Writing Char Device Driver Part 1

In this post we’ll take our 1st step of writing a char device driver for Linux. In our previous post, which I would recommend you to read unless you already did, we created a very simple kernel module. Other than dumping some log message, it didn’t do anything fancy. In this post we’ll create a char device driver which creates a device file in /dev directory. We’ll also show how a user space program can read from or write to this device file. And finally we’ll modify it to reverse a string. We’ll name our device driver as “reversedev“. I also assume, by now you know how to compile and install a kernel module and how to test kernel log using dmesg command. If you don’t you definitely need to read this.

We’ll go step by step and will make sure at each step our code compiles and works as a functional kernel module. So let start with following simple kernel module code. We name our source file as “reverse_dev.c“.


#define DEVICE_NAME    "reversedev" 

static int reverse_init(void){
	printk("Reverse Device Initialization\n");

	return 0;

static void reverse_exit(void){
	printk("Reverse Device Exit\n");


MODULE_DESCRIPTION("Virtual Device For String Reversal");

The above code can work as a standalone kernel module. But to make it work as a char device, we’ve to provide implementation for opencloseread and write functions. Otherwise no userspace application can access our device as a file. We use the file_operations structure which works as a placeholder for these functions.

The file_operations structure is a collection of function pointers and defined in <linux/fs.h>. The following code block shows our function implementation and how they are assigned to file_operations structure. Add following code block just after the header files of the above code.

static int reverse_open(struct inode*, struct file*);
static ssize_t reverse_read(struct file*, char*, size_t, loff_t*);
static ssize_t reverse_write(struct file*, const char*, size_t, loff_t*);
static int reverse_release(struct inode*, struct file*);

static struct file_operations reverseops = 
	.open = reverse_open,
	.read = reverse_read,
	.write = reverse_write,
	.release = reverse_release,

static int reverse_open(struct inode* inodep, struct file* filep){
	printk("reverse_dev opened\n");
	return 0;

static int reverse_release(struct inode* inodep, struct file* filep){
	printk("reverse_dev released\n");
	return 0;

static ssize_t reverse_read(struct file* filep, char *data_buffer, size_t len, loff_t *offset){
	printk("reverse_dev read start\n");
	return 0;

static ssize_t reverse_write(struct file* filep, const char *data_buffer, size_t len, loff_t *offset){
	printk("reverse_dev write start\n");
	return len;

The next step is to register our char device driver with the system. We do it using register_chrdev API. This API can dynamically allocate a major number for our driver and return it if the registration process is successful, otherwise return a negative number. Registration process should start during driver initialization. Also an allocated major should be released using unregister_chrdev API during driver exit. So replace the reverse_init and reverse_exit function with the following code.

static int reverse_init(void){
	printk("reverse_dev initialization\n");

	// dynamically allocate a major number and assing file_operations
	majorNumber = register_chrdev(0, DEVICE_NAME, &reverseops); 	// 0 means dynamic allocation
	if (majorNumber < 0){
		printk("Device Registration Failed\n");
		goto register_unsuccessful;
		printk("Device Registered With Major Number %d\n", majorNumber);

	return 0;

	return majorNumber;

static void reverse_exit(void){
	printk("Reverse Device Exit\n");
	unregister_chrdev(majorNumber, DEVICE_NAME);


In the above code portion, we’re asking the system to dynamically allocate a major number for our device. We assign the returned number to a global variable. Add the global variable at the beginning of the source file just after the header files.

static int majorNumber;

All the codes we’ve written so far assigns a major for our device and assign some file operation to that major. But it didn’t create any device file in the /dev directory. For this tutorial we’ll create the device file manually and on our next tutorial we’ll learn how to create the device file dynamically.

Compile and install our char driver and note the major number from the output of dmesg command. We’ll need this major for creating device file entry. The device file is created using the mknod command. This command needs the assigned major number for our device. In my system, the major number assigned to me was 250. So I used the following command to create the device file.

sudo mknod /dev/reversedev c 250 0

 Now our char device driver is ready to test. We can use some user mode application for testing the file operations on our driver. I’ll use the cat command for reading from the device and echo command for writing to the device.

Read from Char Device Test:

Open a terminal window and run cat /dev/reversedev command. If everything is okay you should be able to see following text in dmesg output.

reverse_dev opened
reverse_dev read start
reverse_dev released
Write to Char Device Test:

Open a terminal window and run sudo echo "abc" /dev/reversedev command. If everything is okay you should be able to see following text in dmesg output.

reverse_dev opened
reverse_dev write start
reverse_dev released

In both cases compare the dmesg output with the printk function calls used inside the functions used for file_operations structure to get an idea which function gets called at which time.

This tutorial only demonstrated how to create a char device driver. We’ve installed the driver, create device file for our driver and showed how a userspace program can read from or write to the device file. But so far our driver doesn’t do anything else other than printing some messages in the kernel log. In my next tutorial I’ll show how to modify the read and write function to do something useful.