Multi-master Bus Systems, Arbitration and Synchronization

The TWI protocol allows bus systems with several masters. Special concerns have been taken in order to ensure that transmissions will proceed as normal, even if two or more masters initiate a transmission at the same time. Two problems arise in multi-master systems:

The wired-ANDing of the bus lines is used to solve both these problems. The serial clocks from all masters will be wired-ANDed, yielding a combined clock with a high period equal to the one from the Master with the shortest high period. The low period of the combined clock is equal to the low period of the Master with the longest low period. Note that all masters listen to the SCL line, effectively starting to count their SCL high and low time-out periods when the combined SCL line goes high or low, respectively.

Figure 1. SCL Synchronization Between Multiple Masters

Arbitration is carried out by all masters continuously monitoring the SDA line after outputting data. If the value read from the SDA line does not match the value the Master had output, it has lost the arbitration. Note that a Master can only lose arbitration when it outputs a high SDA value while another Master outputs a low value. The losing Master should immediately go to Slave mode, checking if it is being addressed by the winning Master. The SDA line should be left high, but losing masters are allowed to generate a clock signal until the end of the current data or address packet. Arbitration will continue until only one Master remains, and this may take many bits. If several masters are trying to address the same Slave, arbitration will continue into the data packet.

Figure 2. Arbitration Between Two Masters

Note that arbitration is not allowed between:

It is the user software’s responsibility to ensure that these illegal arbitration conditions never occur. This implies that in multi-master systems, all data transfers must use the same composition of SLA+R/W and data packets. In other words: All transmissions must contain the same number of data packets, otherwise the result of the arbitration is undefined.