Shallow Thoughts : : Jan

Akkana's Musings on Open Source Computing and Technology, Science, and Nature.

Thu, 25 Jan 2018

Tricks for Installing a Laser Printer on Linux in CUPS

(Wherein I rant about how bad CUPS has become.)

I had to set up two new printers recently. CUPS hasn't gotten any better since the last time I bought a printer, maybe five years ago; in fact, it's gotten quite a bit worse. I'm amazed at how difficult it was to add these fairly standard laser printers, both of which I'd researched beforehand to make sure they worked with Linux.

It took me about three hours for the first printer. The second one, a few weeks later, "only" took about 45 minutes ... at which point I realized I'd better write everything down so it'll be faster if I need to do it again, or if I get the silly notion that I might want to print from another computer, like my laptop.

I used the CUPS web interface; I didn't try any of the command-line tools.

Figure out the connection type

In the CUPS web interface, after you log in and click on Administration, whether you click on Find New Printers or Add Printer, you're faced with a bunch of identical options with no clue how to choose between them. For example, Find New Printers with a Dell E310dw connected shows:

Available Printers
  • [Add This Printer] Virtual Braille BRF Printer (CUPS-BRF)
  • [Add This Printer] Dell Printer E310dw (Dell Printer E310dw)
  • [Add This Printer] Dell Printer E310dw (Dell Printer E310dw)
  • [Add This Printer] Dell Printer E310dw (Dell Printer E310dw (driverless))

What is a normal human supposed to do with this? What's the difference between the three E210dw entries and which one am I supposed to choose? (Skipping ahead: None of them.) And why is it finding a virtual Braille BRF Printer?

The only way to find out the difference is to choose one, click on Next and look carefully at the URL. For the three E310dw options above, that gives:

Again skipping ahead: none of those are actually right. Go ahead, try all three of them and see. You'll get error messages about empty PPD files. But while you're trying them, write down, for each one, the URL listed as Connection (something like the dnssd:, lpd: or ipp: URLs listed above); and note, in the driver list after you click on your manufacturer, how many entries there are for your printer model, and where they show up in the list. You'll need that information later.

Download some drivers

Muttering about the idiocy of all this -- why ship empty drivers that won't install? Why not just omit drivers if they're not available? Why use the exact same name for three different printer entries and four different driver entries? -- the next step is to download and install the manufacturer's drivers. If you're on anything but Redhat, you'll probably either need to download an RPM and unpack it, or else google for the hidden .deb files that exist on both Dell's and Brother's websites that their sites won't actually find for you.

It might seem like you could just grab the PPD from inside those RPM files and put it wherever CUPS is finding empty ones, but I never got that to work. Much as I dislike installing proprietary .deb files, for both printers that was the only method I found that worked. Both Dell and Brother have two different packages to install. Why two and what's the difference? I don't know.

Once you've installed the printer driver packages, you can go back to the CUPS Add Printer screen. Which hasn't gotten any clearer than before. But for both the Brother and the Dell, ipp: is the only printer protocol that worked. So try each entry until you find the one that starts with ipp:.

Set up an IP address and the correct URL

But wait, you're not done. Because CUPS gives you a URL like ipp://DELL316BAA.local:631/ipp/print, and whatever that .local thing is, it doesn't work. You'll be able to install the printer, but when you try to print to it it fails with "unable to locate printer".

(.local apparently has something to do with assuming you're running a daemon that does "Bonjour", the latest name for the Apple service discovery protocol that was originally called Rendezvous, then renamed to Zeroconf, then to Bonjour. On Linux it's called Avahi, but even with an Avahi daemon this .local thing didn't work for me. At least it made me realize that I had the useless Avahi daemon running, so now I can remove it.).

So go back to Add Printer and click on Internet Printing Protocol (ipp) under Other network printers and click Continue. That takes you to a screen that suggests that you want URLs like:

http://hostname:631/ipp/
http://hostname:631/ipp/port1

ipp://hostname/ipp/
ipp://hostname/ipp/port1

lpd://hostname/queue

socket://hostname
socket://hostname:9100

None of these is actually right. What these printers want -- at least, what both the Brother and the Dell wanted -- was ipp://printerhostname:631/ipp/print

printerhostname? Oh, did I forget to mention static IP? I definitely recommend that you make a static IP for your printer, or at least add it to your router's DHCP list so it always gets the same address. Then you can make an entry in /etc/hosts for printerhostname. I guess that .local thing was supposed to compensate for an address that changes all the time, which might be a nifty idea if it worked, but since it doesn't, make a static IP and use it in your ipp: URL.

Choose a driver

Now, finally! you can move on to choosing a driver. After you pick the manufacturer, you'll be presented with a list that probably includes at least three entries for your printer model. Here's where it helps if you paid attention to how the list looked before you installed the manufacturer's drivers: if there's a new entry for your printer that wasn't there before, that's the non-empty one you want. If there are two or more new entries for your printer that weren't there before, as there were for the Dell ... shrug, all you can do is pick one and hope.

Of course, once you manage to get through configuration to "Printer successfully added", you should immediately run Maintenance->Print Test Page. You may have to power cycle the printer first since it has probably gone to sleep while you were fighting with CUPS.

All this took me maybe three hours the first time, but it only took me about 45 minutes the second time. Hopefully now that I've written this, it'll be much faster next time. At least if I don't succumb to the siren song of thinking a fairly standard laser printer ought to have a driver that's already in CUPS, like they did a decade ago, instead of always needing a download from the manufacturer.

If laser printers are this hard I don't even want to think about what it's like to install a photo printer on Linux these days.

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[ 16:19 Jan 25, 2018    More linux | permalink to this entry | comments ]

Sun, 21 Jan 2018

Reading Buttons from a Raspberry Pi

When you attach hardware buttons to a Raspberry Pi's GPIO pin, reading the button's value at any given instant is easy with GPIO.input(). But what if you want to watch for button changes? And how do you do that from a GUI program where the main loop is buried in some library?

Here are some examples of ways to read buttons from a Pi. For this example, I have one side of my button wired to the Raspberry Pi's GPIO 18 and the other side wired to the Pi's 3.3v pin. I'll use the Pi's internal pulldown resistor rather than adding external resistors.

The simplest way: Polling

The obvious way to monitor a button is in a loop, checking the button's value each time:

import RPi.GPIO as GPIO
import time

button_pin = 18

GPIO.setmode(GPIO.BCM)

GPIO.setup(button_pin, GPIO.IN, pull_up_down = GPIO.PUD_DOWN)

try:
    while True:
        if GPIO.input(button_pin):
            print("ON")
        else:
            print("OFF")

        time.sleep(1)

except KeyboardInterrupt:
    print("Cleaning up")
    GPIO.cleanup()

But if you want to be doing something else while you're waiting, instead of just sleeping for a second, it's better to use edge detection.

Edge Detection

GPIO.add_event_detect, will call you back whenever it sees the pin's value change. I'll define a button_handler function that prints out the value of the pin whenever it gets called:

import RPi.GPIO as GPIO
import time

def button_handler(pin):
    print("pin %s's value is %s" % (pin, GPIO.input(pin)))

if __name__ == '__main__':
    button_pin = 18

    GPIO.setmode(GPIO.BCM)

    GPIO.setup(button_pin, GPIO.IN, pull_up_down = GPIO.PUD_DOWN)

    # events can be GPIO.RISING, GPIO.FALLING, or GPIO.BOTH
    GPIO.add_event_detect(button_pin, GPIO.BOTH,
                          callback=button_handler,
                          bouncetime=300)

    try:
        time.sleep(1000)
    except KeyboardInterrupt:
        GPIO.cleanup()

Pretty nifty. But if you try it, you'll probably find that sometimes the value is wrong. You release the switch but it says the value is 1 rather than 0. What's up?

Debounce and Delays

The problem seems to be in the way RPi.GPIO handles that bouncetime=300 parameter.

The bouncetime is there because hardware switches are noisy. As you move the switch from ON to OFF, it doesn't go cleanly all at once from 3.3 volts to 0 volts. Most switches will flicker back and forth between the two values before settling down. To see bounce in action, try the program above without the bouncetime=300. There are ways of fixing bounce in hardware, by adding a capacitor or a Schmitt trigger to the circuit; or you can "debounce" the button in software, by waiting a while after you see a change before acting on it. That's what the bouncetime parameter is for.

But apparently RPi.GPIO, when it handles bouncetime, doesn't always wait quite long enough before calling its event function. It sometimes calls button_handler while the switch is still bouncing, and the value you read might be the wrong one. Increasing bouncetime doesn't help. This seems to be a bug in the RPi.GPIO library.

You'll get more reliable results if you wait a little while before reading the pin's value:

def button_handler(pin):
    time.sleep(.01)    # Wait a while for the pin to settle
    print("pin %s's value is %s" % (pin, GPIO.input(pin)))

Why .01 seconds? Because when I tried it, .001 wasn't enough, and if I used the full bounce time, .3 seconds (corresponding to 300 millisecond bouncetime), I found that the button handler sometimes got called multiple times with the wrong value. I wish I had a better answer for the right amount of time to wait.

Incidentally, the choice of 300 milliseconds for bouncetime is arbitrary and the best value depends on the circuit. You can play around with different values (after commenting out the .01-second sleep) and see how they work with your own circuit and switch.

You might think you could solve the problem by using two handlers:

    GPIO.add_event_detect(button_pin, GPIO.RISING, callback=button_on,
                          bouncetime=bouncetime)
    GPIO.add_event_detect(button_pin, GPIO.FALLING, callback=button_off,
                          bouncetime=bouncetime)
but that apparently isn't allowed: RuntimeError: Conflicting edge detection already enabled for this GPIO channel.

Even if you look just for GPIO.RISING, you'll still get some bogus calls, because there are both rising and falling edges as the switch bounces. Detecting GPIO.BOTH, waiting a short time and checking the pin's value is the only reliable method I've found.

Edge Detection from a GUI Program

And now, the main inspiration for all of this: when you're running a program with a graphical user interface, you don't have control over the event loop. Fortunately, edge detection works fine from a GUI program. For instance, here's a simple TkInter program that monitors a button and shows its state.

import Tkinter
from RPi import GPIO
import time

class ButtonWindow:
    def __init__(self, button_pin):
        self.tkroot = Tkinter.Tk()
        self.tkroot.geometry("100x60")

        self.label = Tkinter.Label(self.tkroot, text="????",
                                   bg="black", fg="white")
        self.label.pack(padx=5, pady=10, side=Tkinter.LEFT)

        self.button_pin = button_pin
        GPIO.setmode(GPIO.BCM)

        GPIO.setup(self.button_pin, GPIO.IN, pull_up_down=GPIO.PUD_DOWN)

        GPIO.add_event_detect(self.button_pin, GPIO.BOTH,
                              callback=self.button_handler,
                              bouncetime=300)

    def button_handler(self, channel):
        time.sleep(.01)
        if GPIO.input(channel):
            self.label.config(text="ON")
            self.label.configure(bg="red")
        else:
            self.label.config(text="OFF")
            self.label.configure(bg="blue")

if __name__ == '__main__':
    win = ButtonWindow(18)
    win.tkroot.mainloop()

You can see slightly longer versions of these programs in my GitHub Pi Zero Book repository.

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[ 11:32 Jan 21, 2018    More hardware | permalink to this entry | comments ]