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Using PWM in a Container

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Article updated at 10 Jul 2020
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This article will explain how to use PWM in a Container. Learn how to enable a PWM channel on the device tree and access it using sysfs in a container.

This article complies to the Typographic Conventions for Torizon Documentation.

Enable PWM Channel

Toradex modules have all PWM channels enabled by default, some modules have dedicated a PWM channel for backlight control. You can use that channel for a different purpose if the backlight is not required.

It is possible to disable the Backlight of a PWM channel by either modifying the device tree or creating a device tree overlay.

Modify Device Tree

Backlight support can be removed to free up the PWM channel by deleting the backlight node in the device tree file.


For more information about this, please refer to Device Tree Customization.

Device Tree Overlay

As the device tree overlay does not support deleting a node, it can be set to disabled to mark it powered off/ not plugged in.


/ {
    fragment@0 {
        target = <&backlight>;
        __overlay__ {
            status = "disabled";

A tool named dtconf can be used to apply the overlay, please refer to Device Tree Overlays for more information.

PWM Accessibility in User Space

Linux provide PWM functionality to userspace via a class accessed via sysfs(/sys/class/pwm/). Any PWM channel registered for use by a driver is not available for export (request access) to userspace control. The following command can be used to find which PWM channels are available for userspace control.

$ cat /sys/kernel/debug/pwm

Those shown as null are either not exported(can be exported) or in use by a driver and those shown as sysfs are exported to userspace control.

Sample Application

Toradex has provided a sample code written in C. Toradex provides a repository which contains all the sample code related to TorizonCore project, clone it to your PC:

$ git clone

The sample code sets the settings of the PWM channel at the pwmchip0 controller interface. If required, set controller and settings according to the needs in samples/pwm/pwm/pwm.c.

Move to the PWM directory:

$ cd toradex/torizon-samples/pwm/

Select your architecture below and execute the command to build an image:

$ docker build . -t pwm-sample
$ docker build . --build-arg IMAGE_ARCH=arm64v8 --build-arg CROSS_TC_IMAGE_ARCH=arm64 -t pwm-sample 

Note: The command above builds the Dockerfile.

In the first stage of the build process, the image is based on debian-cross-toolchain-$CROSS_TC_IMAGE_ARCH to cross-compile the sample application on the host machine.

# First stage, x86_64 build container
FROM torizon/debian-cross-toolchain-$CROSS_TC_IMAGE_ARCH AS cross-container

In the second stage, the binary is copied from the first stage image to the /usr/local/bin of the final image (second stage). This will produce the final application container in a small and deployable image with the tag pwm-sample:

# Second stage, container for target
FROM torizon/$IMAGE_ARCH-debian-base AS deploy-container
# get the compiled program from the Build stage
COPY --from=cross-container /project/build/* /usr/local/bin/
CMD pwm

To deploy the image on a portable tar archive file, execute the following command:

$ docker save -o pwm-image.tar pwm-sample

Now copy it to the target machine:

$ scp pwm-image.tar torizon@<board-ip>:/home/torizon/

If you don't know your board IP, it's possible to:

Running the sample

In the last steps, the image was deployed to a tar archive. Now load it to the target:

# docker load -i pwm-image.tar

Now the image can be run but the container needs access to the pwm sysfs interface. Access can be granted either by mounting the /sys or if access is needed to be tightly controlled, sub-directory of /sys containing the required interface can only be mounted.

Mounting /sys:

# docker run -it --rm -v /sys:/sys pwm-sample

In a case that a restricted control to a desired interface is required:

# docker run -it --rm -v /sys/class/pwm/pwmchip0:/sys/class/pwm/pwmchip0 pwm-sample

Note: In case of PWM, mounting the /sys/class/pwm/and trying to write to the files will result in a read-only filesystem issue, because its contents are symbolic links to the actual device in /sys/devices/soc/xxx/xxx/pwm/. Therefore, use absolute paths of symbolic links like /sys/class/pwm/pwmchip0.