CAN Message Format and Data Frames | Dorleco

CAN Message Format and Data Frames


A common communication protocol for real-time data interchange between electronic control units (ECUs) and devices within a network is called CAN (Controller Area Network). CAN is used extensively in the automotive and industrial industries. It was first created by Bosch in the 1980s and has since grown to be an essential part of contemporary automobiles and systems for industrial automation.

The CAN protocol’s essential components, CAN Message Format and Data Frames specify how data is organized and sent across the network. Let’s explore these ideas in greater depth:

Format of CAN Messages:

Data packets known as CAN messages are sent between nodes in a CAN network. These messages are essential for facilitating communication between different electrical parts in machines, industrial systems, and automobiles. There are numerous crucial elements that make up the CAN message format:

  •  Communication ID (Identifier): Each CAN communication is designated by a special identifier that enables network nodes to distinguish between various message kinds. While Extended CAN 2.0B utilizes 29-bit identifiers, Standard CAN 2.0A employs 11-bit identifiers. The priority of the communication on the network is determined by the value of the identifier.
  •  The Data Length Code (DLC) field indicates the message frame’s data length. It can range from 0 to 8 bytes, enabling the transmission of many different kinds of data.
  • Data Field: The actual information to be conveyed is contained in the data field, which can contain anything from sensor readings and control orders to status updates. The DLC chooses the size of this field.
  • Cyclic Redundancy Check (CRC): CAN uses a CRC to check the integrity of the transmitted data. To find errors and fix them, use this checksum.
CAN Message Format and Data Frames | Dorleco
CAN Message Format and Data Frames | Dorleco

CAN Data Frames:

Data frames and remote frames are the two basic divisions of CAN messages. Here, we concentrate on Data Frames because they are the network’s main data-transmitting method.

The most popular CAN message type, or CAN Data Frame, is used to transmit actual data between nodes. It is made up of the elements that were previously discussed, such as the message ID, DLC, data field, and CRC checksum. Data Frames are essential to industrial automation and vehicle control systems because they allow ECUs to share crucial information like engine sensor data, brake condition, and transmission commands.

Advantages of CAN Message Format and Data Frames

Data frames and the CAN (Controller Area Network) message format have a number of advantages over other communication methods, especially in the automotive and industrial sectors. Some of the main benefits are as follows:

  • Real-Time Communication: CAN supports real-time communication, enabling rapid and deterministic data flow between network nodes. This is critical for applications requiring precise timing, like robotic automation in manufacturing or engine control in automobiles.
  • Reliability: Cyclic redundancy checks (CRC), a strong error-checking mechanism used by CAN, maintain the integrity of transmitted data. Data corruption is less likely because the protocol provides automatic retransmission in the event of errors.
  • Deterministic Behavior: Priority-based arbitration is a feature of CAN. Critical data is rapidly transferred thanks to the network’s prioritization of messages with higher-priority identifiers. Safety-critical systems require this deterministic behavior.
  •  Efficiency: When it comes to utilizing bandwidth, CAN is incredibly effective. It is appropriate for networks with multiple nodes and high data throughput demands because it minimizes overhead and makes the best use of available bandwidth.
  • Scalability: Without making major changes to the network infrastructure, CAN networks can be easily scaled by adding or removing nodes. This adaptability is especially helpful in applications where the network must adjust to shifting demand.
  •  Low Cost: The cost-effectiveness of CAN hardware components makes them a good option for both small- and large-scale applications. Its extensive popularity has been facilitated by its accessibility.
  •  Fault Tolerance: CAN is made to function in loud situations, including those seen in industrial and automotive applications. It can manage electrical noise and electromagnetic interference (EMI), which is essential for dependable operation.
  • Support for a Variety of Message Kinds: CAN is capable of processing a variety of message kinds, including remote frames for requesting data from other nodes and data frames for transferring actual data. Different communication possibilities are made possible by this adaptability.
  • Standardization:  CAN is an internationally defined protocol (ISO 11898), which enables devices from various manufacturers to communicate with one another without interruption as long as they abide by the standard. This makes interoperability easier and lessens integration difficulties.
  •  Wide Adoption: In the automotive and industrial industries, CAN is one of the most extensively used communication protocols. The enormous ecosystem of parts and tools created by this extensive use has made it simpler for developers to deal with CAN.
CAN Message Format and Data Frames | Dorleco
CAN Message Format and Data Frames | Dorleco

Disadvantages of CAN Message Format and Data Frames

While the data frames and the Controller Area Network (CAN) message structure have many benefits, they also have certain drawbacks. It’s critical to be aware of these limitations, especially when thinking about using CAN for particular applications. These are some of the drawbacks of CAN:

  • Limited Bandwidth: When compared to some other communication protocols, CAN’s maximum data rate is lower. While it is appropriate for a wide range of uses, it might not be the best choice for high-bandwidth data transport, such as video streaming.
  •  Limited to Wired Networks by Deterministic Behaviour: The deterministic behavior of CAN works best in wired networks. Deterministic behavior in wireless implementations might be difficult to achieve due to unpredictable signal propagation durations.
  •  Limited Message Length: The maximum payload length for CAN data frames is 8 bytes (64 bits). When a lot of data needs to be sent in a single message, this restriction can be constrictive.
  •  Priority-based arbitration in CAN is a strength, but it may also be challenging to manage in big networks with many nodes due to its complexity. Effective priority management requires careful design and preparation.
  • Variability in latency: While CAN offers deterministic behavior, it doesn’t completely do away with latency. Message priority and network load are two variables that might affect latency, which may not be acceptable for some vital applications.
  • Limited Network Size: Electrical factors often result in CAN networks having a small network size. Without extra safeguards like repeaters, managing the network’s overall electrical load and signal reflections can become difficult as more nodes are added.
  • Limited Fault Detection: Although CAN has error-checking procedures, some fault types, such as intermittent faults brought on by wiring problems that are difficult to diagnose, may still go undetected.
  • Lack of Security Built-In: CAN was intended for usage only in closed, trusted networks. Since security is becoming more and more crucial in modern automotive applications, its absence of built-in security capabilities can be problematic.
  • Complicated Debugging: In big and complicated systems, troubleshooting and debugging CAN networks can be difficult. Finding the root of communication problems may need specific equipment and knowledge.
  • Limited Flexibility for Non-Standard Data: CAN was created for typical data patterns and is highly organized. Unusual or irregular data formats might make transmission less effective and necessitate more encoding.
CAN Message Format and Data Frames | Dorleco
CAN Message Format and Data Frames | Dorleco


In conclusion, the CAN (Controller Area Network) message format and data frames are integral components of a communication protocol that has played a pivotal role in the automotive and industrial sectors.

Ultimately, the choice to use CAN message format and data frames should be based on a thorough assessment of the specific application’s requirements and constraints. When used appropriately, CAN remains a reliable and widely adopted communication protocol, serving as the backbone for critical systems in numerous industries.

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