CAN (Controller Area Network) is a widely used serial communication bus system that allows microcontrollers and other devices to communicate with each other in real-time without the need for a host computer. Originally developed by Robert Bosch GmbH for use in the automotive industry, CAN has since found applications in various industries such as industrial automation, medical devices, and even home automation. In this article, we will delve into the details of CAN and explore its key features, working principles, message frame structure, and advantages.

Features of CAN

CAN offers several features that make it a preferred choice for many applications:


CAN is designed to operate reliably even in harsh environments where electrical noise and interference are common. It utilizes differential voltage signaling along with error detection and error correction mechanisms to ensure that data integrity is maintained throughout the communication process.

Real-Time Communication

One of the main advantages of CAN is its ability to provide real-time communication between different nodes on the network. This means that messages can be transmitted with predictable latency, allowing for time-critical applications such as engine control systems or emergency braking systems.


CAN supports a scalable architecture where multiple nodes can be connected to the network using a bus topology. The number of nodes that can be connected depends on factors such as the bitrate used and the length of the network cables. This scalability makes CAN suitable for both small-scale and large-scale systems.

How CAN Works

CAN operates based on a multi-master system where all nodes have an equal ability to transmit data onto the bus. However, collisions may occur if two or more nodes attempt to transmit simultaneously. To resolve collisions, CAN uses a priority-based arbitration mechanism known as Carrier Sense Multiple Access with Collision Detection (CSMA/CD).

When a node wishes to transmit a message, it first checks if the bus is idle by monitoring the voltage levels on the bus lines. If no other node is transmitting, the node starts transmitting its message. During transmission, the other nodes also monitor the bus and compare their own transmitted bits with the bits received from the bus. If a collision is detected, all nodes involved pause their transmission and enter a back-off phase before attempting to retransmit.

Message Frame Structure

CAN messages are structured into frames that contain both control information and data. The frame structure consists of several fields:

Start of Frame (SOF)

The SOF field indicates the beginning of a CAN frame. It consists of a single dominant bit followed by an inter-frame space.

Arbitration Field

The arbitration field contains a unique identifier that determines the priority of the message. The identifier is composed of an 11-bit or 29-bit value, depending on whether it is a standard or extended frame.

Control Field

The control field contains various control bits that govern the behavior of the CAN controller during message transmission and reception. These bits include flags for indicating errors, overload conditions, and remote transmission requests.

Data Field

The data field holds the actual payload data being transmitted in the CAN frame. It can contain up to 8 bytes (64 bits) of data.

CRC Field

The CRC (Cyclic Redundancy Check) field contains error detection and correction codes that allow receivers to verify the integrity of the received message.

Acknowledgment Field

The acknowledgment field is used to acknowledge successful message reception by other nodes on the network. It consists of two bits – ACK slot and ACK delimiter – which indicate whether a node has acknowledged or not acknowledged a particular message.

Advantages of CAN

CAN offers several advantages over other communication protocols:

  • High Reliability: CAN’s robust design ensures reliable communication even in noisy environments.
  • Real-Time Performance: CAN provides predictable latency for time-critical applications.
  • Scalability: With its scalable architecture, CAN can accommodate both small-scale and large-scale systems.
  • Flexibility: CAN supports different message frame formats and allows for customization based on the specific requirements of the application.
  • Low Cost: CAN’s simplicity and widespread usage contribute to its affordability.

In conclusion, CAN is a versatile and robust communication protocol widely used in various industries. Its ability to provide real-time communication, scalability, and reliability make it a preferred choice for applications requiring efficient data exchange between multiple nodes. By understanding the features, working principles, message frame structure, and advantages of CAN, developers can effectively utilize this technology to enable seamless communication within their systems.