CircuitPython Expectations

Switching Between CircuitPython and Arduino

Many of the CircuitPython boards also run Arduino. But how do you switch between the two? Switching between CircuitPython and Arduino is easy.

If you're currently running Arduino and would like to start using CircuitPython, follow the steps found in Welcome to CircuitPython: Installing CircuitPython.

If you're currently running CircuitPython and would like to start using Arduino, plug in your board, and then load your Arduino sketch. If there are any issues, you can double tap the reset button to get into the bootloader and then try loading your sketch. Always backup any files you're using with CircuitPython that you want to save as they could be deleted.

That's it! It's super simple to switch between the two.

The Difference Between Express And Non-Express Boards

We often reference "Express" and "Non-Express" boards when discussing CircuitPython. What does this mean?

Express refers to the inclusion of an extra 2MB flash chip on the board that provides you with extra space for CircuitPython and your code. This means that we're able to include more functionality in CircuitPython and you're able to do more with your code on an Express board than you would on a non-Express board.

Express boards include Circuit Playground Express, ItsyBitsy M0 Express, Feather M0 Express, Metro M0 Express and Metro M4 Express.

Non-Express boards include Trinket M0, Gemma M0, Feather M0 Basic, and other non-Express Feather M0 variants.

Non-Express Boards: Gemma and Trinket

CircuitPython runs nicely on the Gemma M0 or Trinket M0 but there are some constraints

Small Disk Space

Since we use the internal flash for disk, and that's shared with runtime code, its limited! Only about 50KB of space.

No Audio or NVM

Part of giving up that FLASH for disk means we couldn't fit everything in. There is, at this time, no support for hardware audio playpack or NVM 'eeprom'. Modules audioio and bitbangio are not included. For that support, check out the Circuit Playground Express or other Express boards.

However, I2C, UART, capacitive touch, NeoPixel, DotStar, PWM, analog in and out, digital IO, logging storage, and HID do work! Check the CircuitPython Essentials for examples of all of these.

Differences Between CircuitPython and MicroPython

For the differences between CircuitPython and MicroPython, check out the CircuitPython documentation.

Differences Between CircuitPython and Python

Python (also known as CPython) is the language that MicroPython and CircuitPython are based on. There are many similarities, but there are also many differences. This is a list of a few of the differences.

Python Libraries

Python is advertised as having "batteries included", meaning that many standard libraries are included. Unfortunately, for space reasons, many Python libraries are not available. So for instance while we wish you could import numpy, numpy isn't available. So you may have to port some code over yourself!

Integers in CircuitPython

On the non-Express boards, integers can only be up to 31 bits long. Integers of unlimited size are not supported. The largest positive integer that can be represented is 230-1, 1073741823, and the most negative integer possible is -230, -1073741824.

As of CircuitPython 3.0, Express boards have arbitrarily long integers as in Python.

Floating Point Numbers and Digits of Precision for Floats in CircuitPython

Floating point numbers are single precision in CircuitPython (not double precision as in Python). The largest floating point magnitude that can be represented is about +/-3.4e38. The smallest magnitude that can be represented with full accuracy is about +/-1.7e-38, though numbers as small as +/-5.6e-45 can be represented with reduced accuracy.

CircuitPython's floats have 8 bits of exponent and 22 bits of mantissa (not 24 like regular single precision floating point), which is about five or six decimal digits of precision.

Differences between MicroPython and Python

For a more detailed list of the differences between CircuitPython and Python, you can look at the MicroPython documentation. We keep up with MicroPython stable releases, so check out the core 'differences' they document here.

Frequently Asked Questions

These are some of the common questions regarding CircuitPython and CircuitPython microcontrollers.

What is a MemoryError?

Memory allocation errors happen when you're trying to store too much on the board. The CircuitPython microcontroller boards have a limited amount of memory available. You can have about 250 lines of code on the M0 Express boards. If you try to import too many libraries, a combination of large libraries, or run a program with too many lines of code, your code will fail to run and you will receive a MemoryError in the serial console (REPL).

What do I do when I encounter a MemoryError?

Try resetting your board. Each time you reset the board, it reallocates the memory. While this is unlikely to resolve your issue, it's a simple step and is worth trying.

Make sure you are using .mpy versions of libraries. All of the CircuitPython libraries are available in the bundle in a .mpy format which takes up less memory than .py format. Be sure that you're using the latest library bundle for your version of CircuitPython.

If that does not resolve your issue, try shortening your code. Shorten comments, remove extraneous or unneeded code, or any other clean up you can do to shorten your code. If you're using a lot of functions, you could try moving those into a separate library, creating a .mpy of that library, and importing it into your code.

You can turn your entire file into a .mpy and import that into code.py. This means you will be unable to edit your code live on the board, but it can save you space.

How can I create my own .mpy files?

You can make your own .mpy versions of files with mpy-cross.

You can download the CircuitPython 2.x version of mpy-cross for your operating system from the CircuitPython Releases page under the latest 2.x version.

You can build mpy-cross for CircuitPython 3.x by cloning the CircuitPython GitHub repo, and running make in the circuitpython/mpy-cross/ directory. Then run ./mpy-cross path/to/foo.py to create a foo.mpy in the same directory as the original file.

How do I check how much memory I have free?

import gc
gc.mem_free()

Will give you the number of bytes available for use.

Does CircuitPython support interrupts?

No. CircuitPython does not currently support interrupts. We do not have an estimated time for when they will be included.

Does CircuitPython support ESP32?

No. We are not currently developing for it. It will be pulled from MicroPython when development there for it is complete. We do not have an estimated time for when that will happen.

Does Feather M0 support WINC1500?

No, WINC1500 will not fit into the M0 flash space.

Can AVRs such as ATmega328 or ATmega2560 run CircuitPython?

No.

Commonly Used Acronyms

CP or CPy = CircuitPython
CPC = Circuit Playground Classic
CPX = Circuit Playground Express

This guide was first published on Oct 12, 2017. It was last updated on Sep 20, 2018. This page (CircuitPython Expectations) was last updated on Jul 06, 2018.