National Instruments’ LabVIEW: The System Design Software

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Extensive support via libraries and functions
A large number of libraries with many functions for signal generation, data acquisition, mathematics, signal conditioning, statistics, analysis, etc, along with numerous graphical interface elements, are provided in several LabVIEW package options. The fully object-oriented character of LabVIEW code allows for code reuse without modifications as long as the data types of input and output are consistent—which essentially means that two sub VIs are exchangeable.

Create stand-alone executables
The LabVIEW Professional Development System allows creation of stand-alone executables, and the resultant executable can be distributed again and again. The run-time engine and its libraries are provided freely along with the executable.

Integrated development environment
The LabVIEW development environment is an application program available for the Windows, Mac and Linux operating systems. It lets users build their own source code, construct graphical user interfaces, compile and run their programs. It also includes libraries for communicating with a wide variety of instrumentation, displaying data in graphical form and performing advanced analysis, making it all the more suitable for scientific and engineering applications compared to general-purpose programming languages.

Multiple execution targets
LabVIEW can be used to develop software that runs on more exotic hardware and not just on a PC. NI has a real-time operating system, which can run on PXI controllers, a PC hardware and cRIO controllers. Using the real-time module on LabVIEW, code can be built to run on these targets, achieving up-time and system determinism not possible under other operating systems. In addition, there are also programmable FPGA targets from NI, in the form of PCI/PXI cards and cRIO backplanes, that allow reconfiguration at the logic circuit level. Through the LabVIEW FPGA module, it is possible to create a solution with the tight timing and low processing overhead of a pure hardware system, but with the easy reconfigurability of a software solution.

Block diagram—graphical source code
LabVIEW replaces text source code with a graphical block diagram, where nodes replace function calls and wires between the nodes representing data transfer. In a manner that’s opposite to text-based programming, where functions execute in a sequential manner, in graphical programming, it is the data flow between block diagram nodes that controls the execution order. The visual nature of LabVIEW makes it straightforward for programming novices to create applications, especially when using features such as express VIs, which replace the coding tasks with a dialogue box configuration.

Front panel—the graphical user interface
LabVIEW provides the ability to build graphical user interfaces, which it calls front panels to provide an analogy with physical instruments. As the main focus of LabVIEW is science and engineering, in addition to standard user interface objects such as ‘OK’ buttons and text entry boxes, there are lots of items specifically aimed at these areas.

There is a low-cost LabVIEW Student Edition aimed at educational institutions for learning purposes. There is also an active community of LabVIEW users who communicate through several e-mail groups and Internet forums, thus making sure that users can fiddle around with the system and still not get completely lost.

Summary
The distinguishing feature when compared to other programming languages is that LabVIEW uses graphics instead of text listings for its source code. LabVIEW is very popular with scientists and engineers, who do not necessarily have a background in software programming, due to this graphical coding and straightforward integration with a wide range of measurement instruments and control equipment. With the updates for the software pouring in, LabVIEW is all set to be the industry’s darling among system design software for the time being.

How to install LabView: Student’s edition
There is a proper order for installing National Instruments’ software based on how the individual pieces work together. Here is the order in which to install the suite:

1. Development system (LabVIEW)
2. Software toolkits and modules (LabVIEW Control Design and Simulation Toolkit)
3. Hardware drivers (NI-ELVISmx Device Driver)

The development system is installed first because it is the base or platform onto which everything else is installed. The modules and toolkits are then installed because they are development system dependent, and are added in place of the development system like the functions palette of LabVIEW. Last of all, the drivers are installed along with the driver support for the development system and toolkits.

If they are not installed in this order, the dependent features will not realise that the development system is present, and thus not appear in the development system environment.

Once you have downloaded and open the software, the program will automatically start the installation process.

After installing LabVIEW, Student Edition, it is the right time to install hardware drivers. You can obtain the hardware drivers to use with LabVIEW from their official website. After correctly installing the drivers and restarting the system, you are now ready to launch LabVIEW. Have fun with the software!

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