Programming the MSP430 using docker

Docker is awesome. It's super handy for many things especially in the dev ops world but a personal favorite use case of mine would be creating disposable execution environments and workspaces. It's great to be able to quickly download preconfigured environments where I can get stuff done quickly and blow them away without a trace once I'm done. If you aren't already familiar, you can check out my in introductory slides to Docker for a quick overview1.

A reader recently reached out with an idea of programming an MSP430 launchpad using a docker container based on a previous post I made on programming the launchpad2. I thought it was pretty interesting, so I decided to put together a quick guide on how to do just that.

It's worth mentioning that I'm doing this on an Ubuntu 14.04 system.

With the launchpad connected to my machine via USB, first we've got to figure out whether it's connected, we can do this using lsusb.

$ lsusb

Bus 001 Device 001: ID 1d6b:0002 Linux Foundation 3.0 root hub  
Bus 002 Device 002: ID 0451:f432 Texas Instruments, Inc. eZ430 Development Tool  

Here my that my device is mounted on Bus 002 and Device 002. We can now obtain its path using the find command.

$ find /dev/bus


At this point, we can assume that the correct path is /dev/bus/usb/002/002. However, it never hurts to exercise a little caution and double check. We can obtain more information about the device using lsusb

$ lsusb -D /dev/bus/usb/002/002

Device: ID 0451:f432 Texas Instruments, Inc. eZ430 Development Tool  
Couldn't open device, some information will be missing  
Device Descriptor:  
  bLength                18
  bDescriptorType         1
  bcdUSB               1.10
  bDeviceClass            0 (Defined at Interface level)
  bDeviceSubClass         0
  bDeviceProtocol         0
  bMaxPacketSize0         8
  idVendor           0x0451 Texas Instruments, Inc.
  idProduct          0xf432 eZ430 Development Tool
  bcdDevice            1.05
  iManufacturer           1
  iProduct                2
  iSerial                 3
  bNumConfigurations      1

<[ Truncated for conciseness ]>  

It looks like we've got the right device so we can press forward with putting a container together. I'm going to be using Ubuntu as the base image since it's pretty easy to install the MSP430 toolchain, but can just as easily use any base image you want.

We can run a new container using the run in interactive shell invoking bash. The key here is to include the path to the USB device using the device flag.

docker run -t -i --device=/dev/bus/usb/002/002 ubuntu /bin/bash  

At this point we should be able to see the device in the container, unfortunately, we cannot use the lsusb command without the usbutils package.
We can use this opportunity to update apt and install the toolchain.

apt-get update && apt-get install -y binutils-msp430 gcc-msp430 msp430-libc mspdebug usbutils  

We can now view the USB device

root@63182d25a541:/# lsusb  
Bus 001 Device 001: ID 1d6b:0002 Linux Foundation 2.0 root hub  
Bus 002 Device 002: ID 0451:f432 Texas Instruments, Inc. eZ430 Development Tool  
Bus 002 Device 001: ID 1d6b:0001 Linux Foundation 1.1 root hub  

And invoke mspdebug

root@63182d25a541:/# mspdebug rf2500  
MSPDebug version 0.22 - debugging tool for MSP430 MCUs  
Copyright (C) 2009-2013 Daniel Beer <>  
This is free software; see the source for copying conditions.  There is NO  

Trying to open interface 1 on 002  
Initializing FET...  
FET protocol version is 30394216  
Set Vcc: 3000 mV  
Configured for Spy-Bi-Wire  
Device ID: 0x2553  
  Code start address: 0xc000
  Code size         : 16384 byte = 16 kb
  RAM  start address: 0x200
  RAM  end   address: 0x3ff
  RAM  size         : 512 byte = 0 kb
Device: MSP430G2553/G2403  
Number of breakpoints: 2  
fet: FET returned NAK  
warning: device does not support power profiling  
Chip ID data: 25 53  

While I focused on setting up the MSP430 toolchain, I do believe that the techniques should apply to any USB debugging toolchain.

Footnotes and references
  1. Tahir, N. (2017). Essential docker - talk write up. [online] Another dev's two cents. Available at: [Accessed 15 Jan. 2017].

  2. Tahir, N. (2017). Automate programming the MSP430 Launchpad on Linux using Expect. [online] Another dev's two cents. Available at: [Accessed 15 Jan. 2017].