Adding CAN to the Raspberry PI

The CAN bus (Controller Area Network) was originally designed by Bosch for the automotive market to connect ECUs (Engine/Electronic Control Units) together. Today, this robust communications bus is commonly found, not only in vehicles, but also on the factory floor in automation (e.g. CANOpen) and other applications such as PV solar inverter/battery Energy Storage Systems (ESS).

The Raspberry PI doesn’t natively support CAN. The Broadcom SoCs (System on a Chip) used by the Raspberry PI doesn’t include a CAN controller.

The Linux kernel supports CAN and includes SocketCAN drivers for the Microchip MCP2515 Stand-alone CAN Controller with SPI Interface. Various add-on expansion boards (‘hats’) exist for the Raspberry PI including:

MCP2515 CAN Bus Module Board with TJA1050 SN65HVD230

While this module is dirt cheap and extremely prevalent, it is not 3.3V compatible and hence Raspberry PI compatible. This board is designed to work from 5V only.

The on-board Microchip MCP2515 CAN Controller supports a wide voltage range from 2.7 to 5.5V. However, the CAN Transceiver, the TJA1050 from NXP only supports 4.75 to 5.25V.

One solution would be to power the board from 3.3V and cut the tracks on the PCB to power the TJA1050 from 5V. If you want to take this path, you can find instructions here.

3.3V MCP2515 CAN Bus Module Board with SN65HVD230
U1 has been replaced with a 3.3V CAN Transceiver – SN65HVD230

Alternatively, if you are proficient at SMD rework, you can remove the 5V CAN Transceiver and install a 3.3V version. I did this and opted to replace the 5V TJA1050 with the 3.3V SN65HVD230.


Below is the recommended wiring configuration to connect the MCP2515 CAN Bus Module Board to the Raspberry PI’s 40 pin connector.

Raspberry PI MCP2515 Pinout

Driver Installation

Without an ID EEPROM on the ‘hat’ specifying the hardware, the Linux kernel will not automatically discover the CAN Controller on the SPI interface. To load the appropriate driver, you must specify device tree overlay settings at boot.

Add the following line to your /boot/config.txt file:


The oscillator parameter should be set to the actual crystal frequency found on your MCP2515. This frequency can change between modules, and is commonly either 16 or 8 MHz. My MCP2515 CAN Bus module board has a 8MHz on-board crystal and hence, I set the above line to 8000000.

The interrupt parameter specifies the Raspberry PI GPIO pin number. We have connected the INT pin to GPIO25.

By default, the mcp2515 driver uses a maximum SPI frequency of 10MHz (as per the MCP2515 datasheet). You can also specify the overlay an optional parameter spimaxfrequency, e.g. spimaxfrequency=2000000 to slow down the SPI clock to help with signal integrity issues – e.g. if you have flying leads, rather than a PCB!

Note: Historic documentation may suggest adding dtparam=spi=on and dtoverlay=spi-bcm2835-overlay. While the SPI master is not enabled by default, and specifying dtparam=spi=on will enable it, so will the mcp2515-can0 overlay. The spi-bcm2835-overlay was used to specify a newer bcm2835 SPI driver (vs the older bcm2708), but since version 4.4 of the kernel, bcm2835 is now the default driver.

Now reboot your PI. You should see the following kernel messages on boot:

[   20.248951] CAN device driver interface
[ 20.499256] mcp251x spi0.0 can0: MCP2515 successfully initialized.

Naturally, if you see “Cannot initialize MCP2515. Wrong wiring?“, check the power and wiring of your CAN controller.

Once you have rebooted and the driver has been successfully loaded, you can manually bring up the CAN interface using:

 sudo /sbin/ip link set can0 up type can bitrate 500000 

The bitrate here is specified as 500kHz, but this may be changed to suit other devices on your CAN bus.

To automatically bring up the interface on boot, edit your /etc/network/interfaces file and add the following:

auto can0
iface can0 inet manual
    pre-up /sbin/ip link set can0 type can bitrate 500000 triple-sampling on restart-ms 100
    up /sbin/ifconfig can0 up
    down /sbin/ifconfig can0 down

The SocketCAN interface behaves just like a network interface. You should be able to get various statistics using ifconfig (interface configuration)

pi@raspberrypi:~ $ ifconfig
can0: flags=193 mtu 16
unspec 00-00-00-00-00-00-00-00-00-00-00-00-00-00-00-00 txqueuelen 10 (UNSPEC)
RX packets 0 bytes 0 (0.0 B)
RX errors 0 dropped 0 overruns 0 frame 0
TX packets 0 bytes 0 (0.0 B)
TX errors 0 dropped 0 overruns 0 carrier 0 collisions 0


CAN-utils is a collection of extremely useful debugging tools using the SocketCAN interface. It includes applications such as:

  • candump – Dump can packets – display, filter and log to disk.
  • canplayer – Replay CAN log files.
  • cansend – Send a single frame.
  • cangen – Generate random traffic.
  • canbusload – display the current CAN bus utilisation.

CAN-utils source can be obtained from the GitHub repository:

Alternatively, pre-compiled binaries can be installed using:

sudo apt-get install can-utils 

Code Development

Check out our tutorial for example C SocketCAN code.


On buses which high frame rates, the mcp251x driver may struggle. It is not unusual to see the irq/160-mcp251x kernel process using 25 percent of the CPU and the spi0 kernel using another 10 percent.

Enabling DMA doesn’t seem to make a material difference.

For most applications, it is unlikely you will want to capture and process every CAN frame. More likely than not, you are only only after frames sent to a specific address or range of addresses. This is how CAN buses were envisioned.

Given any other CAN device, one would just set a CAN filter and mask. This would filter out any frames not of interest and leave the firmware/software to deal with the important frames.

While this can be done, one of the deficiencies of the SocketCAN interface is that this filtering happens at a kernel module level. The filter and mask is never passed to the mcp251x for hardware level filtering. As a result, high CPU utilisation is still present when using filtering.

mcp251x.ko driver with hardware level filtering

One solution would be to modify the mcp251x driver to enable hardware filtering. Currently no means of passing down the filter or mask exists, but it could be either hardcoded, or loaded in at module load.

If this is of interest, see

If high frame rates are required, you may be better off to switch to alternative embedded Linux platforms such as the BeagleBone. The BeagleBone has internal CAN Controllers and support high frame rates with ease.


  1. I have done all steps following this article,and no error occcur,when i write data using cansend ,everything is well,but i can receive noting on my can board. Do you know how to make it works?

  2. I am running this board with the original TJA1050 chip, connected to he +5V pin in the Pi version 3B. Pi is powered by an external battery bank with 5V @ 2A. It works fine

  3. “Robert Bosch” is not the name of the company but of the person, its founder. The company he founded is commonly named “Bosch” and (nowadays, after several changes) officially registered as “Robert Bosch GmbH”. If you write that CAN “was originally designed by Robert Bosch”, that would mean that Robert Bosch himself invented CAN in person. He died around 40 years before the CAN protocol was invented within the company he founded.

    • Thanks Guys. I’ve changed it to just Bosch. Naturally, I was referring to the company, hence why it was hyperlinked to the Robert Bosch GmbH Corporate Website.

  4. about SocketCAN’s lack of support for hardware-based acceptance filtering: what about using can4linux as an alternative? as far as what I can quickly find e.g. the comment at CAN_IOCTL_CONFIG at, it seems that it’s just the opposite case of SocketCAN i.e. that it supports hardware acceptance filtering but not software-based filtering.

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