Jumpnow Technologies


Using the Raspberry Pi hardware PWM timers

09 Apr 2017

The Raspberry Pis have two hardware timers capable of generating a PWM signal.

The README in the RPi kernel overlays directory shows the pins where the PWM timers are accessible

Name:   pwm
Info:   Configures a single PWM channel
        Legal pin,function combinations for each channel:
          PWM0: 12,4(Alt0) 18,2(Alt5) 40,4(Alt0)            52,5(Alt1)
          PWM1: 13,4(Alt0) 19,2(Alt5) 41,4(Alt0) 45,4(Alt0) 53,5(Alt1)
          1) Pin 18 is the only one available on all platforms, and
             it is the one used by the I2S audio interface.
             Pins 12 and 13 might be better choices on an A+, B+ or Pi2.
          2) The onboard analogue audio output uses both PWM channels.
          3) So be careful mixing audio and PWM.
          4) Currently the clock must have been enabled and configured
             by other means.

You can also find this information in the BCM2835 ARM Peripherals datasheet, Section 9.5 Quick Reference.

At the end of Section 9.5 is this note

CPRMAN is the Clock Power Reset MANager.

There are two PWM overlays in the default RPi kernels

In the 4.9 kernels, the PWM source clock is always running so you can skip down to the Usage section of this post.

Additional overlays for 4.4 kernels

In the 4.4 kernels, the PWM source clock is not normally enabled in CPRMAN and as a result those overlays are not immediately useful. PWM devices will show up, but you won’t be able to get an output.

There are workarounds, such as playing an audio file before using PWM since audio also uses the PWM clocks and will enable the source clock. But that’s not very convenient.

This mailing list thread describes a device tree solution to enabling the BCM2835_CLOCK_PWM in a dts.

Since it’s easy enough to do, I added two additional PWM overlays

You can find the source for them here.

If you are using O/S images built from one of the Jumpnowtek repos (Yocto instructions) or (Buildroot instructions) then the custom pwm overlays are already installed for you.

If you are using Raspbian, then you can build the overlays yourself right on the RPi since a device tree compiler should be installed by default.

Download the dts you want to use, for example pwm-with-clk-overlay.dts and build the binary dtb like this

pi@raspberrypi:~ $ dtc -@ -I dts -O dtb -o pwm-with-clk.dtbo pwm-with-clk-overlay.dts

You’ll get some errors complaining about missing references, but you can safely ignore them. This happens because the compiler doesn’t have access to all the includes referenced in the source.

Then copy the dtbo to the overlays directory

pi@raspberrypi:~ $ sudo cp pwm-with-clk.dtbo /boot/overlays


Use the standard overlays or the -with-clk overlays the same way.

For example to get a hardware timer on GPIO_18 (pin 12) on any RPi, add this to config.txt

4.9 kernel


4.4 kernel


On RPi boards with 40 pin headers, you can get two channels with this overlay

4.9 kernel


4.4 kernel


Without arguments, GPIO_18 is the default pin for PWM0 and GPIO_19 is the default for PWM1.

Suppose you wanted to use GPIO_12 for PWM0 and GPIO_13 for PWM1, then you could provide arguments to the overlay like this


When you boot with the pwm overlay loaded, you should see the kernel pwm_bcm2835 driver loaded

root@rpi3:~# lsmod | grep pwm
pwm_bcm2835             2711  0

It’s a standard Linux kernel PWM driver.

Instructions for using the PWM sysfs interface can be found in the Linux documentation pwm.txt.

I have a small Python class that simplifies working with the PWM sysfs interface, but it’s only a convenience and definitely not required to work with the timers.

You can use any language that can do file I/O including the Linux shell.

Here is a quick CLI example with the pwm-2chan-with-clk overlay loaded.

root@rpi3:~# ls /sys/class/pwm

root@rpi3:~# ls /sys/class/pwm/pwmchip0
device  export  npwm  power  subsystem  uevent  unexport

root@rpi3:~# cd /sys/class/pwm/pwmchip0

There are two PWM channels available

root@rpi3:/sys/class/pwm/pwmchip0# cat npwm

Channel 0 is PWM0 and channel 1 is PWM1.

NOTE: For the following echo commands I am assuming a root user to simplify.

On Raspbian you can switch to root like this

pi@raspberrypi:~/overlays $ sudo su -

Prior to using a channel you must export it first

root@rpi3:/sys/class/pwm/pwmchip0# echo 0 > export

That creates a new pwm0 subdirectory

root@rpi3:/sys/class/pwm/pwmchip0# ls
device  export  npwm  power  pwm0  subsystem  uevent  unexport

root@rpi3:/sys/class/pwm/pwmchip0# ls pwm0
duty_cycle  enable  period  polarity  power  uevent

The period and duty_cycle units are nanoseconds.

Here is a 100 Hz pulse with an 80% duty cycle.

root@rpi3:/sys/class/pwm/pwmchip0# echo 10000000 > pwm0/period
root@rpi3:/sys/class/pwm/pwmchip0# echo 8000000 > pwm0/duty_cycle
root@rpi3:/sys/class/pwm/pwmchip0# echo 1 > pwm0/enable

Here is a servo type signal on PWM1, 20 Hz, 2ms pulse

root@rpi3:/sys/class/pwm/pwmchip0# echo 1 > export
root@rpi3:/sys/class/pwm/pwmchip0# echo 50000000 > pwm1/period
root@rpi3:/sys/class/pwm/pwmchip0# echo 2000000 > pwm1/duty_cycle
root@rpi3:/sys/class/pwm/pwmchip0# echo 1 > pwm1/enable

You can change the values while the timer is running

root@rpi3:/sys/class/pwm/pwmchip0# echo 2500000 > pwm1/duty_cycle

The duty_cycle should obviously not exceed the period.