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C++ Language Support

C++ is a general-purpose object-oriented programming language that is based on the C language.

Enabling C++ Support

Zephyr supports applications written in both C and C++. However, to use C++ in an application you must configure Zephyr to include C++ support by selecting the CONFIG_CPP in the application configuration file.

To enable C++ support, the compiler toolchain must also include a C++ compiler and the included compiler must be supported by the Zephyr build system. The Zephyr SDK, which includes the GNU C++ Compiler (part of GCC), is supported by Zephyr, and the features and their availability documented here assume the use of the Zephyr SDK.

The default C++ standard level (i.e. the language enforced by the compiler flags passed) for Zephyr apps is C++11. Other standards are available via kconfig choice, for example CONFIG_STD_CPP98. The oldest standard supported and tested in Zephyr is C++98.

When compiling a source file, the build system selects the C++ compiler based on the suffix (extension) of the files. Files identified with either a cpp or a cxx suffix are compiled using the C++ compiler. For example, myCplusplusApp.cpp is compiled using C++.

The C++ standard requires the main() function to have the return type of int. Your main() must be defined as int main(void). Zephyr ignores the return value from main, so applications should not return status information and should, instead, return zero.


Do not use C++ for kernel, driver, or system initialization code.

Language Features

Zephyr currently provides only a subset of C++ functionality. The following features are not supported:

  • Static global object destruction

  • OS-specific C++ standard library classes (e.g. std::thread, std::mutex)

While not an exhaustive list, support for the following functionality is included:

  • Inheritance

  • Virtual functions

  • Virtual tables

  • Static global object constructors

  • Dynamic object management with the new and delete operators

  • Exceptions

  • RTTI

  • Standard Template Library (STL)

Static global object constructors are initialized after the drivers are initialized but before the application main() function. Therefore, use of C++ is restricted to application code.

In order to make use of the C++ exceptions, the CONFIG_CPP_EXCEPTIONS must be selected in the application configuration file.

Zephyr Minimal C++ Library

Zephyr minimal C++ library (lib/cpp/minimal) provides a minimal subset of the C++ standard library and application binary interface (ABI) functions to enable basic C++ language support. This includes:

  • new and delete operators

  • virtual function stub and vtables

  • static global initializers for global constructors

The scope of the minimal C++ library is strictly limited to providing the basic C++ language support, and it does not implement any Standard Template Library (STL) classes and functions. For this reason, it is only suitable for use in the applications that implement their own (non-standard) class library and do not rely on the Standard Template Library (STL) components.

Any application that makes use of the Standard Template Library (STL) components, such as std::string and std::vector, must enable the C++ standard library support.

C++ Standard Library

The C++ Standard Library is a collection of classes and functions that are part of the ISO C++ standard (std namespace).

Zephyr does not include any C++ standard library implementation in source code form. Instead, it allows configuring the build system to link against the pre-built C++ standard library included in the C++ compiler toolchain.

To enable C++ standard library, select an applicable toolchain-specific C++ standard library type from the CONFIG_LIBCPP_IMPLEMENTATION in the application configuration file.

For instance, when building with the Zephyr SDK, the build system can be configured to link against the GNU C++ Library (libstdc++.a), which is a fully featured C++ standard library that provides all features required by the ISO C++ standard including the Standard Template Library (STL), by selecting CONFIG_GLIBCXX_LIBCPP in the application configuration file.

The following C++ standard libraries are supported by Zephyr:

A Zephyr subsystem that requires the features from the full C++ standard library can select, from its config, CONFIG_REQUIRES_FULL_LIBCPP, which automatically selects a compatible C++ standard library unless the Kconfig symbol for a specific C++ standard library is selected.

Header files and incompatibilities between C and C++

To interact with each other, C and C++ must share code through header files: data structures, macros, static functions,… While C and C++ have a large overlap, they’re different languages with known incompatibilities. C is not just a C++ subset. Standard levels (e.g.: “C+11”) add another level of complexity as new features are often inspired by and copied from the other language but many years later and with subtle differences. Making things more complex, compilers often offer early prototypes of features before they become standardized. Standards can have ambiguities interpreted differently by different compilers. Compilers can have bugs and these may need workarounds. To help with this, many projects restrict themselves to a limited number of toolchains. Zephyr does not.

These compatibility issues affect header files dis-proportionally. Not just because they have to be compatible between C and C++, but also because they end up being compiled in a surprisingly high number of other source files due to indirect inclusion and the lack of structure and headers organization that is typical in real-world projects. So, header files are exposed to a much larger variety of toolchains and project configurations. Adding more constraints, the Zephyr project has demanding policies with respect to code style, compiler warnings, static analyzers and standard compliance (e.g.: MISRA).

Put together, all these constraints can make writing header files very challenging. The purpose of this section is to document some best “header practices” and lessons learned in a Zephyr-specific context. While a lot of the information here is not Zephyr-specific, this section is not a substitute for knowledge of C/C++ standards, textbooks and other references.


Fortunately, the Zephyr project has an extensive test and CI infrastructure that provides coverage baselines, catches issues early, enforces policies and maintains such combinatorial explosions under some control. The tests/lib/cpp/cxx/ are very useful in this context because their testcase.yaml configuration lets twister iterate quickly over a range of -std parameters: -std=c++98, -std=c++11, etc.

Keep in mind unused macros are not compiled.

Designated initializers

Initialization macros are common in header files as they help reduce boilerplate code. C99 added initialization of struct and union types by “designated” member names instead of a list of bare expressions. Some GCC versions support designated initializers even in their C90 mode.

When used at a simple level, designated initializers are less error-prone, more readable and more flexible. On the other hand, C99 allowed a surprisingly large and lax set of possibilities: designated initializers can be out of order, duplicated, “nested” (.a.x =), various other braces can be omitted, designated initializers and not can be mixed, etc.

Twenty years later, C++20 added designated initializers to C++ but in much more restricted way; partly because a C++ struct is actually a class. As described in the C++ proposal number P0329 (which compares with C) or in any complete C++ reference, a mix is not allowed and initializers must be in order (gaps are allowed).

Interestingly, the new restrictions in C++20 can cause gcc -std=c++20 to fail to compile code that successfully compiles with gcc -std=c++17. For example, gcc -std=c++17 and older allow the C-style mix of initializers and bare expressions. This fails to compile with using gcc -std=c++20 with the same GCC version.

Recommendation: to maximize compatibility across different C and C++ toolchains and standards, designated initializers in Zephyr header files should follow all C++20 rules and restrictions. Non-designated, pre-C99 initialization offers more compatibility and is also allowed but designated initialization is the more readable and preferred code style. In any case, both styles must never be mixed in the same initializer.

Warning: successful compilation is not the end of the incompatibility story. For instance, the evaluation order of initializer expressions is unspecified in C99! It is the (expected) left-to-right order in C++20. Other standard revisions may vary. In doubt, do not rely on evaluation order (here and elsewhere).

Anonymous unions

Anonymous unions (a.k.a. “unnamed” unions) seem to have been part of C++ from its very beginning. They were not officially added to C until C11. As usual, there are differences between C and C++. For instance, C supports anonymous unions only as a member of an enclosing struct or union, empty lists { } have always been allowed in C++ but they require C23, etc.

When initializing anonymous members, the expression can be enclosed in braces or not. It can be either designated or bare. For maximum portability, when initializing anonymous unions:

  • Do not enclose designated initializers with braces. This is required by C++20 and above which perceive such braces as mixing bare expressions with (other) designated initializers and fails to compile.

  • Do enclose bare expressions with braces. This is required by C. Maybe because C is laxer and allows many initialization possibilities and variations, so it may need such braces to disambiguate? Note C does allow omitting most braces in initializer expressions - but not in this particular case of initializing anonymous unions with bare expressions.

Some pre-C11 GCC versions support some form of anonymous unions. They unfortunately require enclosing their designated initializers with braces which conflicts with this recommendation. This can be solved with an #ifdef __STDC_VERSION__ as demonstrated in Zephyr commit c15f029a7108 and the corresponding code review.