Build System (CMake)


This is documentation for the CMake-based build system which is currently in preview release. If you encounter any gaps or bugs, please report them in the Issues section of the ESP-IDF repository.

The CMake-based build system will become the default build system in ESP-IDF V4.0. The existing GNU Make based build system will be deprecated in ESP-IDF V5.0.


The following features are not yet supported with the CMake-based build system:

  • Eclipse IDE Documentation
  • Secure Boot
  • Flash Encryption
  • ULP toolchain.

Support for these features will be available before CMake becomes the default build system.

This document explains the implementation of the CMake-based ESP-IDF build system and the concept of “components”. Documentation for the GNU Make based build system is also available

Read this document if you want to know how to organise and build a new ESP-IDF project or component using the CMake-based build system.


An ESP-IDF project can be seen as an amalgamation of a number of components. For example, for a webserver that shows the current humidity, there could be:

  • The ESP32 base libraries (libc, ROM bindings, etc)
  • The WiFi drivers
  • A TCP/IP stack
  • The FreeRTOS operating system
  • A webserver
  • A driver for the humidity sensor
  • Main code tying it all together

ESP-IDF makes these components explicit and configurable. To do that, when a project is compiled, the build system will look up all the components in the ESP-IDF directories, the project directories and (optionally) in additional custom component directories. It then allows the user to configure the ESP-IDF project using a a text-based menu system to customize each component. After the components in the project are configured, the build system will compile the project.


  • A “project” is a directory that contains all the files and configuration to build a single “app” (executable), as well as additional supporting elements such as a partition table, data/filesystem partitions, and a bootloader.
  • “Project configuration” is held in a single file called sdkconfig in the root directory of the project. This configuration file is modified via menuconfig to customise the configuration of the project. A single project contains exactly one project configuration.
  • An “app” is an executable which is built by ESP-IDF. A single project will usually build two apps - a “project app” (the main executable, ie your custom firmware) and a “bootloader app” (the initial bootloader program which launches the project app).
  • “components” are modular pieces of standalone code which are compiled into static libraries (.a files) and linked into an app. Some are provided by ESP-IDF itself, others may be sourced from other places.

Some things are not part of the project:

  • “ESP-IDF” is not part of the project. Instead it is standalone, and linked to the project via the IDF_PATH environment variable which holds the path of the esp-idf directory. This allows the IDF framework to be decoupled from your project.
  • The toolchain for compilation is not part of the project. The toolchain should be installed in the system command line PATH.

Using the Build System

The command line tool provides a front-end for easily managing your project builds. It manages the following tools:

  • CMake, which configures the project to be built
  • A command line build tool (either Ninja build or GNU Make)
  • for flashing ESP32.

The getting started guide contains a brief introduction to how to set up to configure, build, and flash projects. should be run in an ESP-IDF “project” directory, ie one containing a CMakeLists.txt file. Older style projects with a Makefile will not work with

Type --help for a full list of commands. Here are a summary of the most useful ones:

  • menuconfig runs the “menuconfig” tool to configure the project.

  • build will build the project found in the current directory. This can involve multiple steps:

    • Create the build directory if needed. The sub-directory build is used to hold build output, although this can be changed with the -B option.
    • Run CMake as necessary to configure the project and generate build files for the main build tool.
    • Run the main build tool (Ninja or GNU Make). By default, the build tool is automatically detected but it can be explicitly set by passing the -G option to

    Building is incremental so if no source files or configuration has changed since the last build, nothing will be done.

  • clean will “clean” the project by deleting build output files from the build directory, forcing a “full rebuild” the next time the project is built. Cleaning doesn’t delete CMake configuration output and some other files.

  • fullclean will delete the entire “build” directory contents. This includes all CMake configuration output. The next time the project is built, CMake will configure it from scratch. Note that this option recursively deletes all files in the build directory, so use with care. Project configuration is not deleted.

  • reconfigure re-runs CMake even if it doesn’t seem to need re-running. This isn’t necessary during normal usage, but can be useful after adding/removing files from the source tree.

  • flash will automatically build the project if necessary, and then flash it to an ESP32. The -p and -b options can be used to set serial port name and flasher baud rate, respectively.

  • monitor will display serial output from the ESP32. The -p option can be used to set the serial port name. Type Ctrl-] to exit the monitor. See IDF Monitor for more details about using the monitor.

Multiple commands can be combined into one. For example, -p COM4 clean flash monitor will clean the source tree, then build the project and flash it to the ESP32 before running the serial monitor.


The environment variables ESPPORT and ESPBAUD can be used to set default values for the -p and -b options, respectively. Providing these options on the command line overrides the default.

Advanced Commands

  • app, bootloader, partition_table can be used to build only the app, bootloader, or partition table from the project as applicable.
  • There are matching commands app-flash, etc. to flash only that single part of the project to the ESP32.
  • -p PORT erase_flash will use to erase the ESP32’s entire flash chip.
  • size prints some size information about the app. size-components and size-files are similar commands which print more detailed per-component or per-source-file information, respectively.

The order of multiple commands on the same invocation is not important, they will automatically be executed in the correct order for everything to take effect (ie building before flashing, erasing before flashing, etc.).

Using CMake Directly is a wrapper around CMake for convenience. However, you can also invoke CMake directly if you prefer.

When does something, it prints each command that it runs for easy reference. For example, the build command is the same as running these commands in a bash shell (or similar commands for Windows Command Prompt):

mkdir -p build
cd build
cmake .. -G Ninja   # or 'Unix Makefiles'

In the above list, the cmake command configures the project and generates build files for use with the final build tool. In this case the final build tool is Ninja: running ninja actually builds the project.

It’s not necessary to run cmake more than once. After the first build, you only need to run ninja each time. ninja will automatically re-invoke cmake if the project needs reconfiguration.

If using CMake with ninja or make, there are also targets for more of the sub-commands - for example running make menuconfig or ninja menuconfig in the build directory will work the same as menuconfig.


If you’re already familiar with CMake, you may find the ESP-IDF CMake-based build system unusual because it wraps a lot of CMake’s functionality to reduce boilerplate. See writing pure CMake components for some information about writing more “CMake style” components.

Flashing with ninja or make

It’s possible to build and flash directly from ninja or make by running a target like:

ninja flash


make app-flash

Available targets are: flash, app-flash (app only), bootloader-flash (bootloader only).

When flashing this way, optionally set the ESPPORT and ESPBAUD environment variables to specify the serial port and baud rate. You can set environment variables in your operating system or IDE project. Alternatively, set them directly on the command line:

ESPPORT=/dev/ttyUSB0 ninja flash


Providing environment variables at the start of the command like this is Bash shell Syntax. It will work on Linux and macOS. It won’t work when using Windows Command Prompt, but it will work when using Bash-like shells on Windows.


make -j3 app-flash ESPPORT=COM4 ESPBAUD=2000000


Providing variables at the end of the command line is make syntax, and works for make on all platforms.

Using CMake in an IDE

You can also use an IDE with CMake integration. The IDE will want to know the path to the project’s CMakeLists.txt file. IDEs with CMake integration often provide their own build tools (CMake calls these “generators”) to build the source files as part of the IDE.

When adding custom non-build steps like “flash” to the IDE, it is recommended to execute for these “special” commands.

For more detailed information about integrating ESP-IDF with CMake into an IDE, see Build System Metadata.

Setting the Python Interpreter

Currently, ESP-IDF only works with Python 2.7. If you have a system where the default python interpreter is Python 3.x, this can lead to problems.

If using, running as python2 $IDF_PATH/tools/ ... will work around this issue ( will tell other Python processes to use the same Python interpreter). You can set up a shell alias or another script to simplify the command.

If using CMake directly, running cmake -D PYTHON=python2 ... will cause CMake to override the default Python interpreter.

If using an IDE with CMake, setting the PYTHON value as a CMake cache override in the IDE UI will override the default Python interpreter.

To manage the Python version more generally via the command line, check out the tools pyenv or virtualenv. These let you change the default python version.

Example Project

An example project directory tree might look like this:

- myProject/
             - CMakeLists.txt
             - sdkconfig
             - components/ - component1/ - CMakeLists.txt
                                         - Kconfig
                                         - src1.c
                           - component2/ - CMakeLists.txt
                                         - Kconfig
                                         - src1.c
                                         - include/ - component2.h
             - main/       - src1.c
                           - src2.c

             - build/

This example “myProject” contains the following elements:

  • A top-level project CMakeLists.txt file. This is the primary file which CMake uses to learn how to build the project; and may set project-wide CMake variables. It includes the file /tools/cmake/project.cmake which implements the rest of the build system. Finally, it sets the project name and defines the project.
  • “sdkconfig” project configuration file. This file is created/updated when menuconfig runs, and holds configuration for all of the components in the project (including ESP-IDF itself). The “sdkconfig” file may or may not be added to the source control system of the project.
  • Optional “components” directory contains components that are part of the project. A project does not have to contain custom components of this kind, but it can be useful for structuring reusable code or including third party components that aren’t part of ESP-IDF.
  • “main” directory is a special “pseudo-component” that contains source code for the project itself. “main” is a default name, the CMake variable COMPONENT_DIRS includes this component but you can modify this variable (or set EXTRA_COMPONENT_DIRS in the top-level CMakeLists.txt) to look for components in other places. If you have a lot of source files in your project, we recommend grouping most into components instead of putting them all in “main”.
  • “build” directory is where build output is created. This directory is created by if it doesn’t already exist. CMake configures the project and generates interim build files in this directory. Then, after the main build process is run, this directory will also contain interim object files and libraries as well as final binary output files. This directory is usually not added to source control or distributed with the project source code.

Component directories each contain a component CMakeLists.txt file. This file contains variable definitions to control the build process of the component, and its integration into the overall project. See Component CMakeLists Files for more details.

Each component may also include a Kconfig file defining the component configuration options that can be set via menuconfig. Some components may also include Kconfig.projbuild and project_include.cmake files, which are special files for overriding parts of the project.

Project CMakeLists File

Each project has a single top-level CMakeLists.txt file that contains build settings for the entire project. By default, the project CMakeLists can be quite minimal.

Minimal Example CMakeLists

Minimal project:

cmake_minimum_required(VERSION 3.5)


Mandatory Parts

The inclusion of these four lines, in the order shown above, is necessary for every project:

  • cmake_minimum_required(VERSION 3.5) tells CMake what version is required to build the project. ESP-IDF is designed to work with CMake 3.5 or newer. This line must be the first line in the CMakeLists.txt file.
  • include($ENV{IDF_PATH}/tools/cmake/project.cmake) pulls in the rest of the CMake functionality to configure the project, discover all the components, etc.
  • project(myProject) creates the project itself, and specifies the project name. The project name is used for the final binary output files of the app - ie myProject.elf, myProject.bin. Only one project can be defined per CMakeLists file.

Optional Project Variables

These variables all have default values that can be overridden for custom behaviour. Look in /tools/cmake/project.cmake for all of the implementation details.

  • COMPONENT_DIRS: Directories to search for components. Defaults to ${IDF_PATH}/components, ${PROJECT_PATH}/components, and EXTRA_COMPONENT_DIRS. Override this variable if you don’t want to search for components in these places.
  • EXTRA_COMPONENT_DIRS: Optional list of additional directories to search for components. Paths can be relative to the project directory, or absolute.
  • COMPONENTS: A list of component names to build into the project. Defaults to all components found in the COMPONENT_DIRS directories. Use this variable to “trim down” the project for faster build times. Note that any component which “requires” another component via COMPONENT_REQUIRES will automatically have it added to this list, so the COMPONENTS list can be very short.
  • COMPONENT_REQUIRES_COMMON: A list of components that every component requires. These components are automatically added to every component’s COMPONENT_PRIV_REQUIRES list and also the project’s COMPONENTS list. By default, this variable is set to the minimal set of core “system” components needed for any ESP-IDF project. Usually, you would not change this variable in your project.

Any paths in these variables can be absolute paths, or set relative to the project directory.

To set these variables, use the cmake set command ie set(VARIABLE "VALUE"). The set() commands should be placed after the cmake_minimum(...) line but before the include(...) line.

Component CMakeLists Files

Each project contains one or more components. Components can be part of ESP-IDF, part of the project’s own components directory, or added from custom component directories (see above).

A component is any directory in the COMPONENT_DIRS list which contains a CMakeLists.txt file.

Searching for Components

The list of directories in COMPONENT_DIRS is searched for the project’s components. Directories in this list can either be components themselves (ie they contain a CMakeLists.txt file), or they can be top-level directories whose sub-directories are components.

When CMake runs to configure the project, it logs the components included in the build. This list can be useful for debugging the inclusion/exclusion of certain components.

Multiple components with the same name

When ESP-IDF is collecting all the components to compile, it will do this in the order specified by COMPONENT_DIRS; by default, this means ESP-IDF’s internal components first, then the project’s components, and finally any components set in EXTRA_COMPONENT_DIRS. If two or more of these directories contain component sub-directories with the same name, the component in the last place searched is used. This allows, for example, overriding ESP-IDF components with a modified version by copying that component from the ESP-IDF components directory to the project components directory and then modifying it there. If used in this way, the ESP-IDF directory itself can remain untouched.

Minimal Component CMakeLists

The minimal component CMakeLists.txt file is as follows:

set(COMPONENT_SRCS "foo.c")
  • COMPONENT_SRCS is a (space-separated) list of source files (*.c, *.cpp, *.cc, *.S). These source files will be compiled into the component library.
  • COMPONENT_ADD_INCLUDEDIRS is a (space-separated) list of directories to add to the global include search path for any component which requires this component, and also the main source files.
  • register_component() is required to add the component (using the variables set above) to the build. A library with the name of the component will be built and linked into the final app. If this step is skipped (perhaps due to use of a CMake if function or similar), this component will not be part of the build.

Directories are usually specified relative to the CMakeLists.txt file itself, although they can be absolute.

See example component CMakeLists for more complete component CMakeLists.txt examples.

Preset Component Variables

The following component-specific variables are available for use inside component CMakeLists, but should not be modified:

  • COMPONENT_PATH: The component directory. Evaluates to the absolute path of the directory containing The component path cannot contain spaces. This is the same as the CMAKE_CURRENT_SOURCE_DIR variable.
  • COMPONENT_NAME: Name of the component. Same as the name of the component directory.

The following variables are set at the project level, but available for use in component CMakeLists:

  • PROJECT_NAME: Name of the project, as set in project Makefile
  • PROJECT_PATH: Absolute path of the project directory containing the project Makefile. Same as the CMAKE_SOURCE_DIR variable.
  • COMPONENTS: Names of all components that are included in this build, formatted as a semicolon-delimited CMake list.
  • CONFIG_*: Each value in the project configuration has a corresponding variable available in make. All names begin with CONFIG_. More information here.
  • IDF_VER: Git version of ESP-IDF (produced by git describe)

If you modify any of these variables inside CMakeLists.txt then this will not prevent other components from building but it may make your component hard to build and/or debug.

  • COMPONENT_ADD_INCLUDEDIRS: Paths, relative to the component directory, which will be added to the include search path for all other components which require this one. If an include directory is only needed to compile this specific component, add it to COMPONENT_PRIV_INCLUDEDIRS instead.

  • COMPONENT_REQUIRES is a (space-separated) list of components that are required to include this project’s header files into other components. If this component has a header file in a COMPONENT_ADD_INCLUDEDIRS directory that includes a header from another component, that component should be listed in COMPONENT_REQUIRES. Requirements are recursive.

    The COMPONENT_REQUIRES list can be empty because some very common components (like newlib for libc, freertos for RTOS functions, etc) are always required by all components. This list is found in the project-level variable COMPONENT_REQUIRES_COMMON.

    If a component only requires another component’s headers to compile its source files (not for including this component’s headers), then these components should be listed in COMPONENT_PRIV_REQUIRES instead.

    See Component Requirements for more details.

Optional Component-Specific Variables

The following variables can be set inside to control the build of that component:

  • COMPONENT_PRIV_INCLUDEDIRS: Directory paths, must be relative to the component directory, which will be added to the include search path for this component’s source files only.
  • COMPONENT_PRIV_REQUIRES is a (space-separated) list of components that are required to either compile or link this component’s source files. These components’ header paths do not propagate to other components which require it, they are only used to compile this component’s sources. See Component Requirements for more details.
  • COMPONENT_SRCS: Paths to individual source files to compile as part of the component. This is the recommended way of adding source files to the build.
  • COMPONENT_SRCDIRS: Directory paths, must be relative to the component directory, which will be searched for source files (*.cpp, *.c, *.S). Source files are globbed from the listed directories and compiled as part of the component in place of COMPONENT_SRCS, i.e. setting this will cause COMPONENT_SRCS to be ignored. This can be a convenient way of including source files to the components en masse, but is generally not recommended due to caveats attached to CMake globbing (see File Globbing & Incremental Builds).
  • COMPONENT_SRCEXCLUDE: Paths to source files to exclude from component. Can be set in conjunction with COMPONENT_SRCDIRS if there is a directory with a large number of source files to include in the component but one or more source files which should not be. Paths can be specified relative to the component directory or absolute.


If you don’t set COMPONENT_SRCDIRS or COMPONENT_SRCS, your component won’t compile a library but it may still add include paths for use when compiling other components.

Controlling Component Compilation

To pass compiler options when compiling source files belonging to a particular component, use the component_compile_options function:


This is a wrapper around the CMake target_compile_options command.

To apply the compilation flags to a single source file, use the CMake set_source_files_properties command:


This can be useful if there is upstream code that emits warnings.

When using these commands, place them after the register_component() line in the component CMakeLists file.

Component Configuration

Each component can also have a Kconfig file, alongside CMakeLists.txt. This contains configuration settings to add to the configuration menu for this component.

These settings are found under the “Component Settings” menu when menuconfig is run.

To create a component Kconfig file, it is easiest to start with one of the Kconfig files distributed with ESP-IDF.

For an example, see Adding conditional configuration.

Preprocessor Definitions

The ESP-IDF build system adds the following C preprocessor definitions on the command line:

  • ESP_PLATFORM — Can be used to detect that build happens within ESP-IDF.
  • IDF_VER — Defined to a git version string. E.g. v2.0 for a tagged release or v1.0-275-g0efaa4f for an arbitrary commit.

Component Requirements

When compiling each component, the ESP-IDF build system recursively evaluates its components.

Each component’s source file is compiled with these include path directories:

  • The COMPONENT_ADD_INCLUDEDIRS set by all components in the current component’s COMPONENT_REQUIRES and COMPONENT_PRIV_REQUIRES variables (ie all the current component’s public and private dependencies).
  • All of the COMPONENT_REQUIRES of those components, evaluated recursively (ie all public dependencies of this component’s dependencies, recursively expanded).

When writing a component

  • COMPONENT_REQUIRES should be set to all components whose header files are #included from the public header files of this component.
  • COMPONENT_PRIV_REQUIRES should be set to all components whose header files are #included from any source files of this component, unless already listed in COMPONENT_REQUIRES. Or any component which is required to be linked in order for this component to function correctly.
  • COMPONENT_REQUIRES and/or COMPONENT_PRIV_REQUIRES should be set before calling register_component().
  • The values of COMPONENT_REQUIRES and COMPONENT_PRIV_REQUIRES should not depend on any configuration choices (CONFIG_xxx macros). This is because requirements are expanded before configuration is loaded. Other component variables (like include paths or source files) can depend on configuration choices.
  • Not setting either or both REQUIRES variables is fine. If the component has no requirements except for the “common” components needed for RTOS, libc, etc (COMPONENT_REQUIRES_COMMON) then both variables can be empty or unset.

When creating a project

  • By default, every component is included in the build.
  • If you set the COMPONENTS variable to a minimal list of components used directly by your project, then the build will include: - Components mentioned explicitly in COMPONENTS. - Those components’ requirements (evaluated recursively). - The “common” components that every component depends on.
  • Setting COMPONENTS to the minimal list of required components can significantly reduce compile times.

Requirements in the build system implementation

  • Very early in the CMake configuration process, the script expand_requirements.cmake is run. This script does a partial evaluation of all component CMakeLists.txt files and builds a graph of component requirements (this graph may have cycles). The graph is used to generate a file component_depends.cmake in the build directory.
  • The main CMake process then includes this file and uses it to determine the list of components to include in the build (internal BUILD_COMPONENTS variable).
  • Configuration is then evaluated for the components included in the build.
  • Each component is included in the build normally and the CMakeLists.txt file is evaluated again to add the component libraries to the build.

Build Process Internals

For full details about CMake and CMake commands, see the CMake v3.5 documentation.

project.cmake contents

When included from a project CMakeLists file, the project.cmake file defines some utility modules and global variables and then sets IDF_PATH if it was not set in the system environment.

It also defines an overridden custom version of the built-in CMake project function. This function is overridden to add all of the ESP-IDF specific project functionality.

project function

The custom project() function performs the following steps:

  • Evaluates component dependencies and builds the BUILD_COMPONENTS list of components to include in the build (see above).
  • Finds all components in the project (searching COMPONENT_DIRS and filtering by COMPONENTS if this is set).
  • Loads the project configuration from the sdkconfig file and generates a sdkconfig.cmake file and a sdkconfig.h header. These define configuration values in CMake and C/C++, respectively. If the project configuration changes, cmake will automatically be re-run to re-generate these files and re-configure the project.
  • Sets the CMAKE_TOOLCHAIN_FILE variable to the ESP-IDF toolchain file with the Xtensa ESP32 toolchain.
  • Declare the actual cmake-level project by calling the CMake project function.
  • Load the git version. This includes some magic which will automatically re-run CMake if a new revision is checked out in git. See File Globbing & Incremental Builds.
  • Include project_include.cmake files from any components which have them.
  • Add each component to the build. Each component CMakeLists file calls register_component, calls the CMake add_library function to add a library and then adds source files, compile options, etc.
  • Add the final app executable to the build.
  • Go back and add inter-component dependencies between components (ie adding the public header directories of each component to each other component).

Browse the /tools/cmake/project.cmake file and supporting functions in /tools/cmake/idf_functions.cmake for more details.

Debugging CMake

Some tips for debugging the ESP-IDF CMake-based build system:

  • When CMake runs, it prints quite a lot of diagnostic information including lists of components and component paths.
  • Running cmake -DDEBUG=1 will produce more verbose diagnostic output from the IDF build system.
  • Running cmake with the --trace or --trace-expand options will give a lot of information about control flow. See the cmake command line documentation.

Warning On Undefined Variables

By default, passes the --warn-uninitialized flag to CMake so it will print a warning if an undefined variable is referenced in the build. This can be very useful to find buggy CMake files.

If you don’t want this behaviour, it can be disabled by passing --no-warnings to

Overriding Parts of the Project


For components that have build requirements which must be evaluated before any component CMakeLists files are evaluated, you can create a file called project_include.cmake in the component directory. This CMake file is included when project.cmake is evaluating the entire project.

project_include.cmake files are used inside ESP-IDF, for defining project-wide build features such as command line arguments and the bootloader “special app”.

Note that project_include.cmake isn’t necessary for the most common component uses - such as adding include directories to the project, or LDFLAGS to the final linking step. These values can be customised via the CMakeLists.txt file itself. See Optional Project Variables for details.

Take great care when setting variables or targets in a project_include.cmake file. As the values are included into the top-level project CMake pass, they can influence or break functionality across all components!


This is an equivalent to project_include.cmake for Component Configuration KConfig files. If you want to include configuration options at the top-level of menuconfig, rather than inside the “Component Configuration” sub-menu, then these can be defined in the KConfig.projbuild file alongside the CMakeLists.txt file.

Take care when adding configuration values in this file, as they will be included across the entire project configuration. Where possible, it’s generally better to create a KConfig file for Component Configuration.

Configuration-Only Components

Special components which contain no source files, only Kconfig.projbuild and KConfig, can have a one-line CMakeLists.txt file which calls the function register_config_only_component(). This function will include the component in the project build, but no library will be built and no header files will be added to any include paths.

If a CMakeLists.txt file doesn’t call register_component() or register_config_only_component(), it will be excluded from the project entirely. This may sometimes be desirable, depending on the project configuration.

Example Component CMakeLists

Because the build environment tries to set reasonable defaults that will work most of the time, component CMakeLists.txt can be very small or even empty (see Minimal Component CMakeLists). However, overriding component variables is usually required for some functionality.

Here are some more advanced examples of component CMakeLists files.

Adding conditional configuration

The configuration system can be used to conditionally compile some files depending on the options selected in the project configuration.


    bool "Enable the BAR feature."
        This enables the BAR feature of the FOO component.


set(COMPONENT_SRCS "foo.c" "more_foo.c")

    list(APPEND COMPONENT_SRCS "bar.c")

This example makes use of the CMake if function and list APPEND function.

This can also be used to select or stub out an implementation, as such:


    bool "Enable LCD output."
        Select this if your board has a LCD.

    bool "Output console text to LCD"
    depends on ENABLE_LCD_OUTPUT
        Select this to output debugging output to the lcd

    bool "Output temperature plots to LCD"
    depends on ENABLE_LCD_OUTPUT
        Select this to output temperature plots


   set(COMPONENT_SRCS lcd-real.c lcd-spi.c)
   set(COMPONENT_SRCS lcd-dummy.c)

# We need font if either console or plot is enabled
  list(APPEND COMPONENT_SRCS "font.c")

Source Code Generation

Some components will have a situation where a source file isn’t supplied with the component itself but has to be generated from another file. Say our component has a header file that consists of the converted binary data of a BMP file, converted using a hypothetical tool called bmp2h. The header file is then included in as C source file called graphics_lib.c:

add_custom_command(OUTPUT logo.h
     COMMAND bmp2h -i ${COMPONENT_PATH}/logo.bmp -o log.h

add_custom_target(logo DEPENDS logo.h)
add_dependencies(${COMPONENT_NAME} logo)


This answer is adapted from the CMake FAQ entry, which contains some other examples that will also work with ESP-IDF builds.

In this example, logo.h will be generated in the current directory (the build directory) while logo.bmp comes with the component and resides under the component path. Because logo.h is a generated file, it should be cleaned when the project is cleaned. For this reason it is added to the ADDITIONAL_MAKE_CLEAN_FILES property.


If generating files as part of the project CMakeLists.txt file, not a component CMakeLists.txt, then use ${PROJECT_PATH} instead of ${COMPONENT_PATH} and ${PROJECT_NAME}.elf instead of ${COMPONENT_NAME}.)

If a a source file from another component included logo.h, then add_dependencies would need to be called to add a dependency between the two components, to ensure that the component source files were always compiled in the correct order.

Embedding Binary Data

Sometimes you have a file with some binary or text data that you’d like to make available to your component - but you don’t want to reformat the file as C source.

You can set a variable COMPONENT_EMBED_FILES in your component’s CMakeLists, giving space-delimited names of the files to embed:

set(COMPONENT_EMBED_FILES server_root_cert.der)

Or if the file is a string, you can use the variable COMPONENT_EMBED_TXTFILES. This will embed the contents of the text file as a null-terminated string:

set(COMPONENT_EMBED_TXTFILES server_root_cert.pem)

The file’s contents will be added to the .rodata section in flash, and are available via symbol names as follows:

extern const uint8_t server_root_cert_pem_start[] asm("_binary_server_root_cert_pem_start");
extern const uint8_t server_root_cert_pem_end[]   asm("_binary_server_root_cert_pem_end");

The names are generated from the full name of the file, as given in COMPONENT_EMBED_FILES. Characters /, ., etc. are replaced with underscores. The _binary prefix in the symbol name is added by objcopy and is the same for both text and binary files.

To embed a file into a project, rather than a component, you can call the function target_add_binary_data like this:

target_add_binary_data(myproject.elf "main/data.bin" TEXT)

Place this line after the project() line in your project CMakeLists.txt file. Replace myproject.elf with your project name. The final argument can be TEXT to embed a null-terminated string, or BINARY to embed the content as-is.

For an example of using this technique, see protocols/https_request - the certificate file contents are loaded from the text .pem file at compile time.

Fully Overriding The Component Build Process

Obviously, there are cases where all these recipes are insufficient for a certain component, for example when the component is basically a wrapper around another third-party component not originally intended to be compiled under this build system. In that case, it’s possible to forego the ESP-IDF build system entirely by using a CMake feature called ExternalProject. Example component CMakeLists:

# External build process for quirc, runs in source dir and
# produces libquirc.a
    BUILD_COMMAND make CC=${CMAKE_C_COMPILER} libquirc.a

 # Add libquirc.a to the build process
 add_library(quirc STATIC IMPORTED GLOBAL)
 add_dependencies(quirc quirc_build)

 set_target_properties(quirc PROPERTIES IMPORTED_LOCATION


(The above CMakeLists.txt can be used to create a component named quirc that builds the quirc project using its own Makefile.)

  • externalproject_add defines an external build system.
    • SOURCE_DIR, CONFIGURE_COMMAND, BUILD_COMMAND and INSTALL_COMMAND should always be set. CONFIGURE_COMMAND can be set to an empty string if the build system has no “configure” step. INSTALL_COMMAND will generally be empty for ESP-IDF builds.
    • Setting BUILD_IN_SOURCE means the build directory is the same as the source directory. Otherwise you can set BUILD_DIR.
    • Consult the ExternalProject documentation for more details about externalproject_add()
  • The second set of commands adds a library target, which points to the “imported” library file built by the external system. Some properties need to be set in order to add include directories and tell CMake where this file is.
  • Finally, the generated library is added to ADDITIONAL_MAKE_CLEAN_FILES. This means make clean will delete this library. (Note that the other object files from the build won’t be deleted.)


When using an external build process with PSRAM, remember to add -mfix-esp32-psram-cache-issue to the C compiler arguments. See CONFIG_SPIRAM_CACHE_WORKAROUND for details of this flag.

ExternalProject dependencies, clean builds

CMake has some unusual behaviour around external project builds:

  • ADDITIONAL_MAKE_CLEAN_FILES only works when “make” is used as the build system. If Ninja or an IDE build system is used, it won’t delete these files when cleaning.

  • However, the ExternalProject configure & build commands will always be re-run after a clean is run.

  • Therefore, there are two alternative recommended ways to configure the external build command:

    1. Have the external BUILD_COMMAND run a full clean compile of all sources. The build command will be run if any of the dependencies passed to externalproject_add with DEPENDS have changed, or if this is a clean build (ie any of clean, ninja clean, or make clean was run.)
    2. Have the external BUILD_COMMAND be an incremental build command. Pass the parameter BUILD_ALWAYS 1 to externalproject_add. This means the external project will be built each time a build is run, regardless of dependencies. This is only recommended if the external project has correct incremental build behaviour, and doesn’t take too long to run.

The best of these approaches for building an external project will depend on the project itself, its build system, and whether you anticipate needing to frequently recompile the project.

Custom sdkconfig defaults

For example projects or other projects where you don’t want to specify a full sdkconfig configuration, but you do want to override some key values from the ESP-IDF defaults, it is possible to create a file sdkconfig.defaults in the project directory. This file will be used when creating a new config from scratch, or when any new config value hasn’t yet been set in the sdkconfig file.

To override the name of this file, set the SDKCONFIG_DEFAULTS environment variable.

Flash arguments

There are some scenarios that we want to flash the target board without IDF. For this case we want to save the built binaries, and esptool write_flash arguments. It’s simple to write a script to save binaries and

After running a project build, the build directory contains binary output files (.bin files) for the project and also the following flashing data files:

  • flash_project_args contains arguments to flash the entire project (app, bootloader, partition table, PHY data if this is configured).
  • flash_app_args contains arguments to flash only the app.
  • flash_bootloader_args contains arguments to flash only the bootloader.

You can pass any of these flasher argument files to as follows:

python --chip esp32 write_flash @build/flash_project_args

Alternatively, it is possible to manually copy the parameters from the argument file and pass them on the command line.

The build directory also contains a generated file flasher_args.json which contains project flash information, in JSON format. This file is used by and can also be used by other tools which need information about the project build.

Building the Bootloader

The bootloader is built by default as part of build, or can be built standalone via bootloader.

The bootloader is a special “subproject” inside /components/bootloader/subproject. It has its own project CMakeLists.txt file and builds separate .ELF and .BIN files to the main project. However it shares its configuration and build directory with the main project.

The subproject is inserted as an external project from the top-level project, by the file /components/bootloader/project_include.cmake. The main build process runs CMake for the subproject, which includes discovering components (a subset of the main components) and generating a bootloader-specific config (derived from the main sdkconfig).

Writing Pure CMake Components

The ESP-IDF build system “wraps” CMake with the concept of “components”, and helper functions to automatically integrate these components into a project build.

However, underneath the concept of “components” is a full CMake build system. It is also possible to make a component which is pure CMake.

Here is an example minimal “pure CMake” component CMakeLists file for a component named json:

add_library(json STATIC

target_include_directories(json PUBLIC cJSON)
  • This is actually an equivalent declaration to the IDF json component /components/json/CMakeLists.txt.
  • This file is quite simple as there are not a lot of source files. For components with a large number of files, the globbing behaviour of ESP-IDF’s component logic can make the component CMakeLists style simpler.)
  • Any time a component adds a library target with the component name, the ESP-IDF build system will automatically add this to the build, expose public include directories, etc. If a component wants to add a library target with a different name, dependencies will need to be added manually via CMake commands.

File Globbing & Incremental Builds

The preferred way to include source files in an ESP-IDF component is to list them manually in COMPONENT_SRCS:

set(COMPONENT_SRCS library/a.c library/b.c platform/platform.c)

This preference reflects the CMake best practice of manually listing source files. This could, however, be inconvenient when there are lots of source files to add to the build. The ESP-IDF build system provides an alternative way for specifying source files using COMPONENT_SRCDIRS:

set(COMPONENT_SRCDIRS library platform)

This uses globbing behind the scenes to find source files in the specified directories. Be aware, however, that if a new source file is added and this method is used, then CMake won’t know to automatically re-run and this file won’t be added to the build.

The trade-off is acceptable when you’re adding the file yourself, because you can trigger a clean build or run reconfigure to manually re-run CMake. However, the problem gets harder when you share your project with others who may check out a new version using a source control tool like Git…

For components which are part of ESP-IDF, we use a third party Git CMake integration module (/tools/cmake/third_party/GetGitRevisionDescription.cmake) which automatically re-runs CMake any time the repository commit changes. This means if you check out a new ESP-IDF version, CMake will automatically rerun.

For project components (not part of ESP-IDF), there are a few different options:

  • If keeping your project file in Git, ESP-IDF will automatically track the Git revision and re-run CMake if the revision changes.
  • If some components are kept in a third git repository (not the project repository or ESP-IDF repository), you can add a call to the git_describe function in a component CMakeLists file in order to automatically trigger re-runs of CMake when the Git revision changes.
  • If not using Git, remember to manually run reconfigure whenever a source file may change.
  • To avoid this problem entirely, use COMPONENT_SRCS to list all source files in project components.

The best option will depend on your particular project and its users.

Build System Metadata

For integration into IDEs and other build systems, when CMake runs the build process generates a number of metadata files in the build/ directory. To regenerate these files, run cmake or reconfigure (or any other build command).

  • compile_commands.json is a standard format JSON file which describes every source file which is compiled in the project. A CMake feature generates this file, and many IDEs know how to parse it.
  • project_description.json contains some general information about the ESP-IDF project, configured paths, etc.
  • flasher_args.json contains arguments to flash the project’s binary files. There are also flash_*_args files which can be used directly with See Flash arguments.
  • CMakeCache.txt is the CMake cache file which contains other information about the CMake process, toolchain, etc.
  • config/sdkconfig.json is a JSON-formatted version of the project configuration values.
  • config/kconfig_menus.json is a JSON-formatted version of the menus shown in menuconfig, for use in external IDE UIs.

JSON Configuration Server

A tool called is provided to allow IDEs to easily integrate with the configuration system logic. is designed to run in the background and interact with a calling process by reading and writing JSON over process stdin & stdout.

You can run from a project via confserver or ninja confserver, or a similar target triggered from a different build generator.

The config server outputs human-readable errors and warnings on stderr and JSON on stdout. On startup, it will output the full values of each configuration item in the system as a JSON dictionary, and the available ranges for values which are range constrained. The same information is contained in sdkconfig.json:

{"version": 1, "values": { "ITEM": "value", "ITEM_2": 1024, "ITEM_3": false }, "ranges" : { "ITEM_2" : [ 0, 32768 ] } }

Only visible configuration items are sent. Invisible/disabled items can be parsed from the static kconfig_menus.json file which also contains the menu structure and other metadata (descriptions, types, ranges, etc.)

The Configuration Server will then wait for input from the client. The client passes a request to change one or more values, as a JSON object followed by a newline:

{"version": "1", "set": {"SOME_NAME": false, "OTHER_NAME": true } }

The Configuration Server will parse this request, update the project sdkconfig file, and return a full list of changes:

{"version": 1, "values": {"SOME_NAME": false, "OTHER_NAME": true , "DEPENDS_ON_SOME_NAME": null}}

Items which are now invisible/disabled will return value null. Any item which is newly visible will return its newly visible current value.

If the range of a config item changes, due to conditional range depending on another value, then this is also sent:

{"version": 1, "values": {"OTHER_NAME": true }, "ranges" : { "HAS_RANGE" : [ 3, 4 ] } }

If invalid data is passed, an “error” field is present on the object:

{"version": 1, "values": {}, "error": ["The following config symbol(s) were not visible so were not updated: NOT_VISIBLE_ITEM"]}

By default, no config changes are written to the sdkconfig file. Changes are held in memory until a “save” command is sent:

{"version": 1, "save": null }

To reload the config values from a saved file, discarding any changes in memory, a “load” command can be sent:

{"version": 1, "load": null }

The value for both “load” and “save” can be a new pathname, or “null” to load/save the previous pathname.

The response to a “load” command is always the full set of config values and ranges, the same as when the server is initially started.

Any combination of “load”, “set”, and “save” can be sent in a single command and commands are executed in that order. Therefore it’s possible to load config from a file, set some config item values and then save to a file in a single command.


The configuration server does not automatically load any changes which are applied externally to the sdkconfig file. Send a “load” command or restart the server if the file is externally edited.


The configuration server does not re-run CMake to regenerate other build files or metadata files after sdkconfig is updated. This will happen automatically the next time CMake or is run.

Migrating from ESP-IDF GNU Make System

Some aspects of the CMake-based ESP-IDF build system are very similar to the older GNU Make-based system. For example, to adapt a file to CMakeLists.txt variables like COMPONENT_ADD_INCLUDEDIRS and COMPONENT_SRCDIRS can stay the same and the syntax only needs changing to CMake syntax.

Automatic Conversion Tool

An automatic project conversion tool is available in /tools/cmake/ Run this command line tool with the path to a project like this:

$IDF_PATH/tools/cmake/ /path/to/project_dir

The project directory must contain a Makefile, and GNU Make (make) must be installed and available on the PATH.

The tool will convert the project Makefile and any component files to their equivalent CMakeLists.txt files.

It does so by running make to expand the ESP-IDF build system variables which are set by the build, and then producing equivalent CMakelists files to set the same variables.

The conversion tool is not capable of dealing with complex Makefile logic or unusual targets. These will need to be converted by hand.

No Longer Available in CMake

Some features are significantly different or removed in the CMake-based system. The following variables no longer exist in the CMake-based build system:

  • COMPONENT_LIBRARY: Defaulted to $(COMPONENT_NAME).a, but the library name could be overriden by the component. The name of the component library can no longer be overriden by the component.
  • CC, LD, AR, OBJCOPY: Full paths to each tool from the gcc xtensa cross-toolchain. Use CMAKE_C_COMPILER, CMAKE_C_LINK_EXECUTABLE, CMAKE_OBJCOPY, etc instead. Full list here.
  • HOSTCC, HOSTLD, HOSTAR: Full names of each tool from the host native toolchain. These are no longer provided, external projects should detect any required host toolchain manually.
  • COMPONENT_ADD_LDFLAGS: Used to override linker flags. Use the CMake target_link_libraries command instead.
  • COMPONENT_ADD_LINKER_DEPS: List of files that linking should depend on. target_link_libraries will usually infer these dependencies automatically. For linker scripts, use the provided custom CMake function target_linker_scripts.
  • COMPONENT_SUBMODULES: No longer used, the build system will automatically enumerate all submodules in the ESP-IDF repository.
  • COMPONENT_EXTRA_INCLUDES: Used to be an alternative to COMPONENT_PRIV_INCLUDEDIRS for absolute paths. Use COMPONENT_PRIV_INCLUDEDIRS for all cases now (can be relative or absolute).
  • COMPONENT_OBJS: Previously, component sources could be specified as a list of object files. Now they can be specified as an list of source files via COMPONENT_SRCS.
  • COMPONENT_OBJEXCLUDE: Has been replaced with COMPONENT_SRCEXCLUDE. Specify source files (as absolute paths or relative to component directory), instead.
  • COMPONENT_EXTRA_CLEAN: Set property ADDITIONAL_MAKE_CLEAN_FILES instead but note CMake has some restrictions around this functionality.
  • COMPONENT_OWNBUILDTARGET & COMPONENT_OWNCLEANTARGET: Use CMake ExternalProject instead. See Fully Overriding The Component Build Process for full details.
  • COMPONENT_CONFIG_ONLY: Call register_config_only_component() instead. See Configuration-Only Components.
  • CFLAGS, CPPFLAGS, CXXFLAGS: Use equivalent CMake commands instead. See Controlling Component Compilation.

No Default Values

The following variables no longer have default values:


No Longer Necessary

It is no longer necessary to set COMPONENT_SRCDIRS if setting COMPONENT_SRCS (in fact, in the CMake-based system COMPONENT_SRCS is ignored if COMPONENT_SRCDIRS is set).

Flashing from make

make flash and similar targets still work to build and flash. However, project sdkconfig no longer specifies serial port and baud rate. Environment variables can be used to override these. See Flashing with ninja or make for more details.