Setting up a micropython editor with the BBC micro:bit v2 on Linux

This post follows on from my blog post that shows how to set up the mu-editor in Linux for v1 of the micro:bit. This blog post is here:

https://www.seismicmatt.com/2021/01/05/setting-up-mu-editor-with-the-bbc-microbit-on-linux/

I couldn’t get the mu-editor to work with micro:bit v2. This was frustrating as I wanted to check some existing code ran on v2 of the micro:bit as well as start to use some of the new feautures on board.

I solved this by following a tip from a comment on my first post. This recommended using a different editor and following some setup instructions for that editor.

I will call this editor the PythonEditor as this is the name of the project’s GitHub site:

https://github.com/bbcmicrobit/PythonEditor

The PythonEditor can be used online at:

https://python.microbit.org/v/2

Python Editor can also run offline. Initially, the editor would not recognise any micro:bits that were attached to my laptop. The information that I needed to follow to get PythonEditor working is here:

https://support.microbit.org/support/solutions/articles/19000105428-webusb-troubleshooting

In case this site is removed, I replicate this information below and add one or two tips of my own.

I use <user> to represent whatever user name you are using. I use Debian 10 on a Lenovo X260 and X230.

Create a udev rule to get the micro:bit to be recognised

Create the file:

/etc/udev/rules.d/50-microbit.rules

with this content:

SUBSYSTEM=="usb", ATTR{idVendor}=="0d28", MODE="0664", GROUP="plugdev"

To create this file you need to be root or use the sudo command. I created and edited the file using vim:

sudo vim /etc/udev/rules.d/50-microbit.rules

Add <user> to plugdev group

To add your username to the plugdev group:

sudo usermod -aG plugdev <user>

To have this change recognised by the system, we need to restart the udev rules:

sudo udevadm control --reload-rules 

The webpage I followed to get this far says to log out and back in. I did not do this and things worked out.

Using PythonEditor online.

The online PythonEditor only works in Chrome for me. The editor now connected with micro:bit v1 and v2 and would program them. The first time that I flashed code to the micro:bit v2 took a while, with a message saying that the initial flash could take a while, but subsequent flashes would be faster. This is the case. I suspected that the first flash copied a micropython hex file to the micro:bit.

Using PythonEditor offline

The PythonEditor source code can be downloaded from GitHub and run offline. The instructions on how to do this are on the GitHub site, linked at the start of this post. This is how I run the PythonEditor. If we look in our downloaded GitHub repository, in the folder:

PythonEditor/micropython

we find two .hex files:

microbit-micropython-v1.hex 
microbit-micropython-v2.hex

I suspected that copying the v2.hex file to the micro:bit v2 was necessary before it would work with either of the editors.

So I took my spare micro:bit v2, connected it and tried to look at it with the serial connection on the PythonEditor. Nothing – a blank screen. I dragged and dropped the microbit_micropython-v2.hex file onto it using the Nautilus file explorer. After the requisite 10 seconds or so of flashing on the micro:bit as it loaded the hex, I tried again with the serial connection on PythonEditor and saw this:

PythonEditor serial connection with micro:bit v2

I see something similar when I click the REPL button on the mu-editor. I also get a REPL when I use the cu command I talked about in my earlier blog:

cu -l /dev/ttyACM0 -s 115200

So copying over the .hex file is a necessary step. PythonEditor does this for us if we haven’t done it already.

So now I have some tools to program micropython on the micro:bit v2.

mu-editor with micro:bit v2

I can get this working with v2 of the micro:bit after getting PythonEditor up and running. But it is not stable for me. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. If I can figure out a reliable way of making this run, I’ll edit this post.

There is some cryptic information in this post, which says that the UART buffer needs to be cleared to get the mu-editor to work.

https://github.com/mu-editor/mu/issues/1162

I like the mu-editor and hope that I can get it up and running. Right now, I am relying on a single tool to program the micro:bit v2.

Summary of how to get micro:bit v2 working with a micropython editor

  • Create the udev rule.
  • Add <user> to plugdev group.
  • Add .hex file to the micro:bit

To do

I use the uflash or pyboard scripts with v1 of the micro:bit to enable me to use e.g. vscode to edit micropython and have a script automagically load updated code to the micro:bit. So far I have not gotten anything like this set up for the micro:bit v2. I would like this. I’ve gotten used to the idea that setting up programming environments requires tenacity.

Setting up mu-editor with the BBC micro:bit v1 on Linux

I recently set up an installation of Debian 10 and set up a tool chain for programming the BBC micro:bit with micropython. I’d forgotten some of the stumbling blocks I had the last time I did this, so am recording them here. Hopefully, this post will help you avoid them.

I use <user> to represent the user name that I log in with.

The instructions in this blog get you set up to work with the micro:bit v1 using mu-editor.

Part 2 shows how to set up a different editor that works with both v1 and v2 of the micro:bit under Debian. The link for part 2 is at the end of this post. I tried and failed to get mu-editor to work reliably with the micro:bit v2.

Install mu-editor

Use your package manager! In my case:

sudo aptitude install mu-editor

Using the package manager installs a bushel of python3 libraries, which you may not like. I tried the clean method of setting up a virtual environment and downloading the mu repository from GitHub. I ended up trying to install various dependencies that have other dependencies… In the end I gave up and used the package manager. One line. Installed.

Many people use apt-get instead of aptitude. I think both commands use the same libraries under the hood.

Finding the micro:bit

Which port does the micro:bit mount under? In my case /dev/ttyACM0. One way to find the port is with this command:

sudo dmesg | grep tty
[  135.410510] cdc_acm 1-6:1.1: ttyACM0: USB ACM device

The last line of the output gives the game away. /dev/ttyACM0 it is.

Setup permissions

We need to add our user name to the dialout group in /etc/group

When I first setup Debain and then tried to connect to a micro:bit on port /dev/ttyACM0 using Debian 10, I could only do this as root. Why?

ls -al /dev/ttyACM0

displays:

crw-rw-rw- 1 root dialout 166, 0 Jan 5 16:13 /dev/ttyACM0

This indicates why we can access the port using sudo – the port is owned by root. It also shows why adding the non-root user to the dialout group allows access without being root. I added my user account to the dialout group in /etc/group using:

sudo usermod -a -G dialout <user>

Enabling the micro:bit to mount under /media/<user>

I still could not connect with the micro:bit using a serial port monitor without being root.

The micro:bit is mounted under /media/<user>/MICROBIT.

ls -al /media/<user>
drwxr-x---+  2 root  root  4096 Jan  5 12:44 <user>

This shows that the directory that the micro:bit is mounted on is owned by root. I needed to change the owner and group of this directory to <user>.

sudo chowner /media/<user>
sudo chgrp /media/<user>

Now I can mount the micro:bit under /media/<user>/MICROBIT. I found I had to get this set up for mu-editor to allow me to program the micro:bit and use the REPL.

I wrote a blog post a few years ago presenting a bash script to find and mount or dismount a micro:bit here.

Terminal monitors

I came across the cu terminal monitor. To install and use with the micro:bit:

sudo aptitude install cu
cu -l /dev/ttyACM0 -s 115200

Hit ctrl-c and you get a REPL. The way to exit it is using the cryptic characters:

~.

The tilda character ‘~’ stands for <escape> in this instance.

The nice people at micropython produced a script called pyboard.py which finds a connected micro: bit and opens a terminal to display the output from the micro:bit. This tool is detailed at: http://docs.micropython.org/en/latest/reference/pyboard.py.html.

gtkterm is another useful serial terminal monitor which runs in its own GUI. Install using:

sudo aptitude install gtkterm

micro:bit v2 issues

The above all works for micro:bit v1. When I tried to flash some code to the micro:bit v2 using the mu-editor, I get this pop-up:

I can now run the latest mu-editor from the mu GitHub repository at: https://github.com/mu-editor/mu. However, I still got the same error when trying to use it with a micro:bit v2.

To run the latest version, download the GitHub repository, then type:

python run.py

in the downloaded mu directory. I guess that installing mu-editor using aptitude also installed all of the necessary dependencies to enable the GitHub version to run. The GitHub version is 1.1.0.alpha.3. The version installed using aptitude is 1.0.2.

I tried programming the micro:bit v2 using pyboard.py. This also failed.

After posting this blog with these issues, Mark left the comment at the end of this post that helped me get a different editor working with v2 of the micro:bit. The comment came the same day that I posted the blog! I was well chuffed as I didn’t realise that anybody reads my blog posts, let alone the same day as I posted them. I guess a lot of people are searching for how to get micro:bit v2 running right now.

So I wrote a new post detailing how to setup and run a micropython editor with v2 of the micro:bit:

https://www.seismicmatt.com/2021/01/07/setting-up-a-micropython-editor-with-the-bbc-microbit-v2-on-linux/