Creating and Editing Code

One of the best things about CircuitPython is how simple it is to get code up and running. In this section, we're going to cover how to create and edit your first CircuitPython program.

To create and edit code, all you'll need is an editor. There are many options. We strongly recommend using Mu! It's designed for CircuitPython, and it's really simple and easy to use, with a built in serial console!

If you don't or can't use Mu, there are basic text editors built into every operating system such as Notepad on Windows, TextEdit on Mac, and gedit on Linux. However, many of these editors don't write back changes immediately to files that you edit. That can cause problems when using CircuitPython. See the Editing Code section below. If you want to skip that section for now, make sure you do "Eject" or "Safe Remove" on Windows or "sync" on Linux after writing a file if you aren't using Mu. (This is not a problem on MacOS.)

Creating Code

Open your editor, and create a new file. If you are using Mu, click the New button in the top left

Copy and paste the following code into your editor:

import board
import digitalio
import time

led = digitalio.DigitalInOut(board.D13)
led.direction = digitalio.Direction.OUTPUT

while True:
    led.value = True
    time.sleep(0.5)
    led.value = False
    time.sleep(0.5)

It will look like this - note that under the while True: line, the next four lines have spaces to indent them, but they're indented exactly the same amount. All other lines have no spaces before the text.

Save this file as code.py on your CIRCUITPY drive.

On each board you'll find a tiny red LED. It should now be blinking. Once per second

Congratulations, you've just run your first CircuitPython program!

Editing Code

To edit code, open the code.py file on your CIRCUITPY drive into your editor.

 

Make the desired changes to your code. Save the file. That's it!

Your code changes are run as soon as the file is done saving.

There's just one warning we have to give you before we continue...

Don't Click Reset or Unplug!

The CircuitPython code on your board detects when the files are changed or written and will automatically re-start your code. This makes coding very fast because you save, and it re-runs.

However, you must wait until the file is done being saved before unplugging or resetting your board! On Windows using some editors this can sometimes take up to 90 seconds, on Linux it can take 30 seconds to complete because the text editor does not save the file completely. Mac OS does not seem to have this delay, which is nice!

This is really important to be aware of. If you unplug or reset the board before your computer finishes writing the file to your board, you can corrupt the drive. If this happens, you may lose the code you've written, so it's important to backup your code to your computer regularly.

There are a few ways to avoid this:

1. Use an editor that writes out the file completely when you save it.

Recommended editors:

  • mu is an editor that safely writes all changes (it's also our recommended editor!)
  • emacs is also an editor that will fulIy write files on save
  • vim / vi safely writes all changes
  • Sublime Text safely writes all changes
  • The PyCharm IDE is safe if "Safe Write" is turned on in Settings->System Settings->Synchronization (true by default).
  • If you are using Atom, install this package so that it will always write out all changes to files on CIRCUITPY.
  • Visual Studio Code appears to safely write all changes
  • gedit on Linux appears to safely write all changes

We don't recommend these editors:

  • notepad (the default Windows editor) and Notepad++ can be slow to write, so we recommend the editors above! If you are using notepad, be sure to eject the drive (see below)
  • IDLE does not force out changes immediately
  • nano (on Linux) does not force out changes
  • Anything else - we haven't tested other editors so please use a recommended one!

2. Eject or Sync the Drive After Writing

If you are using one of our not-recommended-editors, not all is lost! You can still make it work.

On Windows, you can Eject or Safe Remove the CIRCUITPY drive. It won't actually eject, but it will force the operating system to save your file to disk. On Linux, use the sync command in a terminal to force the write to disk.

Oh No I Did Something Wrong and Now The CIRCUITPY Drive Doesn't Show Up!!!

Don't worry! Corrupting the drive isn't the end of the world (or your board!). If this happens, follow the steps found on the Troubleshooting page of every board guide to get your board up and running again.

Back to Editing Code...

Now! Let's try editing the program you added to your board. Open your code.py file into your editor. We'll make a simple change. Change the first 0.5 to 0.1. The code should look like this:

import board
import digitalio
import time

led = digitalio.DigitalInOut(board.D13)
led.direction = digitalio.Direction.OUTPUT

while True:
    led.value = True
    time.sleep(0.1)
    led.value = False
    time.sleep(0.5)

Leave the rest of the code as-is. Save your file. See what happens to the LED on your board? Something changed! Do you know why? Let's find out! 

Exploring Your First CircuitPython Program

First, we'll take a look at the code we're editing.

Here is the original code again:

import board
import digitalio
import time

led = digitalio.DigitalInOut(board.D13)
led.direction = digitalio.Direction.OUTPUT

while True:
    led.value = True
    time.sleep(0.5)
    led.value = False
    time.sleep(0.5)

Imports & Libraries

Each CircuitPython program you run needs to have a lot of information to work. The reason CircuitPython is so simple to use is that most of that information is stored in other files and works in the background. These files are called libraries. Some of them are built into CircuitPython. Others are stored on your CIRCUITPY drive in a folder called lib.

import board
import digitalio
import time

The import statements tells the board that you're going to use a particular library in your code. In this example, we imported three libraries: board, digitalio, and time. All three of these libraries are built into CircuitPython, so no separate files are needed. That's one of the things that makes this an excellent first example. You don't need any thing extra to make it work! board gives you access to the hardware on your board, digitalio lets you access that hardware as inputs/outputs and time let's you pass time by 'sleeping'

Setting Up The LED

The next two lines setup the code to use the LED.

led = digitalio.DigitalInOut(board.D13)
led.direction = digitalio.Direction.OUTPUT

Your board knows the red LED as D13. So, we initialise that pin, and we set it to output. We set led to equal the rest of that information so we don't have to type it all out again later in our code.

Loop-de-loops

The third section starts with a  while statement. while True: essentially means, "forever do the following:". while True: creates a loop. Code will loop "while" the condition is "true" (vs. false), and as True is never False, the code will loop forever. All code that is indented under while True: is "inside" the loop.

Inside our loop, we have four items:

while True:
    led.value = True
    time.sleep(0.5)
    led.value = False
    time.sleep(0.5)

First, we have led.value = True. This line tells the LED to turn on. On the next line, we have time.sleep(0.5). This line is telling CircuitPython to pause running code for 0.5 seconds. Since this is between turning the led on and off, the led will be on for 0.5 seconds.

The next two lines are similar. led.value = False tells the LED to turn off, and time.sleep(0.5) tells CircuitPython to pause for another 0.5 seconds. This occurs between turning the led off and back on so the LED will be off for 0.5 seconds too.

Then the loop will begin again, and continue to do so as long as the code is running!

So, when you changed the first 0.5 to 0.1, you decreased the amount of time that the code leaves the LED on. So it blinks on really quickly before turning off!

Great job! You've edited code in a CircuitPython program!

More Changes

We don't have to stop there! Let's keep going. Change the second 0.5 to 0.1 so it looks like this:

while True:
    led.value = True
    time.sleep(0.1)
    led.value = False
    time.sleep(0.1)

Now it blinks really fast! You decreased the both time that the code leaves the LED on and off!

Now try increasing both of the 0.1 to 1. Your LED will blink much more slowly because you've increased the amount of time that the LED is turned on and off.

Well done! You're doing great! You're ready to start into new examples and edit them to see what happens! These were simple changes, but major changes are done using the same process. Make your desired change, save it, and get the results. That's really all there is to it!

Naming Your Program File

CircuitPython looks for a code file on the board to run. There are four options: code.txt, code.py, main.txt and main.py. CircuitPython looks for those files, in that order, and then runs the first one it finds. While we suggest using code.py as your code file, it is important to know that the other options exist. If your program doesn't seem to be updating as you work, make sure you haven't created another code file that's being read instead of the one you're working on.

This guide was first published on Dec 19, 2017. It was last updated on Nov 14, 2018. This page (Creating and Editing Code) was last updated on Nov 01, 2018.