I'm trying to send ASCII characters from Arduino UNO to a computer serial port. I'm using a cable with a male COM connector, attached to the computer's serial port, and three wires (TX, RX and Ground) on the Arduino side. I used pins 12, 13 and Gnd as shown in the picture:

Arduino and COM interface

And I am running this piece of code to send a string every second on the serial port:

#include <SoftwareSerial.h>

SoftwareSerial mySerial(13, 12); // RX, TX

void setup()  

void loop()
  mySerial.println("Hello world");

But, when I read that port (at the right 9600 speed), instead of "Hello world" I get strange characters instead:

enter image description here

I thought I had set the pin erroneusly, so I swapped RX with TX, but I get a different but still wrong output:

enter image description here

What am I doing wrong?

  • \$\begingroup\$ Parity and stop bits? I don't see how they're configured on either side. \$\endgroup\$
    – pjc50
    Oct 2, 2012 at 10:17

2 Answers 2


The Arduino UART produces TTL level signals, that is 5V for high and 0V for low. A PC's RS232 port expects full RS232 voltages which can be -9V to +9V and are inverted.

Either use a TTL level serial adapter (such as those from FTDI) to interface to the PC. Or use a level converter like the MAX232.

  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ Note that this is not always true. Some modern PCs use 0-5V signalling. You shouldn't assume your computer uses either. Measure it! \$\endgroup\$ Jan 21, 2013 at 11:54
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ Even if the PC uses 0-5V signalling, it's likely still inverted to RS232 signals (1=low voltage, 0=high voltage), so you still need a MAX232 or similar. \$\endgroup\$ Jan 22, 2013 at 0:42

Like Toby says you need an EIA-232 (the name RS-232 is obsolete) transceiver. The Arduino's UART will output +5 V when idle and for a logical "1", and 0 V for a logical "0". EIA-232 works with inverted levels, so the +5 V becomes typically -12 V, and the 0 V becomes +12 V.

If you connect the UART directly to the PC's EIA-232 port it may see the +5 V as a low, but the 0 V will be undefined, so it may interpret your data any way.

But the received data is a much bigger problem, and you're very lucky that the AVR's I/O pins have protection diodes:

enter image description here

The RxD line from the PC will be -12 V when idle, and +12 V when it's sending a logic "0". Both levels are way beyond the maximum allowed values for the AVR, but the diodes will clamp them, and the limited drive current from the PC's EIA-232 will be lower than the maximum allowed 40 mA. Without the protection diodes it's very likely that that I/O pin (and maybe more) would be damaged.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Man, when did RS-232 become obsolete? \$\endgroup\$ Oct 2, 2012 at 14:49
  • 5
    \$\begingroup\$ @abdullah - eons ago! :-) The "RS" is for "Recommended Standard", but it has been accepted as standard by EIA and TIA ages ago. But everybody still uses the "RS", except me :-). \$\endgroup\$
    – stevenvh
    Oct 2, 2012 at 15:03
  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ @abdullahkahraman October 1, 1997. Or shortly thereafter. That was the last revision of TIA-232-F. And about the time USB began it's crusade to replace it in PCs. \$\endgroup\$ Oct 2, 2012 at 20:29

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