
Call ReadFile to get data from the device. It can be called in a loop so that whenever data arrives on the port, the app can consume the data for the principal purpose.
Call WriteFile to write a buffer of data to the device. It is not necessary for all devices. However, many devices require a request/response pattern like Http calls. The app sends a buffer of data to the device and then waits to receive a buffer of data with ReadFile.
Check out the documentation for Device.Net here. SerialPort.Net is not yet fully documented, but documentation is on its way. Clone the repo to see a sample. The Windows sample should list devices connected to COM ports like so.
SerialPort.Net is a good starting point for connecting and reading from the COM ports. UWP and Android versions are on their way. If you’re building your own Serial Port library, feel free to clone the code and use whatever you like. However, Device.Net has a bunch of tools that make communication with devices easier, so if the framework doesn’t help you, reach out on Github and help make Device.et more comprehensive.