Question re threading and serial i/o

Peter Hansen peter at
Tue Nov 4 16:51:31 CET 2003

Frank Millman wrote:
> I am not sure if this question is about threading or serial i/o - it
> has elements of both.

Definitely about both, and in various forms it's a common question.

> def scan():
>     p = file('/dev/ttyS0')
>     txt = []
>     while x:
>         ch =

The last line above is the heart of the problem...

> I use threading so that the user can control the program via the
> keyboard at the same time as the program is reading the serial port.
> It works ok, but I do not know how to stop it cleanly. When the user
> presses 'q' to quit, it sets a variable to tell the thread to
> terminate, but the thread is blocked at the read statement, so it does
> not know it is supposed to terminate.
> I can think of two theoretical solutions, but I do not know if either
> of them are possible.
> 1. Turn the 'read' of the serial port into a 'non-blocking' read by
> checking if there are any bytes waiting to be read before actually
> issuing the read statement. I have done this in other languages, but I
> cannot find anything in the Python documentation that explains how to
> do this.

You need to use the function with a timeout, so that
you can wake up periodically to check a flag that is set by the other
thread, asking the i/o thread to terminate.  select() will return
immediately if the file has data waiting to be read, so you don't
significantly decrease the latency of the response in this way.

> 2. Have the main thread forcibly terminate the thread doing the
> reading. I cannot find anything in the Python documentation that
> explains how to do this.

Not really possible, and especially not if the i/o thread is blocked
in an external call, as it is in your case.

Variations on the above are the typical way to proceed, and generally
work fairly well.


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