Arduino Watchdog timer

I will not go too much into the benefits of a Watchdog timer as I presume those are known, but in short a Watchdog timer resets a processor  when it hasn’t seen any activity of that processor for a while. This is  specifically handy for processors  that are in a less accessible space, where otherwise you’d have to go to, get access and  press reset.

Basically there are 2 types of  Watchdog timers: Hardware and Software. About Software WDT’s I can be brief, they work, but  as the very goal of a WDT is to reset in case of software failure, using a software WDT seems a bit counterintuitive. If however you opt for a software timer, you will find a good article here.

Many of the Atmel chips, such as theAtmega328 in the Arduino UNO have an internal hardware Watchdog timer. In reality that watchdog timer is just a simple counter that gives a pulse when it counts up. This pulse can be used either to generate interrupt or simply reset MCU (or both). The watchdog timer can be reset to zero at any time with the WDR command.

The Internal Watchdog timer of the Atmeag328 is set by by programming WDTON fuse when flashing the MCU. You will find more information here.

Other than having to set fuses when flashing your chip, this internal hardware timer has a drawback similar to the software WDT: If you make a mistake, your chip could get into near continuous reset which makes it hard to re-use it again.

From that point of view an External Hardware WDT might be a better option. If you dont need it anymore, or made a mistake, you simply disconnect it.
There are specific  WDT chips available, but the good old NE555 can be used as well.

Watchdog timer
Watchdog timer

The workings are as follows:
In this circuit the 555 is configured as an astable oscillator. When free running it will charge C2 till about 2/3rds of Vcc (so about 3.33V) and then generate a negative pulse on pin 3 that is connected to the RST of the Arduino (or other chip). Diode D1 is not essential, but it does protect the Arduino.
The frequency, and thus period of the oscillator is determined by R2, R3 and C2. In its current config the time period til reset is about 69 seconds. At the end of that period the  circuit will generate a LOW pulse that  will reset the attached microprocessor. As the dutycycle of the circuit is far from symmetrical (fortunately) the LOW pulse will take some 15 mSec which is a useful time. Not too short, not too long.

However, we do not want the processor to restart every 69 seconds, we just want it ro  do its thing unless it hangs and therefore we let the processor restart the  555 oscillator continuously to signal that it is still alive and kicking. We do that by discharging C2 via R1 and we do that simply by using an output pin that we make LOW. So if during each loop of the firmware in the processor we pull that Output pin LOW, the Watchdog knows the processor is still doing its work and only when the program hangs, the watchdog will do a reset after 69 seconds.

It is not sufficient to just make the Output pin LOW to restart the timer, but afterwards it needs to be set HIGH again. However, even if an output pin is HIGH, there still is an internal impedance that could drain C2. Therefore after setting it as OUTPUT and LOW, we set it back to INPUT mode again, because as input the I/O pins of the Arduino have a fairly high impedance.

R1 limits the current that can flow through the sinking pin to abt 9mA (in reality some 6mA). Ofcourse R1 adds to the  time needed to discharge C2, but that does not pose a problem here. (If not given enough time though, the Watchdog will need less than 69 seconds before it is able to send a reset signal again.)

int HeartbeatPin = 8;

void heartbeat() {
// Sink current to drain C2
pinMode(HeartbeatPin, OUTPUT);
digitalWrite(HeartbeatPin, LOW);
// Set pin back to High Impedance
pinMode(HeartbeatPin, INPUT);

void setup() {
// Send an initial heartbeat.

void loop() {
//your code

The above is just a very simple example. Ofcourse it is also possible to check specific sections of the program such as say succeeding an internetconnection or  attaching to a serial port. That way you could avoid  that only part of the program (e.g. connecting to internet)  failed, while the processor is still happily kicking the dog on every loop
The end result however will always be a total reset


5 thoughts on “Arduino Watchdog timer

    1. true. they are vere versatile. For deep -sleep wake this circuit might be defeating the purpose (saving power) a bit. Having a 555 running continuously isnt energywise. There are dedicated WDT chips that use less power

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