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Main pageProductsControl Web Software SystemControl Web device drivers

OPC driver for Control Web
 The driver allows Control Web to communicate with arbitrary OPC server. The driver is compatible with OPC Data Access v1 i v2 standards published by OPC Foundation.

Contents

OPC driver for Control Web
What is OPC
OPC versions
Data transfer within OPC standard
OPC name space
Array data items
OPC server initialization
Remote servers and DCOM
OPC driver configuration files
Parameter file
Section [server]
Section [channels]
Parameter file example
DMF file example
OPC driver configuration tool
Choosing the OPC server
Choosing channels
Assigning channel numbers
Assigning channel numbers to arrays
Driver parameters
Generation of configuration files
Loading of existing parameter file

What is OPC

OLE for Process Control (OPC) represents the first successful movement standardizing communication interface among various industrial automation devices (PLCs, I/O devices etc.) and SCADA, HMI and control computers. The OPC standard is valuable mainly for customers, who no longer depend on proprietary protocols and communication infrastructure of the particular supplier (especially if such companies bar third parties from implementation of their protocols by law barriers). The OPC standard is maintained by non-profit OPC Foundation (http://www.opcfoundation.org/) and OPC standard can be implemented by anybody without royalty fees.

OPC is implemented as a software layer between industrial automation devices and software, which exchange data with such hardware. Hardware devices equipped by OPC servers are as easily usable as e.g. new PC graphics adapters supplied with driver — just plug it into the computer, install driver and it works. Similarly, If there is a suitable OPC server for some PLC, OPC clients should be able to exchange data this PLC.

The OPC standard is based on COM — software component technology developed by Microsoft Corp. The OPC abbreviation suggests using of OLE (Object Linking and Embedding) technology, build above the COM foundation. But it is rather difficult to distinguish what part is pure COM and what is OLE, especially when Microsoft marketing department adds new naming, like Active X. Because Microsoft itself uses COM in various parts of Windows operating system, the COM is widely supported and developed and contains number of features very useful also for OPC, like system-wide component registration (every OPC client can easily search for all installed OPC servers), standardized data exchange formats, event and notification interfaces etc.

The OPC standard is relatively complex and its various parts cover various areas of industrial automation. The very basic is the “OPC Data Access” standard, which is also used by the OPC Client driver for Control Web.

OPC versions

The OPC standard evolves with the growing experience with its usage. There are two main versions of OPC Data Access — version 1 and version 2. Due to the fact that COM is based on individual independent interfaces (groups of methods manipulating individual components), some interfaces of version 1 were preserved also in version 2. Other interfaces were removed and replaced by new ones and there are also newly added interfaces in version 2.

One of the COM technology advantage is that every client can easily determine the version of the OPC server and to use only the interfaces defined by the particulr OPC standard version. So some clients can be able to work with both version 1 and version 2 servers. On the other side, due to interface based API of COM components, the server can implement all interfaces defined by both OPC versions and thus be able to work with all clients.

The OPC standard clearly defines, which interfaces are required, and which are optional in the particular OPC version. The OPC server implementation, which does not support some interface required by OPC standard, is simply wrong implementation. This does not mean the server cannot run at all — clients not asking for unimplemented interfaces can work with such server without problems. But if some client ask for the missing interface, the wrong server implementation surfaces.

Control Web OPC Client driver can work with both OPC version 1 and version 2 servers.

Data transfer within OPC standard

The OPC standard defines number of ways to communicate with clients to satisfy their needs:

  • Synchronous communication always waiting for data transfer from/to the device.

  • Synchronous communication with the server cache only.

  • Asynchronous communication always waiting for data transfer from/to the device.

  • Periodical communication of the server with the device and callback to client when data changes.

The second and the fourth point demand the server to exchange data with the device periodically and to store read values to the cache and, if required, notify the client (using connection point interface) that data was changed.

Although the OPC Client driver for Control Web works with both version 1 and version 2 servers, it uses only synchronous transfer with version 1. Asynchronous transfer defined in OPC Data Access version 1 suffered from number of problems — this is why the asynchronous transfer based on the IDataObject interface was completely abandoned in version 2 and replaced by the more effective asynchronous communication using IConnectionPoint interface.

Usage of the synchronous communication does not negatively involve the Control Web application execution. The driver always works asynchronously from the Control Web point of view and does not block the application by waiting to the finishing of data exchange.

The asynchronous communication is used with all OPC version 2 servers by default. But it is possible to force the OPC driver to use the synchronous communication with the version 2 servers by setting the sync parameter in the driver parameter file (see the PAR file description for details).

The data communication defined by the OPC standard is much more complex and is thoroughly described in “Data Access Custom Interface Standard, Version 2”, published by the OPC Foundation. But it is not necessary to understand the OPC data exchange to effectively use the OPC driver for Control Web. The driver uses OPC features which fit the Control Web driver requirements so the user can use all features provided to Control Web, like time stamps, quality of service etc., and let the driver to translate them to OPC and back.

OPC name space

Every OPC server defines some name space, which assigns the unique name to every data item, which can be communicated. The name space can be flat (single level) or hierarchical (structured to the tree with branches and leafs, similar to the folders and files structure of computer disc drives).

The OPC server may (but is not required to) provide the interface, which enables browsing of its name space. Such interface is very beneficial, because every read or write to any data item defined by the server requires adding of the particular item to some client-defined group, which requires the knowledge of the data item's name. If the name space browsing interface is not provided by the server, the user (and the server vendor) must define the way of item names specification.

The OPC standard does not presumes any rules for data item names definition. The name can contain any characters, including spaces, special symbols etc.

Array data items

Because OPC is based on COM technology, it utilizes COM mechanisms to transfer data. But the COM allows definition of both simple (scalar) values and also arrays of values in the VARIANT structure. It depends on the particular OPC server if it presents data as scalar data items or in arrays of items.

Although the possibility to define one array instead of definition of every item separately, it also brings some disadvantages — it is not possible to transfer individual elements separately. Reading and/or writing of only a few array items requires allocation of memory for the whole array, copying of all array items to/from the memory and passing of the array to COM layer. This is not a problem in the case of small arrays, but it is necessary to count up with this overhead in the case of big arrays with hundreds or thousands of items.

But transferring of whole arrays is not defined in the driver interface of Control Web. The reason is the inability to optimize data transfers and to communicate only single values mentioned above. Regardless the Control Web enables definition of arrays on the application level. What is defined as array of channels in the application, particular driver sees like individual channels. Any continuous block of channels (channels numbered by continuous number sequence) can be defined as an array in the application. It then depends on the driver how it optimizes communication of only some elements, which need to be updated.

If the OPC driver access array data item on the OPC server, it maps array elements to individual channels. If the array is multidimensional, OPC driver (in compliance with COM definition) increments the left-most index first. That means e.g. matrix is stored in the column order (like in Visual Basic or FORTRAN languages) and not in row order (like in Pascal or C/C++).

To enable mapping of array to individual channels, it is necessary to number such channels by continuous number sequence. Syntax of the PAR file, which defines individual channels, enforces this rule.

Because arrays are mapped to individual channels by the driver, it is possible to define array items as individual channels, as one array, or as any combination of arrays and individual channels within the application (it is even possible to define array, which overlaps the boundary of OPC array and other items/arrays, if channels are numbered sequentially). But the OPC driver must communicate whole arrays only and it is strongly recommended to mirror OPC server arrays to arrays in Control Web application. The OPC driver configuration tool (describer later), which generates PAR and DMF configuration files, follows this rule.

Remark:

Arrays are supported by the OPC driver version 5.2 and higher.

OPC server initialization

OPC servers are rather complex programs, which have to perform possibly time-consuming initialization during startup. Such initialization can include scanning of the Windows Registry for parameters, configuration file parsing, allocation of internal data structures etc. Either way, not every server can accept user requests immediately upon startup.

There is a method through which the server can return its state, like “not configured”, “test mode” or “running”. But different OPC servers return their state different way. For instance there are servers, which return state “running” immediately upon startup, even if they are not prepared to accept client requests. The OPC driver includes two ways to overcome such problems:

  • If the server returns state “not configured”, the OPC driver can wait until the server state changes to “running”.

  • The second possibility is to simply wait for defined period after the server is launched without respect to the server state.

Either way, the OPC driver can start work with the server only if it returns state “running”.

Remote servers and DCOM

Part of the COM technology is the ORPC (Object Remote Procedure Call) extension called DCOM (Distributed COM). DCOM enables clients running on one computer to create instances and invoke methods of servers on another computer within the network. Because DCOM was not available when Windows 95 was introduced to the market, it is necessary to install free DCOM support to use it on Windows 95. But modern operating systems (Windows 2000, Windows XP) come with DCOM included.

OPC driver for Control Web supports DCOM, so it is possible to create OPC servers on remote computers. All data exchange over the network is then maintained by DCOM.

Because DCOM is the network technology, it is necessary to configure it properly from the security point of view. Users creating COM servers on remote computers must have granted access to such computers. If there is a firewall protecting particular networks from attacks and IP ports used by DCOM are blocked, the network administrator should reconfigure firewalls to enable DCOM network traffic. All such problems must be considered when planning DCOM usage. Detailed description of computer and network security can be found in Microsoft documentation.

OPC driver configuration files

As all Control Web drivers, the OPC driver needs two configuration files to run — parameter file (.PAR) and driver map file (.DMF). The purpose of both files is described in the Control Web documentation. The DMF format is the same for all drivers and is described in the Control Web documentation, it is not necessary to describe it here.

The contents of both DMF and PAR files depends on the used OPC server and defined channels. There is a GUI tool supplied with the driver To simplify the configuration files creation. The users need not to know the format of configuration files — they only select the server, mark items which should be accessible as channels for Control Web application and configuration files are generated automatically. The OPC driver configuration tool is described in the second part of this documentation.

However the knowledge of the OPC driver parameter file structure can be useful e.g. when it is necessary to edit this file by text editor of to generate it automatically by some other program.

Parameter file

OPC driver parameter file follows the conventions of .INI files, which are simple text files divided to individual sections. Each section begins with line containing section name in square brackets, followed by lines defining individual keys in the form key_name=key_value. OPC driver requires two sections in parameter file: [server] and [channels].

Section [server]

This section must contain the OPC server class identifier — CLSID. Class Identifier is globally unique identifier (GUID), a 128-bit number used in COM to identify various objects, like classes, interfaces, type libraries etc. The text representation of the GUID is defined by COM and is used as key name in the Windows Registry folder HKEY_CLASSES_ROOT\CLSID, where all COM components have to be registered.

CLSID={F738C006-F632-4E9E-946E-2C2CF2A418A1}

If the OPC server should be created on remote computer using DCOM, the parameter host must be defined. This parameter contains UNC path to the remote computer (host), where the required server is installed and where have to be run.

host=\\remotehost

As already noted above, OPC driver uses synchronous communication with version 1 servers and asynchronous communication with version 2 servers (only is the version 2 server does not support asynchronous communication interface, synchronous communication is used).

While the asynchronous communication with version 1 servers is not supported by the driver, it is possible to use synchronous communication with version 2 servers by setting sync parameter to true.

sync=true

If this parameter is missing or set to false, OPC driver prefers asynchronous communication, if possible.

If the server returns its status “not configured” (OPC_STATUS_NOCONFIG) upon startup and after finishing the initialization returns status “running” (OPC_STATUS_RUNNING), it is possible to wait for the “running” state by setting the parameter wait_running to true:

wait_running=true

If the server needs some time for initialization (and does not reflect its state correctly), it is possible to insert some wait period to driver initialization. Parameter wait_time defines number of seconds of the waiting delay:

wait_time=2.5

Section [channels]

This section contains lines each defining one channel:

channel_number=identifier of the OPC server data item

If OPC data item identifies an array, there is a channel number interval covering all elements of the array instead of single channel number. The first and last channel numbers are delimited by the '-' character (channel number cannot be negative so the '-' character is not interpreted as negative sign).

first_channel_number-last_channel_number=identifier of the OPC server array item

Because there are no restrictions on characters used in OPC item identifier, all characters following the equal sigh up to end of line are considered to be part of the identifier. Channel definition needs no more information but data identifier, because OPC server can provide all other necessary attributes, like channel type, possible direction (read or write) etc.

Parameter file example

[comment]
OPCDRV PAR file created by OPC Driver Configuration Tool
File: C:\BUFF\opc.par
Created on: 04/30/2002 16:31:21

[server]
CLSID={F8582CF2-88FB-11D0-B850-00C0F0104305}
host=\\remotehost

[channels]
100=Random.Int4
101=Random.String
102=Random.UInt4
103=Random.Real4
104=Random.Real8
105=Square Waves.Real8
106=Triangle Waves.Real8
107=Write Only.UInt1
108=Write Only.UInt2
109=Write Only.UInt4
110-119=Random.StringArray
120-129=Random.Real8Array

OPC driver itself requires only sections [server] a [channels], other sections are ignored. The section [comment] used in this example is ignored by the driver and servers ony for storing of some additional information. The name of this section is not relevant, any name other than server and channels can be used.

DMF file example

The corresponding DMF file contents is shown for illustration purposes:

OPCDRV DMF file created by OPC Driver Configuration Tool
File: C:\BUFF\opc.dmf
Created on: 04/30/2002 16:31:23
begin
   100 longint input
   101 string input
   102 longcard input
   103 shortreal input
   104 real input
   105 real bidirectional
   106 real bidirectional
   107 shortcard output
   108 cardinal output
   109 longcard output
   110 - 119 string input
   120 - 129 lonreal input
end.

OPC driver configuration tool

It is not very easy to get the CLSIDs of installed OPC servers by browsing the Windows Registry and obtaining item identifiers, their types and directions and typing PAR and DMF files in text editor is event more complicated. This is why the OPC driver configuration tool (OPCDRVCF.EXE) is supplied together with the driver itself. This tool enables very simple selection from all installed local or remote OPC servers, browsing of the selected server name space and selecting which items should be visible as channels to Control Web application and automatic generation of PAR and DMF files. It is also possible to copy the text definitions of appropriate Control Web channels to the system clipboard so the text can be very easily pasted to the application source code in the Control Web integrated development environment.

The configuration tool main window contains two panes — left pane shows a tree of the selected server name space, right pane contains sheet with selected items.

OPC driver configuration tool window

Choosing the OPC server

First it is necessary to select the OPC server, with which the driver should communicate. Menu Server/Connect to OPC Server... opens a server selection dialog.

Choose OPC server window

This dialog shows names and corresponding CLSIDs of all OPC servers installed on local or remote computer. It is possible to restrict the displayed OPC servers to version 1 or version 2 only. Many servers provide all interfaces of both versions so they will be displayed in both cases. The OPC driver configuration tool searches OPC servers according to COM Component Categories, which is the standard COM component identification mechanism. The OPC Foundation defined two globally unique identifiers (GUIDs) for OPC DA Server v1 and v2 categories. It is necessary to register particular category and to assign appropriate category GUID to installed server during installation process. But there are servers, whose installation programs ignore this rule. This is why there is the check box Do not use COM Categories to enumerate servers in the dialog box. If the box is checked, the presence of the OPC key in the Registry is used for distinguishing OPC servers instead of COM categories. The list of found servers then can contain components, which are not OPC servers and an attempt to connect to such component will lead to error message. On the other side, such option enables to work even with wrongly installed server.

Choosing channels

If the server is successfully created, the left pane shows its name space. Individual items can be added to the channel list (the right pane) by double-clicking them or it is possible to select more items at once and add all selected items to the channel list using menu Channels/Append selected items. Channel can be removed from the list after selection of the whole channel line by clicking the box on the left side of the line and pressing the <Del> key or it is possible to use menu Channels/Delete selected channel. It is also possible to clear the channel list using menu Channels/Clear all channels.

Some servers cannot provide valid information about their name space immediately upon startup (and do not reflect this state in the server status). This can cause the name space tree appears not complete. Simply choose the same server again, now the server is already running and the name space tree should be complete.

The configuration tools tries to obtain information about the data type (integer, string, etc.) and communication direction (read, write, bi-directional) for each channel from the server. Unfortunately there are some servers, which do not provide such information at all or do not provide this information for some items (e.g. items created as aliases to other items). In such case, generated configuration files must be edited manually.

Assigning channel numbers

Newly added channels have the channel number cell empty (undefined). Channel numbers can be added individually for each channel or can be assigned for all channels using menu Channels/Renumber channels. Renumbering can affect only channels with undefined numbers or can update numbers of all defined channels.

Renumber channels window

Assigning channel numbers to arrays

Because items of OPC array are mapped to individual channels, their numbers must be continuous sequence. This is why only the first channel number has to be entered in the configuration tools. Following array elements are numbered sequentially.

Channel numbers must be unique, which is true also for all elements of arrays. If there are for instance defined channels number 1, 4 and 7, then to the elements of the array containing three items can be assigned no lower numbers than 8, 9 and 10. Do not be confused by the error message “Channel number redefined” — such message can be caused by insufficient number of free channel numbers for the whole array, even if the entered number (the number of the first element) is not used.

The automatic channel numbering mechanism always assigns unique numbers to single items as well as to arrays. If you use automatic renumbering and there are some channels or arrays with already assigned numbers, newly assigned numbers for different channels and/or different arrays may by not be i continuous sequence (elements of one array will be numbered continuously, of course).

Channel array

Driver parameters

It is possible to open a dialog window for specifying of the driver parameters using menu File/Set driver parameters... Parameters include usage of synchronous communication, waiting for “running” state and startup delay.

Driver parameters window

Generation of configuration files

If all channels have assigned numbers, it is possible to generate parameter (.PAR) and driver mapping (.DMF) files using menu File/Write PAR and DMF files...

The menu command File/Copy channels to clipboard can be used to put the text definition of channels (part of the Control Web application source code) to the Windows clipboard. The copied text can be pasted to the text editor of the Control Web integrated development environment and possibly modify channel names and other attributes.

Loading of existing parameter file

Menu command File/Open existing PAR enables opening of some existing parameter file to the configuration tool. This command disconnects currently selected OPC server (if one is selected) and clears all channels defined. Then the server defined in the opened PAR file is created and the channel list is filled by channels defined in the PAR file.

Because the OPC server may not support all channels defined within opened PAR file, the configuration tool checks if such channels (OPC data identifiers) are available on the server. It the OPC server does not provide some channel(s), the configuration tool displays the corresponding line(s) with red color and these item will not be included into newly generated DMF and PAR files.

 
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