RTC with Arduino


Wiring it up is easy, connect

  • GND to GND on your board
  • VCC to the logic level power of your board (on classic Arduinos & Metros use 5V, on 3.3V devices use 3.3V)
  • SDA to the SDA i2c data pin
  • SCL to the SCL i2c clock pin

There are internal 10K pull-ups on the PCF8523 on SDA and SCL to the VCC voltage

Talking to the RTC

The RTC is an i2c device, which means it uses 2 wires to to communicate. These two wires are used to set the time and retrieve it.

For the RTC library, we'll be using a fork of JeeLab's excellent RTC library, which is available on GitHub. You can do that by visiting the github repo and manually downloading or, easier go to the Arduino Library Manager

Type in RTClib - and find the one that is by Adafruit and click Install

There are a few different 'forks' of RTClib, make sure you are using the ADAFRUIT one!

We also have a great tutorial on Arduino library installation at:

Once done, restart the IDE

First RTC test

The first thing we'll demonstrate is a test sketch that will read the time from the RTC once a second. We'll also show what happens if you remove the battery and replace it since that causes the RTC to halt. So to start, remove the battery from the holder while the Feather is not powered or plugged into USB. Wait 3 seconds and then replace the battery. This resets the RTC chip. Now load up the matching sketch for your RTC

Open up Examples->RTClib->pcf8523

Upload it to your board with the PCF8523 breakout board or FeatherWing connected

Now open up the Serial Console and make sure the baud rate is set correctly at 57600 baud you should see the following:

Whenever the RTC chip loses all power (including the backup battery) it will reset to an earlier date and report the time as 0:0:0 or similar. Whenever you set the time, this will kickstart the clock ticking.

So, basically, the upshot here is that you should never ever remove the battery once you've set the time. You shouldn't have to and the battery holder is very snug so unless the board is crushed, the battery won't 'fall out'

Setting the time

With the same sketch loaded, uncomment the line that starts with RTC.adjust like so:

  if (! rtc.initialized()) {
    Serial.println("RTC is NOT running!");
    // following line sets the RTC to the date & time this sketch was compiled
    rtc.adjust(DateTime(F(__DATE__), F(__TIME__)));

This line is very cute, what it does is take the Date and Time according the computer you're using (right when you compile the code) and uses that to program the RTC. If your computer time is not set right you should fix that first. Then you must press the Upload button to compile and then immediately upload. If you compile and then upload later, the clock will be off by that amount of time.

Then open up the Serial monitor window to show that the time has been set

From now on, you won't have to ever set the time again: the battery will last 5 or more years

Reading the time

Now that the RTC is merrily ticking away, we'll want to query it for the time. Let's look at the sketch again to see how this is done

void loop () {
    DateTime now = rtc.now();
    Serial.print(now.year(), DEC);
    Serial.print(now.month(), DEC);
    Serial.print(now.day(), DEC);
    Serial.print(" (");
    Serial.print(") ");
    Serial.print(now.hour(), DEC);
    Serial.print(now.minute(), DEC);
    Serial.print(now.second(), DEC);

There's pretty much only one way to get the time using the RTClib, which is to call now(), a function that returns a DateTime object that describes the year, month, day, hour, minute and second when you called now().

There are some RTC libraries that instead have you call something like RTC.year() and RTC.hour() to get the current year and hour. However, there's one problem where if you happen to ask for the minute right at 3:14:59 just before the next minute rolls over, and then the second right after the minute rolls over (so at 3:15:00) you'll see the time as 3:14:00 which is a minute off. If you did it the other way around you could get 3:15:59 - so one minute off in the other direction.

Because this is not an especially unlikely occurance - particularly if you're querying the time pretty often - we take a 'snapshot' of the time from the RTC all at once and then we can pull it apart into day() or second() as seen above. It's a tiny bit more effort but we think its worth it to avoid mistakes!

We can also get a 'timestamp' out of the DateTime object by calling unixtime which counts the number of seconds (not counting leapseconds) since midnight, January 1st 1970

    Serial.print(" since 2000 = ");
    Serial.print("s = ");
    Serial.print(now.unixtime() / 86400L);

Since there are 60*60*24 = 86400 seconds in a day, we can easily count days since then as well. This might be useful when you want to keep track of how much time has passed since the last query, making some math a lot easier (like checking if it's been 5 minutes later, just see if unixtime() has increased by 300, you dont have to worry about hour changes)

Last updated on 2017-10-29 at 03.45.45 PM Published on 2017-10-29 at 03.51.59 PM