Emulating plipbox with FS-UAE

Recently, I had some time to spend and wanted to work on the plipbox project’s Amiga driver. Unfortunately, I only had my MacBook Pro with me and no Amiga or plipbox hardware.

What does a SW developer do if the real hardware is not at hand?

Yes, you write an emulator that represents the missing HW in SW on a machine you have access to…

Adding a Virtual Parallel Port Protocol in FS-UAE

That said, I installed all required Amiga SW in a virtual environment in FS-UAE on my Mac and soon I had my plipbox.device SANA II driver talking with the virtual parallel port in FS-UAE. What was missing now is a protocol that communicates the complete I/O state from FS-UAE to another process. Then I could write a standalone application that does emulate the plipbox firmware and plipbox.device in FS-UAE would be operational.

I defined a simple two-byte bi-directional protocol called vpar that communicates any change in the emulation of FS-UAE’s Amiga parallel port to an external process and also receives external changes for input lines from the process and realizes them in FS-UAE’s emulated parallel port.

Having a POSIX compatible system with pseudo-terminals (ptys) I devised the link between both processes as a simple file-open interface in FS-UAE and a pty in the plipbox emulator (Note: any other interprocess mechanism works here also but this one was very easy to add in FS-UAE).

The setup looks like this:

        +----------+                                  +---------+
        | plipbox  |                                  | patched |
        | emulator |--(opens)--> [PTY] <--(file I/O)--| FS-UAE  |
        +----------+                                  +---------+
                    <--------- vpar protocol -------->

All required changes to FS-UAE are available in my clone of the FS-UAE repository on GitHub in the `chris-devel` branch.

For the plipbox emulator application I chose my favorite script language Python. With it setting up the pty for inter-process communication and implementing the vpar protocol peer was done in a few hours.

Setting up the Network

Ok, the plipbox emulator in Python can now talk PLIP via vpar’s virtual parallel port. The next step is to add access to an Ethernet device on the lowest frame level for our plipbox emulator.

I had a look at the pcap library that allows injecting packets into an existing adapter, but the Python bindings often lacked the inject feature of the library and so I dropped this idea.

Then I found a setup using a TAP device to easily create and receive ethernet packets from a user space application. Combine this with a real ethernet adapter via an interface bridge and you have access to real ethernet with a simple TAP file I/O interface (opening /dev/tap0) from your application.

The setup looks like this:

        +----------+              +---------+                +----------+
        | Real Eth |              | TAP     |                | plipbox  |
        | Adapter  |<-- Bridge -->| Adapter |<-- File I/O -->| emulator |
        +----------+              +---------+                +----------+
           en1         bridge0       tap0
           +----- OS net interfaces ----+

For the real ethernet adapter I use a second USB ethernet adapter on my Mac that is not configured (IP: but active (up) in Mac OS X. This way OS X does not use it and my emulator can use it exclusively.

Creating the TAP device and building the bridge with the real adapter is done with some sudo’ed system command right in the startup of the emulator.

Note: the TAP driver is not shipped with Mac OS X itself, but you can add it by installing the ones from the TUN TAP OSX project.

Putting it all together

On top of the vpar Python module I implemented the magPLIP protocol layer in an own Python class. Now all pieces to create the plipbox were available.

The plipbox main script sets up the vpar, magplip, and ethernet with TAP and interface bridge. In the main loop it does I/O multi-plexing with select() on the file descriptor for the vpar PTY and for the TAP file.

A packet arriving from TAP is filtered (i.e. multicast and unknown broadcasts are removed) similar to the real plipbox firmware and then delivered to the emulated Amiga via the vpar connection.

A packet incoming via PLIP is directly delivered to the local network and thus written to the TAP file.

That’s it! A working plipbox running as a Python script on my Mac… Similar to the firmware I added some optional debugging output to see the packet contents and to measure the timing and latency. Now I can develop and test the plipbox.device driver with the emulated environment…

Sneak a Peek?

The plipbox emulator will be shipped with the upcoming version 0.3 of plipbox. If you want to have a look already then head over to my GitHub repository where all development takes place… Have a look in the python and doc dirs 🙂


2 thoughts on “Emulating plipbox with FS-UAE

  1. Pingback: plipbox 0.4 released - English Amiga Board

  2. Pingback: Virtual Parallel Port Protocol for FS-UAE | FS-UAE Amiga Emulator

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