Running ESP-IDF Applications on Host

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Note

Running ESP-IDF applications on host is currently still an experimental feature, thus there is no guarantee for API stability. However, user feedback via the ESP-IDF GitHub repository or the ESP32 forum is highly welcome, and may help influence the future of design of the ESP-IDF host-based applications.

This document provides an overview of the methods to run ESP-IDF applications on Linux, and what type of ESP-IDF applications can typically be run on Linux.

Introduction

Typically, an ESP-IDF application is built (cross-compiled) on a host machine, uploaded (i.e., flashed) to an ESP chip for execution, and monitored by the host machine via a UART/USB port. However, execution of an ESP-IDF application on an ESP chip can be limiting in various development/usage/testing scenarios.

Therefore, it is possible for an ESP-IDF application to be built and executed entirely within the same Linux host machine (henceforth referred to as "running on host"). Running ESP-IDF applications on host has several advantages:

  • No need to upload to a target.

  • Faster execution on a host machine, compared to running on an ESP chip.

  • No requirements for any specific hardware, except the host machine itself.

  • Easier automation and setup for software testing.

  • Large number of tools for code and runtime analysis, e.g., Valgrind.

A large number of ESP-IDF components depend on chip-specific hardware. These hardware dependencies must be mocked or simulated when running on host. ESP-IDF currently supports the following mocking and simulation approaches:

  1. Using the FreeRTOS POSIX/Linux simulator that simulates FreeRTOS scheduling. On top of this simulation, other APIs are also simulated or implemented when running on host.

  2. Using CMock to mock all dependencies and run the code in complete isolation.

In principle, it is possible to mix both approaches (POSIX/Linux simulator and mocking using CMock), but this has not been done yet in ESP-IDF. Note that despite the name, the FreeRTOS POSIX/Linux simulator currently also works on macOS. Running ESP-IDF applications on host machines is often used for testing. However, simulating the environment and mocking dependencies does not fully represent the target device. Thus, testing on the target device is still necessary, though with a different focus that usually puts more weight on integration and system testing.

Note

Another possibility to run applications on the host is to use the QEMU simulator. However, QEMU development for ESP-IDF applications is still a work in progress and has not been documented yet.

CMock-Based Approach

This approach uses the CMock framework to solve the problem of missing hardware and software dependencies. CMock-based applications running on the host machine have the added advantage that they usually only compile the necessary code, i.e., the (mostly mocked) dependencies instead of the entire system. For a general introduction to Mocks and how to configure and use them in ESP-IDF, please refer to Mocks.

POSIX/Linux Simulator Approach

The FreeRTOS POSIX/Linux simulator is available on ESP-IDF as a preview target already. This simulator allows ESP-IDF components to be implemented on the host, making them accessible to ESP-IDF applications when running on host. Currently, only a limited number of components are ready to be built on Linux. Furthermore, the functionality of each component ported to Linux may also be limited or different compared to the functionality when building that component for a chip target. For more information about whether the desired components are supported on Linux, please refer to Component Linux/Mock Support Overview.

Note

The FreeRTOS POSIX/Linux simulator allows configuring the Amazon SMP FreeRTOS version. However, the simulation still runs in single-core mode. The main reason allowing Amazon SMP FreeRTOS is to provide API compatibility with ESP-IDF applications written for Amazon SMP FreeRTOS.

Requirements for Using Mocks

  • Installed ESP-IDF including all ESP-IDF requirements

  • System package requirements (libbsd, libbsd-dev)

  • A recent enough Linux or macOS version and GCC compiler

  • All components the application depends on must be either supported on the Linux target (Linux/POSIX simulator) or mock-able

An application that runs on the Linux target has to set the COMPONENTS variable to main in the CMakeLists.txt of the application's root directory:

set(COMPONENTS main)

This prevents the automatic inclusion of all components from ESP-IDF to the build process which is otherwise done for convenience.

If any mocks are used, then Ruby is required, too.

Build and Run

To build the application on Linux, the target has to be set to linux and then it can be built and run:

idf.py --preview set-target linux
idf.py build
idf.py monitor

Troubleshooting

Since the applications are compiled for the host, they can be debugged with all the tools available on the host. E.g., this could be GDB and Valgrind on Linux. For cases where no debugger is attached, the segmentation fault and Abort signal handlers are customized to print additional information to the user and to increase compatibility with the ESP-IDF tools.

Note

The following features are by no means a replacement for running the application in a debugger. It is only meant to give some additional information, e.g., if a battery of tests runs on Linux in a CI/CD system where only the application logs are collected. To trace down the actual issue in most cases, you will need to reproduce it with a debugger attached. A debugger is much more convenient too, because, for example, you do not need to convert addresses to line numbers.

Segmentation Faults

On Linux, applications prints an error message and a rudimentary backtrace once it encounters a segmentation fault. This information can be used to find the line numbers in the source code where the issue occurred. The following is an example of a segmentation fault in the Hello-World application:

...
Hello world!
ERROR: Segmentation Fault, here's your backtrace:
path/to/esp-idf/examples/get-started/hello_world/build/hello_world.elf(+0x2d1b)[0x55d3f636ad1b]
/lib/x86_64-linux-gnu/libc.so.6(+0x3c050)[0x7f49f0e00050]
path/to/esp-idf/examples/get-started/hello_world/build/hello_world.elf(+0x6198)[0x55d3f636e198]
path/to/esp-idf/examples/get-started/hello_world/build/hello_world.elf(+0x5909)[0x55d3f636d909]
path/to/esp-idf/examples/get-started/hello_world/build/hello_world.elf(+0x2c93)[0x55d3f636ac93]
path/to/esp-idf/examples/get-started/hello_world/build/hello_world.elf(+0x484e)[0x55d3f636c84e]
/lib/x86_64-linux-gnu/libc.so.6(+0x89134)[0x7f49f0e4d134]
/lib/x86_64-linux-gnu/libc.so.6(+0x1097dc)[0x7f49f0ecd7dc]

Note that the addresses (+0x...) are relative binary addresses, which still need to be converted to the source code line numbers (see below). Note furthermore that the backtrace is created from the signal handler, which means that the two uppermost stack frames are not of interest. Instead, the third line is the uppermost stack frame where the issue occurred:

path/to/esp-idf/examples/get-started/hello_world/build/hello_world.elf(+0x6198)[0x55d3f636e198]

To retrieve the actual line in the source code, we need to call the tool addr2line with the file name and the relative address (in this case +0x6198):

$ addr2line -e path/to/esp-idf/examples/get-started/hello_world/build/hello_world.elf +0x6198
path/to/esp-idf/components/esp_hw_support/port/linux/chip_info.c:13

From here on, you should use elaborate debugging tools available on the host to further trace the issue down. For more information on addr2line and how to call it, see the addr2line man page.

Aborts

Once abort() has been called, the following line is printed:

ERROR: Aborted

Component Linux/Mock Support Overview

Note that any "Yes" here does not necessarily mean a full implementation or mocking. It can also mean a partial implementation or mocking of functionality. Usually, the implementation or mocking is done to a point where enough functionality is provided to build and run a test application.

Component

Mock

Simulation

cmock

No

Yes

driver

Yes

No

esp_app_format

No

Yes

esp_common

No

Yes

esp_event

Yes

Yes

esp_http_client

No

Yes

esp_http_server

No

Yes

esp_https_server

No

Yes

esp_hw_support

Yes

Yes

esp_netif

Yes

Yes

esp_netif_stack

No

Yes

esp_partition

Yes

Yes

esp_rom

No

Yes

esp_system

No

Yes

esp_timer

Yes

No

esp_tls

Yes

Yes

fatfs

No

Yes

freertos

Yes

Yes

hal

No

Yes

heap

No

Yes

http_parser

Yes

Yes

json

No

Yes

linux

No

Yes

log

No

Yes

lwip

Yes

Yes

mbedtls

No

Yes

mqtt

No

Yes

nvs_flash

No

Yes

partition_table

No

Yes

protobuf-c

No

Yes

pthread

No

Yes

soc

No

Yes

spiffs

No

Yes

spi_flash

Yes

No

tcp_transport

Yes

No

unity

No

Yes