Modbus is a serial communications protocol published by Modicon in 1979 for use with its programmable logic controllers (PLCs). It has become a de facto standard communications protocol in industry, and is now the most commonly available means of connecting industrial electronic devices. The main reasons for the extensive use of Modbus over other communications protocols are:

  • It is openly published and royalty-free
  • Relatively easy industrial network to deploy
  • It moves raw bits or words without placing many restrictions on vendors

Modbus allows for communication between many devices connected to the same network, for example a system that measures temperature and humidity and communicates the results to a computer. Modbus is often used to connect a supervisory computer with a remote terminal unit (RTU) in supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) systems.

Suppliers large and small, system integrators, end users, open source developers, educators and other interested parties can become Modbus members. Some of the prominent members are SoftDEL Systems, Precision Digital Corporation, Motor Protection Electronics, FieldServer Technologies and many more[1]


Protocol versions

Versions of the Modbus protocol exist for serial port and for Ethernet and other networks that support the Internet protocol suite.

Most Modbus devices communicate over a serial EIA-485 physical layer[1].

For serial connections, two variants exist, with different representations of numerical data and slightly different protocol details. Modbus RTU is a compact, binary representation of the data. Modbus ASCII is human readable, and more verbose. Both of these variants use serial communication. The RTU format follows the commands/data with a cyclic redundancy check checksum, while the ASCII format uses a longitudinal redundancy check checksum. Nodes configured for the RTU variant will not communicate with nodes set for ASCII, and the reverse.

For connections over TCP/IP, the more recent variant Modbus/TCP exists. It does not require a checksum calculation.

Data model and function calls are identical for all three communication protocols; only the encapsulation is different.

An extended version, Modbus Plus (Modbus+ or MB+), also exists, but remains proprietary to Modicon. It requires a dedicated co-processor to handle fast HDLC-like token rotation. It uses twisted pair at 1 Mbit/s and includes transformer isolation at each node, which makes it transition/edge triggered instead of voltage/level triggered. Special interfaces are required to connect Modbus Plus to a computer, typically a card made for the ISA (SA85), PCI or PCMCIA bus.

Communication and devices

Each device intended to communicate using Modbus is given a unique address. In serial and MB+ networks only the node assigned as the Master may initiate a command, but on Ethernet, any device can send out a Modbus command, although usually only one master device does so. A Modbus command contains the Modbus address of the device it is intended for. Only the intended device will act on the command, even though other devices might receive it (an exception is specific broadcast-able commands sent to node 0 which are acted upon but not acknowledged). All Modbus commands contain checking information, ensuring that a command arrives undamaged. The basic Modbus commands can instruct an RTU to change a value in one of its registers, control or read an I/O port;as well as commanding the device to send back one or more values contained in its registers.

There are many modems and gateways that support Modbus, as it is a very simple protocol and often copied. Some of them were specifically designed for this protocol. Different implementations use wires, wireless communication and even SMS or GPRS. Typical problems the designers have to overcome include high latency and timing problems.


Almost all implementations have variations from the official standard. Different varieties may not communicate correctly between different suppliers equipment. Some of the most common variations are:

  • Data types
    • Floating point IEEE
    • 32-bit integer
    • 8-bit data
    • mixed data types
    • bit fields in integers
    • multipliers to change data to/from integer. 10, 100, 1000, 256 ...
  • Protocol extensions
    • 16-bit slave addresses
    • 32-bit data size (1 address = 32 bits of data returned.)
    • word swapped data


    Modbus was designed in the late 1970s to communicate to programmable logic controllers, the number of data types is limited to those understood by PLCs at the time. Large binary objects are not supported.

    No standard way exists for a node to find the description of a data object, for example, to determine if a register value represents a temperature between 30 and 175 degrees.

    Since Modbus is a master/slave protocol, there is no way for a field device to "report by exception" (except over Ethernet TCP/IP, called open-mbus)- the master node must routinely poll each field device, and look for changes in the data. This consumes bandwidth and network time in applications where bandwidth may be expensive, such as over a low-bit-rate radio link.

    Modbus is restricted to addressing 247 devices on one data link, which limits the number of field devices that may be connected to a master station (once again Ethernet TCP/IP proving the exception).

    Modbus transmissions must be contiguous which limits the types of remote communications devices to those that can buffer data to avoid gaps in the transmission.


    ^ "Modbus members list"

    External links

    Detailed Protocol Description
    Modbus-IDA site
    Protocol explanation for Java developers
    A basic explanation on how modbus works

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    Creative Commons License You may share this document under Creative Commons License – Terima kasih telah membaca tulisan ini. © 2011 Ari Sulistiono, Indonesian Electrical Engineer.