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CAN Bus explained

Understanding CAN BUS

Controller Area Network (CAN) BUS stands out as a robust, efficient, and versatile standard in the world of automotive and industrial communication systems. This blog post delves into the intricacies of CAN BUS, exploring its history, functionality, practical applications, common issues, troubleshooting methods, pinouts, voltage requirements, limitations, and impedance characteristics.

History of CAN BUS

Developed in the mid-1980s by Bosch, the CAN BUS was created to address the growing complexity and communication needs in automotive vehicles. It replaced cumbersome wiring harnesses with a streamlined, two-wire bus system that enabled multiple microcontrollers and devices to communicate with each other without a central computer.

How CAN BUS Works

CAN Bus data transmission

Fundamental Concept

CAN BUS operates on a multi-master principle, allowing multiple microcontrollers (nodes) to communicate with each other on a single or dual-wire network. Each node can send and receive messages but not simultaneously.

Data Transmission

Data is transmitted in frames that include identifiers indicating the message’s priority. When two or more devices attempt to transmit simultaneously, the system uses a non-destructive arbitration method based on the identifier to determine which transmission has priority.

CAN Bus data packet


Bit Rates and Standards

CAN operates typically at bit rates up to 1 Mbit/s, though some systems may go higher. The standard is divided mainly into two types:

  • High-Speed CAN (ISO 11898-2)
  • Low-Speed/Fault-Tolerant CAN (ISO 11898-3)

Practical Examples

Automotive Applications

In cars, CAN BUS is used for connecting electronic control units (ECUs), sensors, and actuators. For instance, the system can link the engine control unit to the transmission for better coordination of gear shifts.

Industrial Automation

In industrial settings, CAN BUS facilitates communication between control systems and devices such as sensors and actuators, streamlining processes and diagnostics.

Common Issues and Troubleshooting

Signal Problems

Common issues include signal reflection, electromagnetic interference, and termination problems. These can be diagnosed and fixed through careful network design, proper grounding, and using the correct cable types.

Fault Finding

Troubleshooting often involves using diagnostic tools like CAN BUS analyzers to read and interpret the traffic on the network. Analyzers can identify errors like incorrect baud rates, faulty nodes, or improper terminations.

CAN BUS Pinouts and Voltage Specifications

CAN Bus connector pinout


The standard pinout for a high-speed CAN BUS is a DB9 connector with CAN High (Pin 7) and CAN Low (Pin 2). For a low-speed network, Pin 6 is used for CAN High and Pin 14 for CAN Low.

Voltage Levels

CAN BUS uses differential voltages to represent data. A dominant (logical 0) is signified by a voltage difference of 2V (CAN_High = 3.5V, CAN_Low = 1.5V), while a recessive (logical 1) shows a difference of 0V (both lines at 2.5V).

Limitations and Impedance


CAN BUS has limitations in terms of network length and speed. The maximum length decreases as the speed increases, posing a challenge in large networks.


The characteristic impedance of a CAN BUS network is typically 120 ohms. Proper termination at each end of the bus with 120-ohm resistors is crucial to prevent signal reflections and maintain data integrity.


CAN BUS is a foundational technology in the realms of automotive and industrial communication. Its efficiency, robustness, and ease of implementation make it an indispensable standard. Understanding its mechanics, limitations, and troubleshooting methods is crucial for professionals working in these fields.

With the ongoing advancements in vehicle technology and industrial automation, CAN BUS is poised to remain a key player in future communication systems.

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