What are advantages and disadvantages in accessing I2C and other interfaces directly with /dev/mem (as in this code) instead of using /dev/i2c-1 (as in most examples like this)?

2 Answers 2


Disadvantages using /dev/mem for accessing the I²C hardware of the Raspberry Pi directly:

  • It's not portable to other hardware platforms. It's not portable to additional USB I²C adapters. It's not portable to additional bitbanged I²C.
  • You limit yourself to one-application at a time which may use the I²C, while the kernel serializes requests on /dev/i2c-nnn from multiple applications.
  • Likewise, you will run into problems when the user wants to use a kernel driver on the same I²C, for example for the handling of an RTC.
  • You have to take care of I²C bus expanders in your application code.


  • ~--~--~--~ insert tumbleweed ~--~--~--~

In addition, I recommend to use the I2C_RDWR ioctl() instead of read() and write() as you can do multiple transfers in one transaction this way. This is neccessary if multiple applications are accessing the same I²C slave concurrently.

#include <stdio.h>
#include <sys/types.h>
#include <sys/stat.h>
#include <fcntl.h>
#include <unistd.h>
#include <inttypes.h>
#include <linux/i2c-dev.h>

int main(int argc, char* argv[]) {
    struct i2c_msg i2c_msgs[2];
    struct i2c_rdwr_ioctl_data i2c_transfer;
    unsigned int address;
    uint8_t rdata[2];
    int fd;

    /* Parse arguments. */
    if (argc != 3) {
        fprintf(stderr, "USAGE: ds7505-readtemp <i2c-dev> <i2c slave address>\n");
        return 127;
    sscanf(argv[2], "0x%x", &address);
    if (address < 0x08 || address > 0x77) {
        fprintf(stderr, "ds7505-readtemp: i2c slave address has to be in the range 0x08..0x77.\n");
        return 127;

    /* Open I2C device. */
    fd = open(argv[1], O_RDWR);
    if (fd < 0) {
        perror("ds7505-readtemp: i2c device open");
        return 2;

    /* Select temperature register. */
    i2c_msgs[0].addr   = address;
    i2c_msgs[0].flags  = 0;
    i2c_msgs[0].len    = 1;
    i2c_msgs[0].buf    = "\x00";

    i2c_msgs[1].addr   = address;
    i2c_msgs[1].flags  = I2C_M_RD;
    i2c_msgs[1].len    = 2;
    i2c_msgs[1].buf    = (char*)&rdata;

    i2c_transfer.msgs  = i2c_msgs;
    i2c_transfer.nmsgs = 2;

    if (ioctl(fd, I2C_RDWR, &i2c_transfer) < 0) {
        perror("ds7505-readtemp: i2c temperature read");
        return 2;

    /* Print result. */
    printf("%.4f\n", ((float)((int16_t) (rdata[0] << 8 | rdata[1]))) / 256);

    /* Finish. */
    return 0;

In addition to @Janka's answer, more disadvantages:

  • No useful interrupt or DMA processing with /dev/mem
  • Whatever utility has the permission to interact with /dev/mem, can pretty much have complete control over the system. /dev/i2c would allow access only to I2C bus.

Advantage of /dev/mem is that it can be used for very quick proof of concept, or as help for debugging. I'd advise against using it for anything else.

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