History of GPIB

Publish Date: Aug 14, 2012 | 163 Ratings | 3.62 out of 5 | Print

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This document gives a brief history of the origins of GPIB and includes some general information regarding National Instruments GPIB-related hardware and software.

Origin of GPIB

The original GPIB was developed in the late 1960s by Hewlett-Packard (where it is called the HP-IB) to connect and control programmable instruments that Hewlett-Packard manufactured. With the introduction of digital controllers and programmable test equipment, the need arose for a standard, high-speed interface for communication between instruments and controllers from various vendors. In 1975, the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE) published ANSI/IEEE Standard 488-1975, IEEE Standard Digital Interface for Programmable Instrumentation, which contained the electrical, mechanical, and functional specifications of an interfacing system. The original IEEE 488-1975 was revised in 1978, primarily for editorial clarification and addendum. This bus is now used worldwide and is known by three names:

  • General Purpose Interface Bus (GPIB)
  • Hewlett-Packard Interface Bus (HP-IB)
  • IEEE 488 Bus

Because the original IEEE 488 document contained no guidelines for a preferred syntax and format conventions, work continued on the specification to enhance system compatibility and configurability among test systems. This work resulted in a supplement standard, IEEE 488.2, Codes, Formats, Protocols, and Common Commands, for use with IEEE 488 (which was renamed IEEE 488.1). IEEE 488.2 does not replace IEEE 488.1. Many devices still conform only to IEEE 488.1. IEEE 488.2 builds on IEEE 488.1 by defining a minimum set of device interface capabilities, a common set of data codes and formats, a device message protocol, a generic set of commonly needed device commands, and a new status reporting model.

In 1990, the IEEE 488.2 specification included the Standard Commands for Programmable Instrumentation (SCPI) document. SCPI defines specific commands that each instrument class (which usually includes instruments from various vendors) must obey. Thus, SCPI guarantees complete system compatibility and configurability among these instruments. It is no longer necessary to learn a different command set for each instrument in an SCPI-compliant system, and it is easy to replace an instrument from one vendor with an instrument from another.

History of National Instruments GPIB Products

National Instruments was founded in 1976, and was dedicated to producing software and hardware compatible with the IEEE Standard 488-1975. In 1977, NI released its first GPIB interface for the DEC-PDP-11. Since then NI has developed GPIB interfaces for a wide variety of minicomputers, microcomputers, and workstations. NI also has developed its own IEEE 488.2-compatible controller chip set that sets the standard for GPIB performance. In addition to developing a variety of GPIB hardware solutions, NI has extensive software solutions for a wide range of applications. Today, NI has established itself as a leader in GPIB interfaces and Instrument Control software. Figure 1 shows the timeline of NI GPIB interface development.

Figure 1. National Instruments GPIB Innovations

Hardware and Software Options

There are many GPIB hardware options available from National Instruments.  The options as listed within the following categories: 

NI GPIB hardware also gives you the advantage of utilizing the accompanying NI-488.2 software. This software has been a de facto industry standard application programming interface (API) for GPIB Instrument Control for more than 30 years, and has consistently increased in performance and efficiency while remaining unchanged in user experience. NI-488.2 is available for multiple operating systems. 

  • Windows
  • Real-Time
  • Linux
  • Macintosh
  • Solaris

For more information on compatibility of the operating system, hardware, and software version, please reference the following links: 

Developer Zone Tutorial: GPIB Driver Versions for Microsoft Windows and DOS

Developer Zone Tutorial: GPIB Driver Versions for non-Microsoft Operating Systems


For information on all NI GPIB products, please refer to the Official National Instruments GPIB Home Page.

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