We'll start writing a program for the LM3S6965, a Cortex-M3 microcontroller. We have chosen this as our initial target because it can be emulated using QEMU so you don't need to fiddle with hardware in this section and we can focus on the tooling and the development process.

A non standard Rust program

We'll use the cortex-m-quickstart project template so go generate a new project from it.

  • Using cargo-generate
$ cargo generate --git https://github.com/rust-embedded/cortex-m-quickstart
 Project Name: app
 Creating project called `app`...
 Done! New project created /tmp/app

$ cd app
  • Using git

Clone the repository

$ git clone https://github.com/rust-embedded/cortex-m-quickstart app

$ cd app

And then fill in the placeholders in the Cargo.toml file

$ cat Cargo.toml
authors = ["{{authors}}"] # "{{authors}}" -> "John Smith"
edition = "2018"
name = "{{project-name}}" # "{{project-name}}" -> "awesome-app"
version = "0.1.0"

# ..

name = "{{project-name}}" # "{{project-name}}" -> "awesome-app"
test = false
bench = false
  • Using neither

Grab the latest snapshot of the cortex-m-quickstart template and extract it.

Using the command line:

$ # NOTE there's also a tarball available: archive/master.tar.gz
$ curl -LO https://github.com/rust-embedded/cortex-m-quickstart/archive/master.zip

$ unzip master.zip

$ mv cortex-m-quickstart-master app

$ cd app

OR you can browse to cortex-m-quickstart, click the green "Clone or download" button and then click "Download ZIP".

Then fill in the placeholders in the Cargo.toml file as done in the second part of the "Using git" version.

IMPORTANT We'll use the name "app" for the project name in this tutorial. Whenever you see the word "app" you should replace it with the name you selected for your project. Or, you could also name your project "app" and avoid the substitutions.

For convenience here's the source code of src/main.rs:

$ cat src/main.rs

// pick a panicking behavior
extern crate panic_halt; // you can put a breakpoint on `rust_begin_unwind` to catch panics
// extern crate panic_abort; // requires nightly
// extern crate panic_itm; // logs messages over ITM; requires ITM support
// extern crate panic_semihosting; // logs messages to the host stderr; requires a debugger

use cortex_m_rt::entry;

fn main() -> ! {
    loop {
        // your code goes here

This program is a bit different from a standard Rust program so let's take a closer look.

#![no_std] indicates that this program will not link to the standard crate, std. Instead it will link to its subset: the core crate.

#![no_main] indicates that this program won't use the standard main interface that most Rust programs use. The main (no pun intended) reason to go with no_main is that using the main interface in no_std context requires nightly.

extern crate panic_halt;. This crate provides a panic_handler that defines the panicking behavior of the program. More on this later on.

#[entry] is an attribute provided by the cortex-m-rt crate that's used to mark the entry point of the program. As we are not using the standard main interface we need another way to indicate the entry point of the program and that'd be #[entry].

fn main() -> !. Our program will be the only process running on the target hardware so we don't want it to end! We use a divergent function (the -> ! bit in the function signature) to ensure at compile time that'll be the case.

Cross compiling

The next step is to cross compile the program for the Cortex-M3 architecture. That's as simple as running cargo build --target $TRIPLE if you know what the compilation target ($TRIPLE) should be. Luckily, the .cargo/config in the template has the answer:

$ tail -n6 .cargo/config
# Pick ONE of these compilation targets
# target = "thumbv6m-none-eabi"    # Cortex-M0 and Cortex-M0+
target = "thumbv7m-none-eabi"    # Cortex-M3
# target = "thumbv7em-none-eabi"   # Cortex-M4 and Cortex-M7 (no FPU)
# target = "thumbv7em-none-eabihf" # Cortex-M4F and Cortex-M7F (with FPU)

To cross compile for the Cortex-M3 architecture we have to use thumbv7m-none-eabi. This compilation target has been set as the default so the two commands below do the same:

$ cargo build --target thumbv7m-none-eabi

$ cargo build


Now we have a non-native ELF binary in target/thumbv7m-none-eabi/debug/app. We can inspect it using cargo-binutils.

With cargo-readobj we can print the ELF headers to confirm that this is an ARM binary.

$ # `--bin app` is sugar for inspect the binary at `target/$TRIPLE/debug/app`
$ # `--bin app` will also (re)compile the binary, if necessary

$ cargo readobj --bin app -- -file-headers
ELF Header:
  Magic:   7f 45 4c 46 01 01 01 00 00 00 00 00 00 00 00 00
  Class:                             ELF32
  Data:                              2's complement, little endian
  Version:                           1 (current)
  OS/ABI:                            UNIX - System V
  ABI Version:                       0x0
  Type:                              EXEC (Executable file)
  Machine:                           ARM
  Version:                           0x1
  Entry point address:               0x405
  Start of program headers:          52 (bytes into file)
  Start of section headers:          153204 (bytes into file)
  Flags:                             0x5000200
  Size of this header:               52 (bytes)
  Size of program headers:           32 (bytes)
  Number of program headers:         2
  Size of section headers:           40 (bytes)
  Number of section headers:         19
  Section header string table index: 18

cargo-size can print the size of the linker sections of the binary.

NOTE this output assumes that rust-embedded/cortex-m-rt#111 has been merged

$ # we use `--release` to inspect the optimized version

$ cargo size --bin app --release -- -A
app  :
section             size        addr
.vector_table       1024         0x0
.text                 92       0x400
.rodata                0       0x45c
.data                  0  0x20000000
.bss                   0  0x20000000
.debug_str          2958         0x0
.debug_loc            19         0x0
.debug_abbrev        567         0x0
.debug_info         4929         0x0
.debug_ranges         40         0x0
.debug_macinfo         1         0x0
.debug_pubnames     2035         0x0
.debug_pubtypes     1892         0x0
.ARM.attributes       46         0x0
.debug_frame         100         0x0
.debug_line          867         0x0
Total              14570

A refresher on ELF linker sections

  • .text contains the program instructions
  • .rodata contains constant values like strings
  • .data contains statically allocated variables whose initial values are not zero
  • .bss also contains statically allocated variables whose initial values are zero
  • .vector_table is a non-standard section that we use to store the vector (interrupt) table
  • .ARM.attributes and the .debug_* sections contain metadata and will not be loaded onto the target when flashing the binary.

IMPORTANT: ELF files contain metadata like debug information so their size on disk does not accurately reflect the space the program will occupy when flashed on a device. Always use cargo-size to check how big a binary really is.

cargo-objdump can be used to disassemble the binary.

$ cargo objdump --bin app --release -- -disassemble -no-show-raw-insn -print-imm-hex

NOTE this output assumes that rust-embedded/cortex-m-rt#111 has been merged

app:    file format ELF32-arm-little

Disassembly of section .text:
     400:       bl      #0x36
     404:       movw    r0, #0x0
     408:       movw    r1, #0x0
     40c:       movt    r0, #0x2000
     410:       movt    r1, #0x2000
     414:       bl      #0x2c
     418:       movw    r0, #0x0
     41c:       movw    r1, #0x45c
     420:       movw    r2, #0x0
     424:       movt    r0, #0x2000
     428:       movt    r1, #0x0
     42c:       movt    r2, #0x2000
     430:       bl      #0x1c
     434:       b       #-0x4 <Reset+0x34>

     436:       b       #-0x4 <HardFault_>

     438:       b       #-0x4 <UsageFault>

     43a:       bx      lr

     43c:       mrs     r0, msp
     440:       bl      #-0xe

     444:       movs    r2, #0x0
     446:       b       #0x0 <__zero_bss+0x6>
     448:       stm     r0!, {r2}
     44a:       cmp     r0, r1
     44c:       blo     #-0x8 <__zero_bss+0x4>
     44e:       bx      lr

     450:       b       #0x2 <__init_data+0x6>
     452:       ldm     r1!, {r3}
     454:       stm     r0!, {r3}
     456:       cmp     r0, r2
     458:       blo     #-0xa <__init_data+0x2>
     45a:       bx      lr


Next, let's see how to run an embedded program on QEMU! This time we'll use the hello example which actually does something.

For convenience here's the source code of src/main.rs:

$ cat examples/hello.rs
//! Prints "Hello, world!" on the host console using semihosting


extern crate panic_halt;

use core::fmt::Write;

use cortex_m_rt::entry;
use cortex_m_semihosting::{debug, hio};

fn main() -> ! {
    let mut stdout = hio::hstdout().unwrap();
    writeln!(stdout, "Hello, world!").unwrap();

    // exit QEMU or the debugger section

    loop {}

This program uses something called semihosting to print text to the host console. When using real hardware this requires a debug session but when using QEMU this Just Works.

Let's start by compiling the example:

$ cargo build --example hello

The output binary will be located at target/thumbv7m-none-eabi/debug/examples/hello.

To run this binary on QEMU run the following command:

$ qemu-system-arm \
      -cpu cortex-m3 \
      -machine lm3s6965evb \
      -nographic \
      -semihosting-config enable=on,target=native \
      -kernel target/thumbv7m-none-eabi/debug/examples/hello
Hello, world!

The command should successfully exit (exit code = 0) after printing the text. On *nix you can check that with the following command:

$ echo $?

Let me break down that long QEMU command for you:

  • qemu-system-arm. This is the QEMU emulator. There are a few variants of these QEMU binaries; this one does full system emulation of ARM machines hence the name.

  • -cpu cortex-m3. This tells QEMU to emulate a Cortex-M3 CPU. Specifying the CPU model lets us catch some miscompilation errors: for example, running a program compiled for the Cortex-M4F, which has a hardware FPU, will make QEMU error during its execution.

  • -machine lm3s6965evb. This tells QEMU to emulate the LM3S6965EVB, a evaluation board that contains a LM3S6965 microcontroller.

  • -nographic. This tells QEMU to not launch its GUI.

  • -semihosting-config (..). This tells QEMU to enable semihosting. Semihosting lets the emulated device, among other things, use the host stdout, stderr and stdin and create files on the host.

  • -kernel $file. This tells QEMU which binary to load and run on the emulated machine.

Typing out that long QEMU command is too much work! We can set a custom runner to simplify the process. .cargo/config has a commented out runner that invokes QEMU; let's uncomment it:

$ head -n3 .cargo/config
# uncomment this to make `cargo run` execute programs on QEMU
runner = "qemu-system-arm -cpu cortex-m3 -machine lm3s6965evb -nographic -semihosting-config enable=on,target=native -kernel"

This runner only applies to the thumbv7m-none-eabi target, which is our default compilation target. Now cargo run will compile the program and run it on QEMU:

$ cargo run --example hello --release
   Compiling app v0.1.0 (file:///tmp/app)
    Finished release [optimized + debuginfo] target(s) in 0.26s
     Running `qemu-system-arm -cpu cortex-m3 -machine lm3s6965evb -nographic -semihosting-config enable=on,target=native -kernel target/thumbv7m-none-eabi/release/examples/hello`
Hello, world!


Debugging is critical to embedded development. Let's see how it's done.

Debugging an embedded device involves remote debugging as the program that we want to debug won't be running on the machine that's running the debugger program (GDB or LLDB).

Remote debugging involves a client and a server. In a QEMU setup, the client will be a GDB (or LLDB) process and the server will be the QEMU process that's also running the embedded program.

In this section we'll use the hello example we already compiled.

The first debugging step is to launch QEMU in debugging mode:

$ qemu-system-arm \
      -cpu cortex-m3 \
      -machine lm3s6965evb \
      -nographic \
      -semihosting-config enable=on,target=native \
      -gdb tcp::3333 \
      -S \
      -kernel target/thumbv7m-none-eabi/debug/examples/hello

This command won't print anything to the console and will block the terminal. We have passed two extra flags this time:

  • -gdb tcp::3333. This tells QEMU to wait for a GDB connection on TCP port 3333.

  • -S. This tells QEMU to freeze the machine at startup. Without this the program would have reached the end of main before we had a chance to launch the debugger!

Next we launch GDB in another terminal and tell it to load the debug symbols of the example:

$ <gdb> -q target/thumbv7m-none-eabi/debug/examples/hello

NOTE: <gdb> represents a GDB program capable of debugging ARM binaries. This could be arm-none-eabi-gdb, gdb-multiarch or gdb depending on your system -- you may have to try all three.

Then within the GDB shell we connect to QEMU, which is waiting for a connection on TCP port 3333.

(gdb) target remote :3333
Remote debugging using :3333
Reset () at $REGISTRY/cortex-m-rt-0.6.1/src/lib.rs:473
473     pub unsafe extern "C" fn Reset() -> ! {

You'll see that the process is halted and that the program counter is pointing to a function named Reset. That is the reset handler: what Cortex-M cores execute upon booting.

This reset handler will eventually call our main function. Let's skip all the way there using a breakpoint and the continue command:

(gdb) break main
Breakpoint 1 at 0x400: file examples/panic.rs, line 29.

(gdb) continue

Breakpoint 1, main () at examples/hello.rs:17
17          let mut stdout = hio::hstdout().unwrap();

We are now close to the code that prints "Hello, world!". Let's move forward using the next command.

(gdb) next
18          writeln!(stdout, "Hello, world!").unwrap();

(gdb) next
20          debug::exit(debug::EXIT_SUCCESS);

At this point you should see "Hello, world!" printed on the terminal that's running qemu-system-arm.

$ qemu-system-arm (..)
Hello, world!

Calling next again will terminate the QEMU process.

(gdb) next
[Inferior 1 (Remote target) exited normally]

You can now exit the GDB session.

(gdb) quit