Programming with Joystick on Linux

Posted on December 19, 2015


Was trying to figure out a way to programatically use the Cyborg Controller lying around in the lab. My final objective is to control objects and view points in RViz. In this blog, I will explore how to get inputs from it with a C/C++ program.


The Linux kernel provides an API to control this. As everything else, a joystick is also treated as a file. You can see your device listed in /dev/input. It is actually a very easy to use API. The documentation can be found at :


Sample Program : [.cpp]
Compilation Instruction :
Just compile the file with g++, no special flags needed.

#include <stdio.h>
#include <sys/types.h>
#include <sys/stat.h>
#include <fcntl.h>
#include <unistd.h>
#include <stdlib.h>
#include <string.h>

Include the standard Linux headers.

struct js_event {
        unsigned int time;      /* event timestamp in milliseconds */
        short value;   /* value */
        unsigned char type;     /* event type */
        unsigned char number;   /* axis/button number */

A struct to receive an event data into.

#define JS_EVENT_BUTTON         0x01    /* button pressed/released */
#define JS_EVENT_AXIS           0x02    /* joystick moved */
#define JS_EVENT_INIT           0x80    /* initial state of device */

Joystick produces 2 types of events (struct js_event.type) viz, button events and axis events.

int main()
	int fd = open ("/dev/input/js0", O_RDONLY);
	if( fd < 0 )
		printf( "cannot open dev\n" );
		printf( "opened success...:)\n" );

Make sure the device can be opened.

	struct js_event e;
	while( 1 ) //event loop
		read( fd, &e, sizeof(e) );
		//printf( "%d %d %d %d\n", e.time, e.value, e.type, e.number );

		if( e.type == JS_EVENT_BUTTON || e.type == JS_EVENT_AXIS )
			if( e.type == JS_EVENT_BUTTON )
				printf( "button#%d value:%d\n", (int) e.number, e.value );
				printf( "axis#%d value:%d\n", (int) e.number, e.value );
			printf( "Init Events\n" );

	return 0;

The while loop makes a call to read. Note that this call is a blocking call. Which means, the function read() does not return unless there is an event. This behavior is undesirable if using this code into a ros-node (spinOnce() loop). For non-blocking make the open() call as —

Caution: The non-blocking calls is actually polling the device. One should use a sleep() call in the while-loop to control the polling rate.