How Belay Works

In a nutshell, Belay sends python code (plain text) over the serial connection to the device's MicroPython Interactive Interpreter Mode (REPL) and parses back the response.

The easiest way to explain it is to walk through what's going under the hood with an example.

Device Creation

device = belay.Device("/dev/ttyUSB0")

This creates a Device object that connects to the microcontroller. Belay resets it, enters REPL mode, and then runs a few common imports on-device for convenience. Currently, these convenience imports are:

import binascii, errno, hashlib, machine, os, time
from machine import ADC, I2C, Pin, PWM, SPI, Timer
from time import sleep
from micropython import const

Task - Sending Code Over

Consider the following decorated function:

def set_led(state):
    """This function sets a pin to the specified state."""
    Pin(25, Pin.OUT).value(state)  # Set a pin as an output, and set its value

The task decorator inspects the actual code of the function its decorating and sends it over to the microcontroller. Prior to sending the code over, a few preprocessing steps are required. At first, the code looks like:

def set_led(state):
    """This function sets a pin to the specified state."""
    Pin(25, Pin.OUT).value(state)  # Set a pin as an output, and set its value

Belay can only send around 25,600 characters a second, so we want to reduce the amount of unnecessary characters. Some minification is performed to reduce the number of characters we have to send over to the device. The minification removes docstrings, comments, and unnecessary whitespace. Dont hesitate to add docstrings and comments to your code, they'll be stripped away before they reach your microcontroller. The minification maintains all variable names and line numbers, which can be important for debugging. After minification, the code looks like:

def set_led(state):

The 0 is just a one character way of saying pass, in case the removed docstring was the entire body. This reduces the number of transmitted characters from 158 to just 53, offering a 3x speed boost.

After minification, the @__belay decorator is added. On-device, this defines a variant of the function, _belay_FUNCTION_NAME that performs the following actions:

  1. Takes the returned value of the function, and serializes it to a string using repr.

  2. Prints the resulting string to stdout, so it can be read by the host computer and deserialized via ast.literal_eval.

Conceptually, its as if the following code ran on-device (minification removed for clarity):

def set_led(state):
    Pin(25, Pin.OUT).value(state)

def _belay_set_led(*args, **kwargs):
    res = set_led(*args, **kwargs)

A separate private function is defined with this serialization in case another on-device function calls set_led.

Task - Executing Function

Now that the function has been sent over and parsed by the microcontroller, we would like to execute it. The @task decorator returns a function that when invoked, creates and sends a command to the device, and then parses back the response. The complete lifecycle looks like this:

  1. set_led(True) is called on the host. This doesn't execute the function we defined on host. Instead it triggers the following actions.

  2. Belay creates the string "_belay_set_led(True)".

  3. Belay sends this command over serial to the REPL, causing it to execute on-device.

  4. On-device, the result of set_led(True) is None. This gets serialized to the string None, which gets printed to stdout.

  5. Belay reads this response form stdout, and deserializes it back to the None object.

  6. None is returned on host from the set_led(True) call.

This has a few limitations, namely:

  1. Each passed in argument must be a python literals (None, booleans, bytes, numbers, strings, sets, lists, and dicts).

  2. The invoked code cannot print. Belay uses stdout for data transfer and spurious prints will corrupt the data sent to host.

  3. The returned data of the function must also be a python literal(s).