How To Use SocketCAN With The Command-Line In Linux


This tutorial shows you how to manipulate SocketCAN interfaces using the Linux command-line. This includes finding out what SocketCAN interfaces are available, printing detailed info about them, and then sending/receiving data.

Icon for SocketCAN. Image from

What Types of CAN Interfaces Are There?

SocketCAN provides the following types of CAN interfaces:

  1. Native interfaces. These are CAN interfaces associated with real hardware (such as a USB-to-CAN adapter). They are named canX , e.g. can0 , can1 , …
  2. Virtual interfaces. These are CAN interfaces that are not associated with any real hardware. They are named vcanX , e.g. vcan0 , vcan1 , …
  3. SLCAN based interfaces. SLCAN interfaces provide a serial interface. They are named slcanX , e.g. slcan0 , slcan1 , e.t.c

Investigating SocketCAN Interfaces

First off, you want to print all the available ip interfaces and see if you have some can interfaces. This uses the iproute2 suite of tools:

The last interface listed is can0. This is a SocketCAN interface! Note the above command was run on Ubuntu 17.04 64-bit, running on VMware Workstation with a PCAN-USB dongle connected.

Print SocketCAN Info

Native CAN devices that support SocketCAN can be seen using the iproute2 suite of tools. For example:

If you attempt it for a CAN device that does not exist:

An alternative way to investigate CAN interfaces is to use ifconfig <canx>:

Configuring And Enabling The SocketCAN Interface

Before we can enable the SocketCAN interface, we need to configure it:

Note: The above command only works for interfaces that already exist (such as a physical can0 that has been created when a CAN-to-USB dongle was connected). For virtual CAN interfaces, you must create the interface with a slightly different command:

Enabling a specific SocketCAN interface is also called “bringing the interface up”. To bring the connection up:

Note: If you ever get the following error:
RTNETLINK answers: Operation not permitted 
try the command again with sudo .

Note: And if you get the error: RTNETLINK answers: Operation not supported  then try run sudo modprobe can  (or sudo modprobe vcan ) first.

Send/Receive Data On SocketCAN

If you then want to send/receive data on the CAN interface, you should install can-utils :

The repository for can-utils  can be found at

To send data to the CAN bus, use the cansend utility:

The above command will send a CAN message on can0 with the identifier 0x123 and the data bytes [ 0x11, 0x22, 0x33, 0x44, 0x55, 0x66, 0x77, 0x88 ]. Values are always treated as hexadecimal.

To display a list of received messages on the bus in realtime, use the candump utility:


Posted: July 21st, 2017 at 12:37 pm
Last Updated on: August 26th, 2017 at 5:25 am