PyVISA implements convenient and Pythonic programming in three layers:

  1. Low-level: A wrapper around the shared visa library.

    The wrapper defines the argument types and response types of each function, as well as the conversions between Python objects and foreign types.

    You will normally not need to access these functions directly. If you do, it probably means that we need to improve layer 2.

    All level 1 functions are static methods of pyvisa.highlevel.VisaLibrary.


    Notice however that low-level functions might not be present in all backends. For broader compatibility, do no use this layer. All the functionality should is available via the next layer.

  2. Middle-level: A wrapping Python function for each function of the shared visa library.

    These functions call the low-level functions, adding some code to deal with type conversions for functions that return values by reference. These functions also have comprehensive and Python friendly documentation.

    You only need to access this layer if you want to control certain specific aspects of the VISA library which are not implemented by the corresponding resource class.

    All level 2 functions are bound methods of pyvisa.highlevel.VisaLibrary.

  3. High-level: An object-oriented layer for pyvisa.highlevel.ResourceManager and pyvisa.resources.Resource

    The ResourceManager implements methods to inspect connected resources. You also use this object to open other resources instantiating the appropriate Resource derived classes.

    Resource and the derived classes implement functions and attributes access to the underlying resources in a Pythonic way.

Most of the time you will only need to instantiate a ResourceManager. For a given resource, you will use the pyvisa.highlevel.ResourceManager.open_resource() method to obtain the appropriate object. If needed, you will be able to access the VisaLibrary object directly using the pyvisa.highlevel.ResourceManager.visalib attribute.

The VisaLibrary does the low-level calls. In the default NI Backend, levels 1 and 2 are implemented in the same package called pyvisa.ctwrapper (which stands for ctypes wrapper). This package is included in PyVISA.

Other backends can be used just by passing the name of the backend to ResourceManager after the @ symbol. See more information in A frontend for multiple backends.

Calling middle- and low-level functions

After you have instantiated the ResourceManager:

>>> import visa
>>> rm = visa.ResourceManager()

you can access the corresponding VisaLibrary instance under the visalib attribute.

As an example, consider the VISA function viMapAddress. It appears in the low-level layer as the static method viMapAddress of visalib attributed and also appears in the middle-level layer as map_address.

You can recognize low and middle-level functions by their names. Low-level functions carry the same name as in the shared library, and they are prefixed by vi. Middle-level functions have a friendlier, more pythonic but still recognizable name. Typically, camelCase names where stripped from the leading vi and changed to underscore separated lower case names. The docs about these methods is located here API.


You can access the low-level functions directly exposed as static methods, for example:

>>> rm.visalib.viMapAddress(<here goes the arguments>)

To call this functions you need to know the function declaration and how to interface it to python. To help you out, the VisaLibrary object also contains middle-level functions.

It is very likely that you will need to access the VISA constants using these methods. You can find the information about these constants here api_constants


The VisaLibrary object exposes the middle-level functions which are one-to-one mapped from the foreign library as bound methods.

Each middle-level function wraps one low-level function. In this case:

>>> rm.visalib.map_address(<here goes the arguments>)

The calling convention and types are handled by the wrapper.