Introduction: ATTiny Port Manipulation (Part 2): AnalogRead()

ATTiny Port Manipulation (Part 2): analogRead()

This is a continuation of the first Instructable I wrote titled, ATTiny Port Manipulation (Part 1): pinMode() and digitalWrite(). Though there is some crossover information between that one and this one, this is still written assuming you understand the basics of port manipulation within registers. We are now going to delve into analogRead().

We will again be using the ATTiny13A as our example chip, though all methods learned are usable on all ATTiny microchips. The following is a link to the datasheet.

Attiny85 Datasheet

Page 2: Figure 1-1. Pinout of ATtiny25/45/85: PDIP/SOIC/TSSOP is the chip version we will be referencing (Image 1).
Now bear in mind that, it is not as simple to send bit information to the ATTiny as it is getting it from. You can have the chip send you a 5V signal, then you, outside the system, can use that signal for whatever. To light a LED, switch a transistor, run a motor, etc… The chip does not need to know, so you do not have to tell it. Going the other way around gets more complicated.

You have to tell the chip, that it is going to receive data to begin with, tell it when to receive the data, how to interpret the data, and what to do with that data. The following is a quick list of the order of operations of how to receive analog data through the Analog to Digital Converter (ADC). We will then go through almost every step, so that by the end, you will be a master of analogRead() using Port Manipulation.

1. Include the avr/io library so all port commands are understood.

2. Define some macros (optional but extremely useful).

3. Set the voltage reference.

4. Choose which pin will be Analog Input.

5. Choose precision level and left or right adjusting.

6. Enable the Analog to Digital Converter.

7. Set analog read type.

8. Select prescaler.

9. Start the conversion.

10. Retrieve the data (or possibly sets of data).

11. Use data.

12. Repeat from step 10.

This may seem a little intense, but the journey will be a very rewarding one. It will give you a much better understanding of the inner workings of the Arduino IDE and how all AVR chips really work on the inside.

So, without stalling, let’s get started!

Step 1: Steps 1 and 3: Understanding the Analog to Digital Converter and Reference Voltages

Step 1:

Use the following code line at the top of your sketch so all port commands are understood:

#include <avr/io.h>

Step 2:
This will not be included in this Instructable.

Step 3:

To start, we need to understand what the Analog to Digital Converter (ADC) really does. It takes an analog signal and converts it to a digital one. (duh! Right?) An analog signal can hold any value and will fluctuate continuously. Whereas a digital signal will only hold discrete values.

What this means for us, is that you can send a signal with, literally any value (between its high and low points). Example: between 1 and 10, an analog signal could be 1, 3.6, 4.3333, etc. Whereas a digital signal is discrete, it might only hold values to plus or minus a half. Example: 1, 2.5, 5, 7.5, etc.

The ADC will take your analog signal and convert it to the digital version. 4.3333 would change to 4.5 instead, for example.

We learned in Part 1 how to find out which pins are attached to which ports and how to find the corresponding registers. According to the pinout diagram (Image 1) we want the ports marked ADC. There are 4 of them. These are your analog pins:

Pin 1 is ADC0

Pin 7 is ADC1

Pin 3 is ADC2

Pin 2 is ADC3

Our ATTiny chips will take a signal from 0 to 5.5V on these pins and convert it from 0 to 255 or from 0 to 1023 (depending on the resolution you want). We will assume 0 – 255 for the remainder of this Instructable.

In order to do this, it uses a formula:

ADC = (Vin * 1024)/(Vref)

ADC is the converted value that you are reading

Vin is the signal voltage signal being converted

Vref is the reference voltage

In order to convert your signal into a discrete value, the chip needs to compare your voltage to a different already known voltage. There are typically internal voltages usable on the chip itself; usually in the form of 3.3V or 5V. You can also use an external reference voltage, that can hold any voltage you want (with a maximum of 5V). On your Arduino, this is what the AREF (Analog Reference) pin is for. This is useful when you are using the ADC for a peripheral device attached to the Arduino that uses its own power source. It helps to avoid translation errors between devices (though this is a topic for another time).

According to the Datasheet, our chapter on ADC starts on page 82.

Note that I will be going in a different order than that chapter in the datasheet. That is because I am writing in the order you will use the information within the Arduino IDE; so bear with me.

Chapter 17, section 6 (17.6.2) is where we find ADC Reference Voltage (Image 2).

We see that we only have two choices for an internal reference voltage at 1.1V or 2.56V. The internal reference voltage is always worth taking note of when working with any chip.

Then skipping to 17.13 Register Description, we find the registers. Looking through, we see that the Voltage Reference Selection bits are within the ADMUX (ADC Multiplexer Selection) Register (Image 3).

We are looking at the REFS0 and REFS1 (Reference Selection 0 and 1) bits which happen to be bits 6 and 7 in the ADMUX Register. When it says that you can use Vcc as your reference voltage, it means it will use the voltage level that the chip is currently being powered with. This chip operates anywhere between 1.8V and 5.5V, so the Vcc can be anywhere within that range. We will assume that you are running the chip with a 5V source. This is a good reference voltage to use. However, we are going to use the internal voltage reference as our reference voltage. The register tells us that the bits are initialized to 0, which means we need to change REFS1 it to a 1.

This is done with the following code line in your void setup():

ADMUX |= (1 << REFS1);   //use internal reference voltage of 1.1V

Now, let’s move on.

Step 2: Step 4: Choosing Your Analog Read Pins

When it comes to choosing pins for output signals, it is easy to do and you can control as many as are available on the chip you are using. Using pins as inputs is a little different. This is because the chip has only one analog to digital conversion unit. This means that only one pin can be used at a time.

14.6.1 Channel Inputs gives us an overview of this (Image 1).

It is saying that you have to choose one pin, or channel, at a time for each conversion. This is pretty easy to do within the Arduino IDE. We will cover this later on. For this Instructable we will assume we are only using one analog input.

To choose which analog input we want to use we have to reference the ADMUX Register again (Image 2).
(Image 3) is seen at the top of page 93.

For this Instructable we are going to be reading analog data from ADC3.

This means we need to write both MUX1 and MUX0 to 1’s.

This is done with the following code lines. You would do this within the void setup().

ADMUX |= (1 << MUX0);   //combined with next line…
ADMUX |= (1 << MUX1);   //sets ADC3 as analog input channel

Step 3: Step 5: Choosing Your Readout Options

This step is very involved and explains in great detail how 10-bit resolution is resolved. If it seems to be too much, you can skip to the TL;DR section at the end which is a very brief synopsis of everything before it, which explains the single line of code that it builds up to.

You may have noticed or asked the questions concerning the resolution of the ADC. On page 1 it says that this chip features 10-bit resolution (image 1).

For those who may not know. Each 1 and 0 is a bit of data. There are 8 bits to a byte. Each register contains 8 bits or exactly 1 byte. This is just a computer thing overall, and is not subject to change. So, this begs the question of how this chip features 10-bit resolution when a register only holds 1 byte. The answer is that the 10 bits are held between 2 registers, 8 in one, 2 in another. These registers are the ADCH and ADCL, (Analog to Digital Converter High Register and Analog to Digital Converter Low Register).

If you want to have 10 bits of resolution, the binary data is held over both registers with right adjusting. Both registers need to be read in the proper order, stored, combined, then used as the analog data you want. I will take a moment to quickly go over binary sequences and how binary is read. If you already understand how binary works, you can skip the section between the lines.


A number represented in binary is the sum of a series of 1’s and 0’s where each position in the sequence represents a power of 2. To find the decimal value of that binary number, you simply add up the powers of 2 in each location represented with a 1. A binary sequence can be of any length, but we will continue using 1 byte to represent the data.

Refer to (Image 2)

Row 1 is the number 98 shown below in binary.

Row 2 shows the values at each position within the sequence shown as powers of 2.

Row 3 shows the values in row 2 as whole numbers.

Row 4 shows that only positions with 1’s have their corresponding values added to the overall number the binary sequence represents. In this case, 64 + 32 + 2 = 98.

We say that the position all the way on the right is the first digit in the number then work left from there. This is why all the registers start at the right and work left.


This is significant when you are choosing 8-bit resolution for your result. This option is selected with the ADLAR (ADC Left Adjust Result) bit within the ADMUX Register (Image 3).

The reason this is all important becomes clear looking at the ADCL and ADCH (Image 4).

The ADLAR bit shifts the bits in the registers.

It is worth noting that no matter which you want, 8-bit or 10-bit resolution, your chip reads 10 bits worth of resolution which can represent numbers between 0 and 1023. 8-bit resolution can only represent numbers between 0 and 255. You just choose how much of that data you care about. Let’s imagine that you took an analog value that the ADC tells you is 855 in binary. The bits from right to left look like this: 1101010111.

With ADLAR = 0, or right adjusted, between the two registers, your data looks like (Image 5).

The blank column represents separation between the registers. The most significant bits, ADC8 and ADC9 are held in the ADCH, and if you want an accurate representation of your analog value, you need these bits. This requires you to read both registers, combine them, then take that value from there.

With ADLAR = 1, or left adjusted, between the two registers, your data looks like (Image 6).

The blank column represents separation between the registers. In this case, the least significant bits are held in the ADCL, and to get an accurate representation of your analog value, you do not need them.

*When you ignore 2 bits of data, you end up with a completely different binary number within a different range. Though the end result is still valid.*

This can be shown using percentages. The highest value that can be held within 10 bits, is 1023, or, it can hold 1024 different numbers. 855 is our number. 855 is 83.5% of 1024. If we took only the 8 bits available from ADLAR = 0, we would have 01010111, or 87, which is 34% of 256 (where 256 is the number of values held by and 8-bit sequence). Clearly 83.5 is not equivalent to 34.

But when looking at the 8 bits from ADLAR = 1, we would have 11010101, which is 213. This is 83.2% of 256. Notice that 83.5 is a lot closer to 83.2 than to 34. You end up losing less than half a percent of accuracy on your reading. Pretty good, huh?

Okay, take a moment to digest… What does this mean?

I know, I know. I’m finally getting to that.


The ADC gathers 10-bit resolution, which is too big for a single register. Data is separated between two registers, ADCH and ADCL (2 bits in the first, 8 in the second), which is read in that order, (though data must be retrieved in the opposite order). The ADLAR bit in the ADMUX register, from 0 to 1, changes the adjustment from right to left. This shifts the binary sequence between the registers, such that instead of the 2 most significant bits alone in one register, you have the two least significant bits alone in the other (8 bits in the first, 2 in the second) where only ADCH needs to be read.

The ADC gives you 10-bit resolution, regardless. 10-bit resolution is great, but you have to read 2 registers, so you’d have to get to 2 sets of data, combine, then use. Which is more complicated than necessary. 8-bit resolution is good enough and much easier. But! To get just 8-bit resolution means you have to ignore two bits of data that is gathered regardless. To ignore the proper bits without misrepresenting data, you have to change the adjustment from right to left, then only read the ADCH.

To do this, you need ADLAR to equal 1.

The following line of code accomplishes this:

ADMUX |= (1 << ADLAR);   //Left Adjust the ADCH and ADCL registers


Okay, now... You will recall from Part 1, that the above format for writing 1’s and 0’s to a register is the better way of doing so. I am now about to tell you otherwise.


As of right now, we have the following code lines for our project, all within the void setup().

ADMUX |= (1 << REFS0);   //sets reference voltage to internal 1.1V 
ADMUX |= (1 << MUX0);    //combined with next line… 
ADMUX |= (1 << MUX1);    //sets ADC3 as analog input channel.
ADMUX |= (1 << ADLAR);   //left adjusts for 8-bit resolution

The thing is, because the void setup() only happens once, and all four commands are to the same register, we can revert back to the original format for writing 1’s and 0’s to a register to combine all 4 commands into 1. The following code is an example of this:

ADMUX = 0b10100011;   //sets 1.1V IRV, sets ADC3 as channel, left adjusts

This is only acceptable within the void setup() as the code is executed only one time.

The other better method is a must within the void loop(). Otherwise you end up writing 0’s to other spots as well, and it horrifically complicates things.

Step 4: Steps 6 and 7: Enabling the ADC and Choosing Analog Read Method

Step 6:
This one is easy. In order to use the ADC, you need to enable it. This is done with the ADEN (ADC Enable) bit in the ADCSRA (ADC Control and Status Register A) Register. This is seen in 14.12.2 (Image 1).

The ADEN bit is the last bit in the register, and we want this to be a 1. So we input the following code in the void setup().

ADCSRA |= (1 << ADEN);   //enables the ADC

Step 7:
At this point, we need to decide which kind of data collection method we want. There are 3 different ways.

1. Single conversion (which we will concentrate on in this Instructable).

2. Free running mode.

3. Conversion using interrupts (we will not discuss this one).

Single conversion is basically how the analogRead() function works as used in the Arduino IDE. Specifically, it starts the conversion (which we will get to shortly) gathers the data, then stops the conversion. And then allows for data usage.

In free running mode, the ADC is always updating its data from the analog input channel. Then whenever you collect the data, it pulls the values from the registers at that moment.

Conversion using interrupts is as it sounds. But again, we will touch on this in a different Instructable.

The bits for this are also found in the ADCSRA. But the default setting is single conversion mode. And so, no change to the ADCSRA is needed for this example.

The effective difference between single conversion and free running mode in practice is:

In single conversion mode, you have to restart conversion within the ADC each time you wish to use it within the void loop().

In free running mode, you need only start conversion within the ADC once in the void setup(). Then just grab data as needed from the ADCH in the void loop(). Though, with this method, the ADC is always active and using power.

Step 5: Step 8: Selecting Your Prescaler

This is pretty technical area to try and teach. So, we are going to go with the because I said so methodology. Early in the ADC Chapter we see the following paragraph (Image 1).

What this means is that the ADC clock needs to run slower than the Chip frequency clock. In our case, we are dealing with a 1 MHz chip clock. It says we want to have the ADC clock between 50 and 200. The easiest value to get to is 125 kHz.

To do this, we use the Prescaler bits, or the ADPS (ADC Prescaler Select) in the ADCSRA register., as shown in (Image 2).

What this means, is that by setting the bits, you define a division factor. This takes the Chip frequency and divides it by the division factor to determine ADC Clock Speed. For us, in this example, we want to divide our 1MHz by 8 to get to the 125kHz that we want for the best resolution sample.

This is done by writing 011 to ADPS[2,0].

This is done with the following lines of code in the void setup()

ADCSRA |= (1 << ADPS1);   //with next line…
ADCSRA |= (1 << ADPS0);   //set division factor-8 for 125kHz ADC clock

ADPS2 is initialized to 0, so no command needs to be written to it.

Now, at this point, we have the following lines of code for the ADCSRA in the void setup():

ADCSRA |= (1 << ADEN);    //enables the ADC
ADCSRA |= (1 << ADPS1);   //with next line…
ADCSRA |= (1 << ADPS0);   //set division factor-8 for 125kHz ADC clock

Again, as the previous section showed, we can combine these commands into a single command using the old method as follows:

ADCSRA = 0b10000011;   //turn on the ADC, keep ADC single conversion mode
                       //and set division factor-8 for 125kHz ADC clock

There are two more registers for ADC commands, we will use neither of them. So at this point, we are ready to move onto actually using and pulling data out of the ADC in the void loop().

So, without further ado.

Step 6: Steps 9 - 12: Collecting and Using Your Data

Collecting everything we have done so far, we have the following code as it would appear in the Arduino IDE.

#include <avr/io.h>   //allows for register commands to be understood

void setup() {
ADMUX = 0b01100011;   //sets 1.1V IRV, sets ADC3 as input channel, and
		      //left adjusts
ADCSRA = 0b10000011;  //turns on the ADC, keeps ADC in single conversion mode
}                     //and sets division factor to 8 for 125kHz ADC clock

Now we get to finally jump into the void loop() and collect some analog data. To do this you need to start a conversion. Remember, we are in single conversion mode. How to do this is shown in (Image 1).

We need to set the ADSC (ADC Start Conversion) bit in the ADCSRA register to 1. This is accomplished with the following code line in the void loop():

ADCSRA |= (1 << ADSC);   //start conversion

The thing that may have you questioning is how to stop the conversion. Fortunately, the conversion stops itself. When you write a 1 to this bit, the conversion starts, collects the data into the ADCH and ADCL registers, then writes itself back to a 0 when it is done. The data in the registers remains static until it is either read, or overwritten.

The data is now stored in the ADCH and ADCL. When using 10-bit resolution, we find we need to read the registers in proper order. Page 94 shows this in (Image 2).

This also says that, for this example, that when left adjusted (which it for our example) it is sufficient to simply read the ADCH. The easiest way to retrieve the data is to simply set a variable equal to the ADCH. The following is an example.

analogData = ADCH;   //store data in analogData variable

What is nice about this, is that even though the data is gathered as a binary number, the Arduino IDE switches seamlessly between binary, hexadecimal, as well as decimal. If you were to have the Serial interface enabled, you can simply print the analogData variable and see a decimal value between 0 and 255.

The following is a complete code to show everything together with Serial interface enabled to display analog data from a potentiometer.

#include <avr/io.h>   //allows for register commands to be understood
int analogData;       //declare analogData variable

void setup() {
ADMUX = 0b10100011;   //sets 1.1V IRV, sets ADC3 as input channel,
		      //and left adjusts
ADCSRA = 0b10000011;  //turn on ADC, keep ADC single conversion mode,
                      //and set division factor-8 for 125kHz ADC clock
ADCSRA = 0b10000011;  //turn on the ADC, keep ADC single conversion mode
                      //set division factor-8 for 125kHz ADC clock
Serial.begin(9600);   //start Serial Interface

void loop() {
ADCSRA |= (1 << ADSC);         //start conversion
analogData = ADCH;             //store data in analogData variable
Serial.print("analogData: ");  //print "analogData: "
Serial.println(analogData);    //print data in analogData variable
delay(1000);                   //delay 1 second

You will be happy to see that the analog data will be displayed in decimal form without any instruction from the user.

The vast majority of this Instructable is written just to set up the void setup() and understanding all the details for doing so properly. After that, collecting the data is pretty simple.

Stay tuned for Part 3.