RS-485 RRP (Round Robin Protocol)

The goal of IDM is to communicate devices that use different technologies. One of this network technology is RS-485, but it does not specify the means to send messages from any device on any time. This protocol tries to solve the problem.


Any RS-485 network has multiple devices using a master-slave paradigm (or in the RS-485 nomenclature, driver-reader). Only the driver can write on the bus, and all readers can read. Every node could became a driver, but there should be just one driver on the network at a given time.

RS-485 only describes the most low level layer, giving the network layer to be part of the application protocol. In this case, we have designed a protocol called Round Robin Protocol (RRP).

In RRP, there is a node called arbiter, and one or more nodes called devices. When the network starts, the arbiter is the driver. The first thing that does is a network discovery, to know how many other devices are in the network. Then, it gives to each node, using a round robin algorithm, the opportunity to became the driver and use the bus.


RRP uses 1 byte as a node address, given that one simple RS-485 network should have no more than 32 nodes (or a maximum of 255 if uses repeaters). There are two reserved address:

  • 0: the arbiter address, used to communicate protocol messages.
  • 255: the broadcast address, used to send a non-responding message to all nodes.

Every other address are free to be used by any device.

The discovery

The arbiter iterates over the 253 possible addresses, and sends a RRP SYNC message to each one. It then releases the driver role becoming a reader. If the addressed node exists, then it must return a RRP OK message to the arbiter (address 0). If the node does not exists, then a TIMEOUT will expire, and the arbiter will become the driver again, sending the SYN message to the next address.

To launch the discovery process, the arbiter stops sending tokens and waits until the last message is sent and the TIMEOUT has expired. Then, waits TIMEOUT * 3 to verify that the input queue of each device is empty. After that, it sends a DISCOVER message to the broadcast address and again waits TIMEOUT * 3. This message forces every device to enter in SYNC mode, waiting and responding only to SYN messages. Once the node receives and answers a SYN message, it continues its previous work.

When a device enters SYNC mode, a timeout will start. If the timeout expires and no SYN messages is received, it will exit SYNC mode.

Iterating over nodes

When the arbiter has a complete list of nodes, it iterates over each one sending a TOKEN message. Then, releases the driver role becoming a reader. If the addressed node needs to use the network, it accepts the driver role, and sends his message. It needs to use the network before the arbiter’s TIMEOUT has expired, otherwise a collision will happen.

If the device sends a message, the arbiter’s TIMEOUT is reset. If the message is addressed to another device, and this device wants to answer, it could be done before the TIMEOUT has expired again. This allows that two given nodes could have a request-response dialog directly. Well-behaved devices does not try to use the network more than needed.

When the arbiter’s TIMEOUT has expired, the arbiter gets the driver role, and sends the TOKEN message to the following device in his list.

Protocol Messages

Each message has the following structure:

  • ‘RRP’ magic (3 bytes)
  • source address (1 byte)
  • destination address (1 byte)
  • type of message (1 byte)

The ‘type’ of message could be one of the following:

  • 0: `DISCOVER` message, used to alert devices to enter on `SYNC` mode
  • 1: `SYN` message, used in discovery process
  • 2: `OK` response, the answer of a discovered device
  • 3: `TOKEN` message, sent to allow a device to became driver
  • 4: `REQUEST` message, sent by a device to another device
  • 5: `RESPONSE` message, sent as a response to a `REQUEST` message

If the ‘type’ is `REQUEST` or `RESPONSE`, the message has the following body:

  • size of payload (1 byte)
  • payload (‘size’ bytes)

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