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A compact implementation of the UAVCAN/CAN protocol in C for high-integrity real-time embedded systems

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Compact UAVCAN/CAN v1 in C

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Libcanard is a compact implementation of the UAVCAN/CAN protocol stack in C99/C11 for high-integrity real-time embedded systems.

UAVCAN is an open lightweight data bus standard designed for reliable intravehicular communication in aerospace and robotic applications via CAN bus, Ethernet, and other robust transports. The acronym UAVCAN stands for Uncomplicated Application-level Vehicular Computing And Networking.

Read the docs in


Find examples, starters, tutorials on the UAVCAN forum.

If you want to contribute, please read


  • Full test coverage and static analysis.
  • Partial compliance with automatically enforceable MISRA C rules (compliance report not available).
  • Detailed time complexity and memory requirement models for the benefit of real-time high-integrity applications.
  • Purely reactive API without the need for background servicing.
  • Support for the Classic CAN and CAN FD.
  • Support for redundant transports.
  • Compatibility with 8/16/32/64-bit platforms.
  • Compatibility with extremely resource-constrained baremetal environments starting from ca. 32K ROM, 4..8K RAM.
  • Implemented in less than 1500 logical lines of code.


The library is designed to be usable without modification with any conventional 8/16/32/64-bit platform, including deeply embedded baremetal platforms, as long as there is a standard-compliant compiler available. The platform-specific media IO layer (driver) is supposed to be provided by the application:

|           Application           |
        |                 |
+-------+-------+ +-------+-------+
|   Libcanard   | |  Media layer  |
+---------------+ +-------+-------+
                  |    Hardware   |

The UAVCAN Development Team maintains a collection of various platform-specific components in a separate repository at Users are encouraged to search through that repository for drivers, examples, and other pieces that may be reused in the target application to speed up the design of the media IO layer (driver) for the application.


The example augments the documentation but does not replace it.

The library requires a constant-complexity deterministic dynamic memory allocator. We could use the standard C heap, but most implementations are not constant-complexity, so let's suppose that we're using O1Heap instead. We are going to need basic wrappers:

static void* memAllocate(CanardInstance* const ins, const size_t amount)
    (void) ins;
    return o1heapAllocate(my_allocator, amount);

static void memFree(CanardInstance* const ins, void* const pointer) { (void) ins; o1heapFree(my_allocator, pointer); }

Init a library instance:

CanardInstance ins = canardInit(&memAllocate, &memFree);
ins.mtu_bytes = CANARD_MTU_CAN_CLASSIC;  // Defaults to 64 (CAN FD); here we select Classic CAN.
ins.node_id   = 42;                      // Defaults to anonymous; can be set up later at any point.

Publish a message:

static uint8_t my_message_transfer_id;  // Must be static or heap-allocated to retain state between calls.
const CanardTransfer transfer = {
    .timestamp_usec = transmission_deadline,      // Zero if transmission deadline is not limited.
    .priority       = CanardPriorityNominal,
    .transfer_kind  = CanardTransferKindMessage,
    .port_id        = 1234,                       // This is the subject-ID.
    .remote_node_id = CANARD_NODE_ID_UNSET,       // Messages cannot be unicast, so use UNSET.
    .transfer_id    = my_message_transfer_id,
    .payload_size   = 47,
    .payload        = "\x2D\x00" "Sancho, it strikes me thou art in great fear.",
++my_message_transfer_id;  // The transfer-ID shall be incremented after every transmission on this subject.
int32_t result = canardTxPush(&ins, &transfer);
if (result < 0)
    // An error has occurred: either an argument is invalid or we've ran out of memory.
    // It is possible to statically prove that an out-of-memory will never occur for a given application if the
    // heap is sized correctly; for background, refer to the Robson's Proof and the documentation for O1Heap.

The CAN frames generated from the message transfer are now stored in the transmission queue. We need to pick them out one by one and have them transmitted. Normally, the following fragment should be invoked periodically to unload the CAN frames from the prioritized transmission queue into the CAN driver (or several, if redundant interfaces are used):

for (const CanardFrame* txf = NULL; (txf = canardTxPeek(&ins)) != NULL;)  // Look at the top of the TX queue.
    if ((0U == txf->timestamp_usec) || (txf->timestamp_usec > getCurrentMicroseconds()))  // Check the deadline.
        if (!pleaseTransmit(txf))              // Send the frame. Redundant interfaces may be used here.
            break;                             // If the driver is busy, break and retry later.
    canardTxPop(&ins);                         // Remove the frame from the queue after it's transmitted.
    ins.memory_free(&ins, (CanardFrame*)txf);  // Deallocate the dynamic memory afterwards.

Transfer reception is done by feeding frames into the transfer reassembly state machine. But first, we need to subscribe:

CanardRxSubscription heartbeat_subscription;
(void) canardRxSubscribe(&ins,   // Subscribe to messages uavcan.node.Heartbeat.
                         7509,   // The fixed Subject-ID of the Heartbeat message type (see DSDL definition).
                         16,     // The extent (the maximum possible payload size); pick a huge value if not sure.

CanardRxSubscription my_service_subscription; (void) canardRxSubscribe(&ins, // Subscribe to an arbitrary service response. CanardTransferKindResponse, // Specify that we want service responses, not requests. 123, // The Service-ID whose responses we will receive. 1024, // The extent (the maximum payload size); pick a huge value if not sure. CANARD_DEFAULT_TRANSFER_ID_TIMEOUT_USEC, &my_service_subscription);

The "extent" refers to the minimum amount of memory required to hold any serialized representation of any compatible version of the data type; or, in other words, it is the maximum possible size of received objects. This parameter is determined by the data type author at the data type definition time. It is typically larger than the maximum object size in order to allow the data type author to introduce more fields in the future versions of the type; for example,

may have the maximum size of 100 bytes and the extent 200 bytes; a revised version
may have the maximum size anywhere between 0 and 200 bytes. It is always safe to pick a larger value if not sure. You will find a more rigorous description in the UAVCAN Specification.

In Libcanard we use the term "subscription" not only for subjects (messages), but also for services, for simplicity.

We can subscribe and unsubscribe at runtime as many times as we want. Normally, however, an embedded application would subscribe once and roll with it. Okay, this is how we receive transfers:

CanardTransfer transfer;
const int8_t result = canardRxAccept(&ins,
                                     &received_frame,            // The CAN frame received from the bus.
                                     redundant_interface_index,  // If the transport is not redundant, use 0.
if (result < 0)
    // An error has occurred: either an argument is invalid or we've ran out of memory.
    // It is possible to statically prove that an out-of-memory will never occur for a given application if
    // the heap is sized correctly; for background, refer to the Robson's Proof and the documentation for O1Heap.
    // Reception of an invalid frame is NOT an error.
else if (result == 1)
    processReceivedTransfer(redundant_interface_index, &transfer);  // A transfer has been received, process it.
    ins.memory_free(&ins, (void*)transfer.payload);  // Deallocate the dynamic memory afterwards.
    // Nothing to do.
    // The received frame is either invalid or it's a non-last frame of a multi-frame transfer.
    // Reception of an invalid frame is NOT reported as an error because it is not an error.

To automatically generate (de-)serialization code from DSDL definitions, use Nunavut. If for some reason this is found undesirable, you may write (de-)serialization logic manually using the optional tiny add-on for libcanard:

. Here's a simple deserialization example for a
uint8_t  mode   = canardDSDLGetU8(heartbeat_transfer->payload,  heartbeat_transfer->payload_size, 40,  8);
uint32_t uptime = canardDSDLGetU32(heartbeat_transfer->payload, heartbeat_transfer->payload_size,  0, 32);
uint8_t  vssc   = canardDSDLGetU32(heartbeat_transfer->payload, heartbeat_transfer->payload_size, 48,  8);
uint8_t  health = canardDSDLGetU8(heartbeat_transfer->payload,  heartbeat_transfer->payload_size, 32,  8);

And the opposite:

uint8_t buffer[7];
//              destination offset   value bit-length
canardDSDLSetUxx(&buffer[0], 40,          2,  8);   // mode
canardDSDLSetUxx(&buffer[0],  0, 0xDEADBEEF, 32);   // uptime
canardDSDLSetUxx(&buffer[0], 48,       0x7F,  8);   // vssc
canardDSDLSetUxx(&buffer[0], 32,          2,  8);   // health
// Now it can be transmitted:
my_transfer->payload      = &buffer[0];
my_transfer->payload_size = sizeof(buffer);
result = canardTxPush(&ins, &my_transfer);

Full API specification is available in the documentation. If you find the examples to be unclear or incorrect, please, open a ticket.



  • Add new API function
    , deprecate
  • Provide user references in
  • Promote certain internal fields to the public API to allow introspection.


The initial release.

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