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Lesson 5: Blinking Two LEDs

Table of Contents

  1. Materials
  2. Before you begin: breadboarding circuits
  3. Making the circuit
    1. Step 1: Wire up the power and GND rails
    2. Step 2: Wire up the first LED circuit
    3. Step 3: Wire up the second LED circuit
  4. Writing the code: blinking Pins 3 and 4
    1. Step 1: Write the setup and initialization code
    2. Step 2: Write the blink code in loop()
    3. Step 3: Compile, upload, and run the code!
  5. Our Blink2 code on GitHub
  6. Next Lesson

In this tutorial, we will learn the difference between current sourcing and current sinking by revisiting our LED Blink example. We will also incorporate the use of a breadboard.

We are going to build two simple LED circuits:

  1. LED Circuit 1 will be the exact same as before with the LED anode facing Pin 3 and the cathode facing ground. When we drive Pin 3 HIGH (5V), the current will travel through the LED to GND. In this circuit, Pin 3 is the current source.
  2. LED Circuit 2 is similar but different. Here, we’ll hook up a second LED with the anode facing away from Pin 4 (instead, towards 5V) and the cathode facing toward Pin 4. When we drive Pin 4 HIGH (5V), the LED will turn off because no voltage difference exists between the two ends of our circuit. However, if we drive Pin 4 LOW (0V), the LED will turn on. In this circuit, Pin 4 is the current sink.

Yes, this can be a bit confusing at first (“wait, the LED turns off when Pin 4 is HIGH?!?!”). But you’ll gain understanding by completing this lesson. In the animation below, pay attention to the current direction in each circuit. Notice how they’re opposite!

Animation showing how driving Pin 3 and 4 HIGH will turn on LED Circuit 1 and off LED Circuit 2 and driving those pins LOW will turn off LED Circuit 1 and on LED Circuit 2

Materials

Our materials are almost the same as before but this time, we are going to make two separate LED circuits (with the same components). So, we need two red LEDs and two 220Ω resistors. Now that we’re using more components, we’ll also need a breadboard—which will make it easier to make a clean, organized circuit.

Breadboard Arduino LED Resistor
Breadboard Arduino Uno Red LED 220 Ohm Resistor
Breadboard Arduino Uno, Leonardo, or similar 2 Red LEDs 2 220Ω Resistors

Before you begin: breadboarding circuits

We will increasingly be using our breadboards in these lessons so now is a good opportunity to revisit how to use them. If you’re unfamiliar please read our breadboarding guide and watch the following video:

Making the circuit

Step 1: Wire up the power and GND rails

Diagram showing breadboard power and ground rails connected to the 5V and GND ports of the Arduino Uno

Step 2: Wire up the first LED circuit

Now let’s wire up the exact same circuit as before (e.g., LED Blink and LED Fade) but this time we’ll use a breadboard. Make sure the LED anode (the long leg) is facing Pin 3.

Diagram showing the LED circuit with with LED anode connected to Pin 3 and the resistor connected to the LED cathode and then to GND

Step 3: Wire up the second LED circuit

Now wire up the second LED circuit. This time, however, connect the LED cathode (short leg) to Pin 4 and the resistor to the 5V rail.

Diagram showing the LED circuit with with LED cathode connected to Pin 4 and the resistor connected to the LED anode and then to GND

Writing the code: blinking Pins 3 and 4

Let’s write code to blink the LEDs hooked up to Pins 3 and 4.

Importantly, the Pin 3 circuit (LED Circuit 1 i) will turn on with digitalWrite(3, HIGH) whereas the Pin 4 circuit (LED Circuit 2) will turn off with digitalWrite(4, HIGH). Why? Recall that current always flows from high voltage potential to low voltage potential.

When Pin 3 is HIGH (5V), there is a voltage difference between Pin 3 and GND so current flows from Pin 3 to ground. When Pin 4 is HIGH (5V), however, there is no voltage difference across the circuit (from Pin 4 to 5V) and thus, no current. This behavior is illustrated in the animation below.

Let’s write the code!

Step 1: Write the setup and initialization code

const int LED1_OUTPUT_PIN = 3; // Anode faces Pin 3 (cathode connected to 0V)
const int LED2_OUTPUT_PIN = 4; // Cathode faces Pin 4 (anode connected to 5V)
const int DELAY_MS = 1000; // delay for 1 sec between blinks

// The setup function runs once when you press reset or power the board
void setup() {
  // Set our LED pins as output
  pinMode(LED1_OUTPUT_PIN, OUTPUT);
  pinMode(LED2_OUTPUT_PIN, OUTPUT);
}
// The loop function runs over and over again forever
void loop() {
  // Below, you're going to see that driving Pin 3 HIGH will turn on LED1
  // but driving Pin 4 HIGH will actually turn *off* LED2
  digitalWrite(LED1_OUTPUT_PIN, HIGH);  // turns ON LED1
  digitalWrite(LED2_OUTPUT_PIN, HIGH);  // turns OFF LED2
  delay(DELAY_MS);                      // delay is in milliseconds; so wait one second
  
  digitalWrite(LED1_OUTPUT_PIN, LOW);   // turns OFF LED1 (Pin 3 is now 0V and other leg of LED is 0V)
  digitalWrite(LED2_OUTPUT_PIN, LOW);   // turns ON LED2 (Pin 4 is now 0V and other leg of LED is 5V)
  delay(DELAY_MS);                      // wait for a second
}

Step 3: Compile, upload, and run the code!

We did it! Now compile and upload the code.

Top-down workbench animated gif of the circuit working with Arduino

And here’s a top-down video with the code window:

Our Blink2 code on GitHub

You can access our Blink2 code in our Arduino GitHub repository. It’s also displayed below:

Next Lesson

In the next lesson, we will use a new component—an RGB LED—to output a variety of LED colors beyond just red and learn about the difference and how to use Common Anode vs. Common Cathode RGB LED designs.

Previous: LED Fade Next: RGB LEDs