Application Development Primer


In this document, we’ll assume your application directory is <home>/app, and that its build directory is <home>/app/build. (These terms are defined in the following Overview.) On Linux/macOS, <home> is equivalent to ~, whereas on Windows it’s %userprofile%.


Zephyr’s build system is based on CMake.

The build system is application-centric, and requires Zephyr-based applications to initiate building the kernel source tree. The application build controls the configuration and build process of both the application and Zephyr itself, compiling them into a single binary.

Zephyr’s base directory hosts Zephyr’s own source code, its kernel configuration options, and its build definitions.

The files in the application directory link Zephyr with the application. This directory contains all application-specific files, such as configuration options and source code.

An application in its simplest form has the following contents:

├── CMakeLists.txt
├── prj.conf
└── src
    └── main.c

These contents are:

  • CMakeLists.txt: This file tells the build system where to find the other application files, and links the application directory with Zephyr’s CMake build system. This link provides features supported by Zephyr’s build system, such as board-specific kernel configuration files, the ability to run and debug compiled binaries on real or emulated hardware, and more.
  • Kernel configuration files: An application typically provides a configuration file (ending in .conf) that specifies values for one or more kernel configuration options. If omitted, the application’s existing kernel configuration option values are used; if no existing values are provided, the kernel’s default configuration values are used.
  • Application source code files: An application typically provides one or more application-specific files, written in C or assembly language. These files are usually located in a sub-directory called src.

Once an application has been defined, you can use CMake to create project files for building it from a directory where you want to host these files. This is known as the build directory. Application build artifacts are always generated in a build directory; Zephyr does not support “in-tree” builds.


You must create a build directory yourself, and call cmake from there. The Zephyr build system does not create build directories for you.

The following sections describe how to create, build, and run Zephyr applications, followed by more detailed reference material.

Creating an Application

Follow these steps to create a new application directory. (Refer to Samples and Demos for existing applications provided as part of Zephyr.)

  1. Create an application directory on your workstation computer, outside of the Zephyr base directory. Usually you’ll want to create it somewhere under your user’s home directory.

    For example, in a Unix shell, navigate to a location where you want your application to reside, then enter:

    mkdir app
  2. It’s recommended to place all application source code in a subdirectory named src. This makes it easier to distinguish between project files and sources.

    Continuing the Unix shell example from the previous step, enter:

    cd app
    mkdir src
  3. Create an empty CMakeLists.txt file in your application directory.

  4. Include the boilerplate.cmake to pull in the Zephyr build system:

    include($ENV{ZEPHYR_BASE}/cmake/app/boilerplate.cmake NO_POLICY_SCOPE)
  5. Place your application source code in the src sub-directory. For this example, we’ll assume you created a file named src/main.c.

  6. Add your source code files to the app target in your application directory’s CMakeLists.txt. For example, to add src/main.c, add the following line to your CMakeLists.txt:

    target_sources(app PRIVATE src/main.c)
  7. Configure features used by your application. Zephyr’s configuration uses the same Kconfig and Device Tree systems used by the Linux kernel, but with its own configuration trees. Usually, you just create a file named prj.conf in your application directory, where you enable or disable features provided by Zephyr’s Kconfig configuration system. Optionally you can also configure any Device Tree overlays needed by your application (this is usually not necessary; see Device Tree Overlays below for more details). You can use existing samples to get started. For more information, see Application Configuration below.

Applications integrate with the Zephyr build system using the boilerplate code shown above in CMakeLists.txt. The following important variables configure the Zephyr build system:

  • ZEPHYR_BASE: Sets the path to the Zephyr base directory. This is usually an environment variable set by the script on Linux/macOS or manually on Windows, as you learned when getting started with Zephyr in Building and Running an Application. You can also set ZEPHYR_BASE: explicitly on Linux and macOS if you want to.
  • BOARD: Selects the board that the application’s build will use for the default configuration. This can be defined in the environment, in your application’s CMakeLists.txt file, or in the cmake command line.
  • CONF_FILE: Indicates the name of one or more configuration fragment files. Each file includes kconfig configuration values that override the default configuration values. Like BOARD, this can also be defined in the environment, in your application’s CMakeLists.txt file, or in the cmake command line.
  • DTC_OVERLAY_FILE: Indicates the name of one or more Device Tree overlay files. Each file includes Device Tree values that override the default DT values. Like CONF_FILE, this can also be defined in the environment, in your application’s CMakeLists.txt file, or in the cmake command line.

Build an Application

The Zephyr build system compiles and links all components of an application into a single application image that can be run on simulated hardware or real hardware.

As described in A brief note on the Zephyr build system, on Linux and macOS you can choose between the make and ninja generators, whereas on Windows you need to use ninja. For simplicity we will use ninja throughout this guide.


  1. Navigate to the application directory <home>/app.

  2. Enter the following commands to build the application’s zephyr.elf image using the configuration settings for the board type specified in the application’s CMakeLists.txt.

    mkdir build
    cd build
    cmake -GNinja ..

    If desired, you can build the application using the configuration settings specified in an alternate .conf file using the CONF_FILE parameter. These settings will override the settings in the application’s .config file or its default .conf file. For example:

    # On Linux/macOS
    export CONF_FILE=prj.alternate.conf
    # On Windows
    set CONF_FILE=prj.alternate.conf
    cmake -GNinja ..

    If desired, you can generate project files for a different board type than the one specified in the application’s CMakeLists.txt by defining the environment variable BOARD.

    Both the CONF_FILE and BOARD parameters can be specified when building the application.

Build Directory Contents

When using the Ninja generator a build directory looks like this:

├── CMakeCache.txt
├── CMakeFiles
├── cmake_install.cmake
└── zephyr

The most notable files in the build directory are:

  •, which can be invoked to build the application.
  • A zephyr directory, which is the working directory of the generated build system, and where most generated files are created and stored.

After running ninja, the following build output files will be written to the zephyr sub-directory of the build directory. (This is not the Zephyr base directory, which contains the Zephyr source code etc. and is described above.)

  • .config, which contains the configuration settings used to build the application.
  • Various object files (.o files and .a files) containing compiled kernel and application code.
  • zephyr.elf, which contains the final combined application and kernel binary. Other binary output formats, such as .hex and .bin, are also supported.

Rebuilding an Application

Application development is usually fastest when changes are continually tested. Frequently rebuilding your application makes debugging less painful as the application becomes more complex. It’s usually a good idea to rebuild and test after any major changes to the application’s source files, CMakeLists.txt files, or configuration settings.


The Zephyr build system rebuilds only the parts of the application image potentially affected by the changes. Consequently, rebuilding an application is often significantly faster than building it the first time.

Sometimes the build system doesn’t rebuild the application correctly because it fails to recompile one or more necessary files. You can force the build system to rebuild the entire application from scratch with the following procedure:

  1. Open a terminal console on your host computer, and navigate to the build directory <home>/app/build.

  2. Enter the following command to delete the application’s generated files, except for the .config file that contains the application’s current configuration information.

    ninja clean

    Alternatively, enter the following command to delete all generated files, including the .config files that contain the application’s current configuration information for those board types.

    ninja pristine
  3. Rebuild the application normally following the steps specified in Build an Application above.

Run an Application

An application image can be run on a real board or emulated hardware.

Running on a Board

Most boards supported by Zephyr let you flash a compiled binary using the CMake flash target to copy the binary to the board and run it. Follow these instructions to flash and run an application on real hardware:

  1. Build your application, as described in Build an Application.

  2. Make sure your board is attached to your host computer. Usually, you’ll do this via USB.

  3. Run this console command from the build directory, <home>/app/build, to flash the compiled Zephyr binary and run it on your board:

    ninja flash

The Zephyr build system integrates with the board support files to use hardware-specific tools to flash the Zephyr binary to your hardware, then run it.

Each time you run the flash command, your application is rebuilt and flashed again.

In cases where board support is incomplete, flashing via the Zephyr build system may not be supported. If you receive an error message about flash support being unavailable, consult your board’s documentation for additional information on how to flash your board.


When developing on Linux, it’s common to need to install board-specific udev rules to enable USB device access to your board as a non-root user. If flashing fails, consult your board’s documentation to see if this is necessary.

Running in an Emulator

The kernel has built-in emulator support for QEMU (on Linux/macOS only, this is not yet supported on Windows). It allows you to run and test an application virtually, before (or in lieu of) loading and running it on actual target hardware. Follow these instructions to run an application via QEMU:

  1. Build your application for one of the QEMU boards, as described in Build an Application.

    For example, you could set BOARD to:

    • qemu_x86 to emulate running on an x86-based board
    • qemu_cortex_m3 to emulate running on an ARM Cortex M3-based board
  2. Run this console command from the build directory, <home>/app/build, to flash the compiled Zephyr binary and run it in QEMU:

    ninja run
  3. Press Ctrl A, X to stop the application from running in QEMU.

    The application stops running and the terminal console prompt redisplays.

Each time you execute the run command, your application is rebuilt and run again.

Custom Board Definition

In cases where the board or platform you are developing for is not yet supported by Zephyr, you can add the board definition to your application and build for this board without having to add it to the Zephyr tree.

The structure needed to support out-of-tree board development is similar to how boards are maintained in the Zephyr tree. By using this structure, it will be much easier to upstream your board work into the Zephyr tree after your initial development is done.

Add the custom board to your application using the following structure:


where the boards directory hosts the board you are building for:

├── boards
│   └── x86
│       └── my_custom_board
│           ├── doc
│           │   └── img
│           └── support
└── src

Use the proper architecture folder name (e.g., x86, arm, etc.) under boards for my_custom_board. (See Supported Boards for a list of board architectures.)

Documentation (under doc/) and support files (under support/) are optional, but will be needed when submitting to Zephyr.

The contents of my_custom_board should follow the same guidelines for any Zephyr board, and provide the following files:


Once the board structure is in place, you can build your application targeting this board by specifying the location of your custom board information with the -DBOARD_ROOT parameter to the CMake build system:

cmake -DBOARD=<board name> -DBOARD_ROOT=<path to boards> ..

This will use your custom board configuration and will generate the Zephyr binary into your application directory.

You can also define the BOARD_ROOT variable in the application CMakeLists.txt file.

Application Debugging

This section is a quick hands-on reference to start debugging your application with QEMU. Most content in this section is already covered in QEMU and GNU_Debugger reference manuals.

In this quick reference, you’ll find shortcuts, specific environmental variables, and parameters that can help you to quickly set up your debugging environment.

The simplest way to debug an application running in QEMU is using the GNU Debugger and setting a local GDB server in your development system through QEMU.

You will need an Executable and Linkable Format (ELF) binary image for debugging purposes. The build system generates the image in the build directory. By default, the kernel binary name is zephyr.elf. The name can be changed using a Kconfig option.

We will use the standard 1234 TCP port to open a GDB server instance. This port number can be changed for a port that best suits the development environment.

You can run QEMU to listen for a “gdb connection” before it starts executing any code to debug it.

qemu -s -S <image>

will setup Qemu to listen on port 1234 and wait for a GDB connection to it.

The options used above have the following meaning:

  • -S Do not start CPU at startup; rather, you must type ‘c’ in the monitor.
  • -s Shorthand for -gdb tcp::1234: open a GDB server on TCP port 1234.

To debug with QEMU and to start a GDB server and wait for a remote connect, run the following inside the build directory of an application:

ninja debugserver

The build system will start a QEMU instance with the CPU halted at startup and with a GDB server instance listening at the TCP port 1234.

Using a local GDB configuration .gdbinit can help initialize your GDB instance on every run. In this example, the initialization file points to the GDB server instance. It configures a connection to a remote target at the local host on the TCP port 1234. The initialization sets the kernel’s root directory as a reference.

The .gdbinit file contains the following lines:

target remote localhost:1234


Substitute ZEPHYR_BASE for the current kernel’s root directory.

Execute the application to debug from the same directory that you chose for the gdbinit file. The command can include the --tui option to enable the use of a terminal user interface. The following commands connects to the GDB server using gdb. The command loads the symbol table from the elf binary file. In this example, the elf binary file name corresponds to zephyr.elf file:

..../path/to/gdb --tui zephyr.elf


The GDB version on the development system might not support the –tui option. Please make sure you use the GDB binary from the SDK which corresponds to the toolchain that has been used to build the binary.

If you are not using a .gdbinit file, issue the following command inside GDB to connect to the remote GDB server on port 1234:

(gdb) target remote localhost:1234

Finally, the command below connects to the GDB server using the Data Displayer Debugger (ddd). The command loads the symbol table from the elf binary file, in this instance, the zephyr.elf file.

The DDD may not be installed in your development system by default. Follow your system instructions to install it. For example, use sudo apt-get install ddd on an Ubuntu system.

ddd --gdb --debugger "gdb zephyr.elf"

Both commands execute the gdb. The command name might change depending on the toolchain you are using and your cross-development tools.

Eclipse Debugging


CMake supports generating a project description file that can be imported into the Eclipse Integrated Development Environment (IDE) and used for graphical debugging.

The GNU MCU Eclipse plug-ins provide a mechanism to debug ARM projects in Eclipse with pyOCD, Segger J-Link, and OpenOCD debugging tools.

The following tutorial demonstrates how to debug a Zephyr application in Eclipse with pyOCD in Windows. It assumes you have already installed the GCC ARM Embedded toolchain and pyOCD.

Set Up the Eclipse Development Environment

  1. Download and install Eclipse IDE for C/C++ Developers.
  2. In Eclipse, install the GNU MCU Eclipse plug-ins by opening the menu Window->Eclipse Marketplace..., searching for GNU MCU Eclipse, and clicking Install on the matching result.
  3. Configure the path to the pyOCD GDB server by opening the menu Window->Preferences, navigating to MCU, and setting the Global pyOCD Path.

Generate and Import an Eclipse Project

  1. At a command line, configure your environment to use the GCC ARM Embedded compiler as shown in Using Custom and 3rd Party Cross Compilers.

  2. Navigate to a folder outside of the Zephyr tree to build your application.

    # On Windows
    cd %userprofile%


    If the build directory is a subdirectory of the source directory, as is usually done in Zephyr, CMake will warn:

    “The build directory is a subdirectory of the source directory.

    This is not supported well by Eclipse. It is strongly recommended to use a build directory which is a sibling of the source directory.”

  3. Configure your application with CMake and build it with ninja. Note the different CMake generator specified by the -G"Eclipse CDT4 - Ninja" argument. This will generate an Eclipse project description file, .project, in addition to the usual ninja build files.

    # On Windows
    mkdir build && cd build
    cmake -G"Eclipse CDT4 - Ninja" -DBOARD=frdm_k64f %ZEPHYR_BASE%\samples\synchronization
  4. In Eclipse, import your generated project by opening the menu File->Import... and selecting the option Existing Projects into Workspace. Browse to your application build directory in the choice, Select root directory:. Check the box for your project in the list of projects found and click the Finish button.

Create a Debugger Configuration

  1. Open the menu Run->Debug Configurations....

  2. Select GDB PyOCD Debugging, click the New button, and configure the following options:

    • In the Main tab:

      • Project: NONE@build
      • C/C++ Application: zephyr/zephyr.elf
    • In the Debugger tab:

      • pyOCD Setup
        • Executable path: $pyocd_path\$pyocd_executable
        • Uncheck “Allocate console for semihosting”
      • Board Setup
        • Bus speed: 8000000 Hz
        • Uncheck “Enable semihosting”
      • GDB Client Setup
        • Executable path: C:\gcc-arm-none-eabi-6_2017-q2-update\bin\arm-none-eabi-gdb.exe
    • In the SVD Path tab:

      • File path: <zephyr base>\ext\hal\nxp\mcux\devices\MK64F12\MK64F12.xml


      This is optional. It provides the SoC’s memory-mapped register addresses and bitfields to the debugger.

  3. Click the Debug button to start debugging.

RTOS Awareness

Experimental support for Zephyr RTOS awareness is implemented in pyOCD PR #333. It is compatible with GDB PyOCD Debugging in Eclipse, but you must download this pull request and build pyOCD from source. You must also enable CONFIG_OPENOCD_SUPPORT=y in your application.

CMake Details


CMake is used to build your application together with the Zephyr kernel. A CMake build is done in two stages. The first stage is called configuration. During configuration, the CMakeLists.txt build scripts are executed. After configuration is finished, CMake has an internal model of the Zephyr build, and can generate build scripts that are native to the host platform.

CMake supports generating scripts for several build systems, but only Ninja and Make are tested and supported by Zephyr. After configuration, you begin the build stage by executing the generated build scripts. These build scripts can recompile the application without involving CMake following most code changes. However, after certain changes, the configuration step must be executed again before building. The build scripts can detect some of these situations and reconfigure automatically, but there are cases when this must be done manually.

Zephyr uses CMake’s concept of a ‘target’ to organize the build. A target can be an executable, a library, or a generated file. For application developers, the library target is the most important to understand. All source code that goes into a Zephyr build does so by being included in a library target, even application code.

Library targets have source code, that is added through CMakeLists.txt build scripts like this:

target_sources(app PRIVATE src/main.c)

In the above CMakeLists.txt, an existing library target named app is configured to include the source file src/main.c. The PRIVATE keyword indicates that we are modifying the internals of how the library is being built. Using the keyword PUBLIC would modify how other libraries that link with app are built. In this case, using PUBLIC would cause libraries that link with app to also include the source file src/main.c, behavior that we surely do not want. The PUBLIC keyword could however be useful when modifying the include paths of a target library.

Application CMakeLists.txt

Every application must have a CMakeLists.txt file. This file is the entry point, or top level, of the build system. The final zephyr.elf image contains both the application and the kernel libraries.

This section describes some of what you can do in your CMakeLists.txt. Make sure to follow these steps in order.

  1. If you only want to build for one board, add the name of the board configuration for your application on a new line. For example:

    set(BOARD qemu_x86)

    Refer to Supported Boards for more information on available boards.

    The Zephyr build system determines a value for BOARD by checking the following, in order (when a BOARD value is found, CMake stops looking further down the list):

    • Any previously used value as determined by the CMake cache takes highest precedence. This ensures you don’t try to run a build with a different BOARD value than you set during the build configuration step.
    • Any value given on the CMake command line using -DBOARD=YOUR_BOARD will be checked for and used next.
    • If an environment variable BOARD is set, its value will then be used.
    • Finally, if you set BOARD in your application CMakeLists.txt as described in this step, this value will be used.
  2. If your application uses a configuration file or files other than the usual prj.conf (or prj_YOUR_BOARD.conf, where YOUR_BOARD is a board name), add lines setting the CONF_FILE variable to these files appropriately.

    More details are available below in Kconfig Configuration.

  3. If your application uses a Device Tree overlay file or files other than the usual <board>.overlay, add lines setting the DTC_OVERLAY_FILE variable to these files appropriately.

    More details are available below in Device Tree Overlays.

  4. If your application has its own kernel configuration options, add a line setting the location of the Kconfig file that defines them.

    An (unlikely) advanced use case would be if your application has its own unique configuration options that are set differently depending on the build configuration.

    If you just want to set application specific values for existing Zephyr configuration options, refer to the CONF_FILE description above.

    For example, if you have a file named Kconfig in the same directory as your application’s CMakeLists.txt, add the following line:


    Make sure to include the following lines in your Kconfig file before any application-specific configuration options:

    mainmenu "Your Application Name"
    config ZEPHYR_BASE
    	option env="ZEPHYR_BASE"
    source "$ZEPHYR_BASE/Kconfig.zephyr"
    # Your application configuration options go here.


    The indented lines above must use tabs, not spaces.

  5. Now include the mandatory boilerplate that integrates the application with the Zephyr build system on a new line, after any lines added from the steps above:

    include($ENV{ZEPHYR_BASE}/cmake/app/boilerplate.cmake NO_POLICY_SCOPE)
  6. Now add any application source files to the ‘app’ target library, each on their own line, like so:

    target_sources(app PRIVATE src/main.c)

Below is a simple example CMakeList.txt:

set(BOARD qemu_x86)

include($ENV{ZEPHYR_BASE}/cmake/app/boilerplate.cmake NO_POLICY_SCOPE)

target_sources(app PRIVATE src/main.c)

Application Configuration

Kconfig Configuration

The application is configured using a set of options that can be customized for application-specific purposes. The Zephyr build system takes a configuration option’s value from the first source in which it is specified, taken from the following available sources, in order:

  1. An application’s current configuration (i.e. the file zephyr/.config in the build directory). This can be used during development as described below in Overriding Default Configuration.
  2. The application’s configuration file(s) given by the CONF_FILE variable, either as set explicitly by the user or using one of the default values detailed below.
  3. The board’s default configuration for the current BOARD setting (i.e. the boards/ARCHITECTURE/BOARD/BOARD_defconfig file in the Zephyr base directory).
  4. The kernel’s default configuration settings (i.e. the default value given to the option in one of Zephyr’s Kconfig files).

The Zephyr build system determines a value for CONF_FILE by checking the following until one is found, in order:

  • Any value given to CONF_FILE in your application CMakeLists.txt (before including the boilerplate.cmake file), passed to the the CMake command line, or present in the CMake variable cache, takes precedence.
  • If a CMake command, macro, or function set_conf_file is defined, it will be invoked and must set CONF_FILE.
  • If the file prj_BOARD.conf exists in your application directory, where BOARD is the BOARD value set earlier, it will be used.
  • Finally, if prj.conf exists in your application directory, it will be used.

If CONF_FILE specifies multiple files, they will be merged in order.

For information on available kernel configuration options, including inter-dependencies between options, see the Configuration Symbol Reference.

Setting Application Configuration Values

This section describes how to edit Zephyr configuration (.conf) files.

  • Add each configuration entry on a new line.

  • Enable a boolean option by setting its value to y:


    To ensure that a boolean configuration option is not set, add a line like this instead (including the leading # symbol):

    # CONFIG_SOME_BOOL is not set
  • You can set integer and string options as well, like this:

    CONFIG_SOME_STRING="the best value ever"
  • Ensure that each entry setting an option contains no spaces (including on either side of the = sign).

  • Use a # followed by a space to comment a line:

    # This is a comment.

The example below shows a comment line and an override setting CONFIG_PRINTK to y:

# Enable printk for debugging

Overriding Default Configuration

Follow these steps to override an application’s configuration temporarily, perhaps to test the effect of a change.


If you want to permanently alter the configuration you should set the new value in a .conf file, as described above in Setting Application Configuration Values.

The steps below describe how to configure your application using a menu-driven configurator interface. While you can edit your application’s .config manually, using a configurator tool is preferred, since it correctly handles dependencies between options.

  1. Generate a Make build system, and use it to run ninja menuconfig as follows.

    1. Using CMake, create a build directory (<home>/app/build) from your application directory (<home>/app).

      For example, on a shell or command prompt:

      # On Linux/macOS
      cd ~/app
      # On Windows
      cd %userprofile%\app
      mkdir build && cd build
      cmake -GNinja ..
    2. Run ninja menuconfig from the build directory (<home>/app/build).

      Continuing the above Unix shell example:

      ninja menuconfig

      A question-based menu opens that allows you to set individual configuration options.

      Main Configuration Menu
  2. Set kernel configuration values using the following key commands:

    • Use the arrow keys to navigate within any menu or list.

    • Press Enter to select a menu item.

    • Type an upper case Y or N in the

      square brackets [ ] to enable or disable a kernel configuration option.

    • Type a numerical value in the parentheses ( ).

    • Press Tab to navigate the command menu at the bottom of the display.


      When a non-default entry is selected for options that are non-numerical, an asterisk * appears between the square brackets in the display. There is nothing added added the display when you select the option’s default.

  3. For information about any option, select the option and tab to <Help > and press Enter.

    Press Enter to return to the menu.

  4. Press / to bring up a search menu to look for a particular option.

  5. After configuring the kernel options for your application, tab to < Save > and press Enter.

    The following dialog opens with the < Ok > command selected:

    Save Configuration Dialog
  6. Press Enter to save the kernel configuration options to the default file name; alternatively, type a file name and press Enter.

    Typically, you will save to the default file name unless you are experimenting with various configuration scenarios.

    A zephyr directory will have been created in the build



    At present, only a .config file can be built. If you have saved files with different file names and want to build with one of these, change the file name to .config. To keep your original .config, rename it to something other than .config.

    Kernel configuration files, such as the .config file, are saved as hidden files in zephyr. To list all your kernel configuration files, enter ls -a at the terminal prompt.

    The following dialog opens, displaying the file name the configuration was saved to.

    Saved Configuration Name Dialog
  7. Press Enter to return to the options menu.

  8. To load any saved kernel configuration file, tab to < Load > and press Enter.

    The following dialog opens with the < Ok > command selected:

    Configuration File Load Dialog
  9. To load the last saved kernel configuration file, press < Ok >, or to load another saved configuration file, type the file name, then select < Ok >.

  10. Press Enter to load the file and return to the main menu.

  11. To exit the menu configuration, tab to < Exit > and press Enter.

    The following confirmation dialog opens with the < Yes > command selected.

    Exit Dialog
  12. Press Enter to retire the menu display and return to the console command line.

Device Tree Overlays

As described in Device Tree in Zephyr, Zephyr uses Device Tree to describe the hardware it runs on. This section describes how you can modify an application build’s device tree using overlay files.

Overlay files, which customarily have the .overlay extension, contain device tree fragments which add to or modify the device tree used while building a Zephyr application. To add an overlay file or files to the build, set the CMake variable DTC_OVERLAY_FILE to a whitespace-separated list of your overlay files.

The Zephyr build system begins creation of a device tree by running the C preprocessor on a file which includes the following:

  1. Configuration options from Kconfig.

  2. The board’s device tree source file, which by default is the Zephyr file boards/<ARCHITECTURE>/<BOARD>/<BOARD>.dts. (This location can be overridden by setting the DTS_SOURCE CMake variable.)

  3. Any “common” overlays provided by the build system. Currently, this is just the file dts/common/common.dts. (The common overlays can be overridden by setting the DTS_COMMON_OVERLAYS CMake variable.)

    The file common.dts conditionally includes device tree fragments based on Kconfig settings. For example, it includes a fragment for MCUboot chain-loading, located at dts/common/mcuboot.overlay, if CONFIG_BOOTLOADER_MCUBOOT is set.

  4. Any file or files given by the DTC_OVERLAY_FILE CMake variable.

The Zephyr build system determines DTC_OVERLAY_FILE as follows:

  • Any value given to DTC_OVERLAY_FILE in your application CMakeLists.txt (before including the boilerplate.cmake file), passed to the the CMake command line, or present in the CMake variable cache, takes precedence.
  • The environment variable DTC_OVERLAY_FILE is checked next. This mechanism is now deprecated; users should set this variable using CMake instead of the environment.
  • If the file BOARD.overlay exists in your application directory, where BOARD is the BOARD value set earlier, it will be used.

If DTC_OVERLAY_FILE specifies multiple files, they are included in order by the C preprocessor.

After running the preprocessor, the final device tree used in the build is created by running the device tree compiler, dtc, on the preprocessor output.

Application-Specific Code

Application-specific source code files are normally added to the application’s src directory. If the application adds a large number of files the developer can group them into sub-directories under src, to whatever depth is needed.

Application-specific source code should not use symbol name prefixes that have been reserved by the kernel for its own use. For more information, see Naming Conventions.

Support for building third-party library code

It is possible to build library code outside the application’s src directory but it is important that both application and library code targets the same Application Binary Interface (ABI). On most architectures there are compiler flags that control the ABI targeted, making it important that both libraries and applications have certain compiler flags in common. It may also be useful for glue code to have access to Zephyr kernel header files.

To make it easier to integrate third-party components, the Zephyr build system has defined CMake functions that give application build scripts access to the zephyr compiler options. The functions are documented and defined in $ZEPHYR_BASE/cmake/extensions.cmake and follow the naming convention zephyr_get_<type>_<format>.

The following variables will often need to be exported to the third-party build system.

  • ARCH and BOARD, together with several variables that identify the Zephyr kernel version.

samples/application_development/external_lib is a sample project that demonstrates some of these features.