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#509 MAX3232 RS232 to TTL Module

Using a MAX3232 Module with CH340 adapter for USB to RS-232 serial communication, with examples using screen on MacOSX.



I want to talk to a device on an RS232 DE-9 serial port, and it seems I have modules on hand for that!

This is a quick exercise of combining two modules to allow RS232 serial communication over USB:

See LEAP#406 for details of the USB to TTL serial adapter. Here I’m going to take a closer look at the MAX3232 module, which can be found for pennies on aliexpress or ebay:



RS-232 is a vintage serial standard that used to be ubiquitous on PC equipment for point-to-point peripheral communication, especially modems and mouses. It almost became extinct, but appears to have had a but of the resurgence on the back of IoT/embedded systems.

RS-232 is a serial communication protocol, where a time-series of bits (data bits, optional parity bit, and a number of stop bits) is encoded using differential voltage levels for ‘0’ and ‘1’. The RS-232 standard does not define the data encoding.

What makes RS-232 a little daunting to directly integrate with are the voltage levels on the line:

Data Control Voltage
0 (space) Asserted +3 to +15 V
1 (mark) Deasserted −15 to −3 V

This is where RS-232 driver chips like the MAX3232 come into play: they handle all the voltage conversion and allow control and communication at CMOS or TTL voltage levels.

DE-9 Pinout

The RS-232 standard recommended D-subminiature 25 pin connectors (DB-25), but the 9-pin DE-9 became the most common for computer applications.

pedantic side note: almost everyone refers to the 9-pin connectors as “DB-9”, but I just learned from the wikipedia page they are officially “DE-9”, with B/E referring to the different shell sizes.


Pin SIG Signal Name DTE (PC)
1 DCD Data Carrier Detect in
2 RXD Receive Data in
3 TXD Transmit Data out
4 DTR Data Terminal Ready out
5 GND Signal Ground -
6 DSR Data Set Ready in
7 RTS Request to Send out
8 CTS Clear to Send in
9 RI Ring Indicator in

Flow Control

In modern applications, a minimal “3-wire” RS-232 (transmit, receive, ground) connection is often used. This configuration does not use any hardware flow control.

A “5-wire” configuration adds hardware flow control with RTS and CTS lines.

Null Modem

Usually when using RS-232 to connect to computers/microprocessors, a Null modem (cross-over) connection is required. This basically has transmit and receive crossed i.e. what one transmits, the other wants to receive.

NB: straight-through connections are for traditional uses with peripherals - e.g. a computer talking to a modem.


About the MAX3232

The MAX3232 provides level conversion for 2 lines in and 2 lines out, so it can support 3-wire or 5-wire RS-232. It can operate with 3.0V to 5.5V TTL, with transmission speeds up to 1Mbps.


MAX3232 Module Construction

The MAX3232 module is a standard 3-wire configuration, with a DE-9 female connector. Here’s a quick transcription of the module circuit. It follows the recommended examples provided in the datasheet:



Connecting the USB Adapter

CH340G USB Adapter Pinouts MAX3232 Module Pins

Connecting with Screen

I’m using MacOSX, so (as with Linux) the most handy console utility is screen.

The device I am connecting to for a test requires 9600 baud, with 8 data bits, no parity and 1 stop bit. The CH340G adapter was connected on /dev/tty.wchusbserial14210 device, so a screen session is started with the command:

$ screen /dev/tty.wchusbserial14210 9600,cs8,-parenb,-cstopb,-hupcl

…and communication is up and running without any problem:


The USB adapter and MAX3232 module connected to the serial device:


Credits and References

Project Source on GitHub Project Gallery Return to the LEAP Catalog

This page is a web-friendly rendering of my project notes shared in the LEAP GitHub repository.

LEAP is just my personal collection of projects. Two main themes have emerged in recent years, sometimes combined:

  • electronics - usually involving an Arduino or other microprocessor in one way or another. Some are full-blown projects, while many are trivial breadboard experiments, intended to learn and explore something interesting
  • scale modelling - I caught the bug after deciding to build a Harrier during covid to demonstrate an electronic jet engine simulation. Let the fun begin..
To be honest, I haven't quite figured out if these two interests belong in the same GitHub repo or not. But for now - they are all here!

Projects are often inspired by things found wild on the net, or ideas from the many great electronics and scale modelling podcasts and YouTube channels. Feel free to borrow liberally, and if you spot any issues do let me know (or send a PR!). See the individual projects for credits where due.