FreeRTOS Overview



FreeRTOS is an open source RTOS (real-time operating system) kernel that is integrated into ESP-IDF as a component. Thus, all ESP-IDF applications and many ESP-IDF components are written based on FreeRTOS. The FreeRTOS kernel is ported to all architectures (i.e., Xtensa and RISC-V) available of ESP chips.

Furthermore, ESP-IDF provides different implementations of FreeRTOS in order to support SMP (Symmetric Multiprocessing) on multi-core ESP chips. This document provides an overview of the FreeRTOS component, the different FreeRTOS implementations offered by ESP-IDF, and the common aspects across all implementations.


The official FreeRTOS (henceforth referred to as Vanilla FreeRTOS) is a single-core RTOS. In order to support the various multi-core ESP targets, ESP-IDF supports different FreeRTOS implementations as listed below:


ESP-IDF FreeRTOS is a FreeRTOS implementation based on Vanilla FreeRTOS v10.5.1, but contains significant modifications to support SMP. ESP-IDF FreeRTOS only supports two cores at most (i.e., dual core SMP), but is more optimized for this scenario by design. For more details regarding ESP-IDF FreeRTOS and its modifications, please refer to the FreeRTOS (IDF) document.


ESP-IDF FreeRTOS is currently the default FreeRTOS implementation for ESP-IDF.

Amazon SMP FreeRTOS

Amazon SMP FreeRTOS is an SMP implementation of FreeRTOS that is officially supported by Amazon. Amazon SMP FreeRTOS is able to support N-cores (i.e., more than two cores). Amazon SMP FreeRTOS can be enabled via the CONFIG_FREERTOS_SMP option. For more details regarding Amazon SMP FreeRTOS, please refer to the official Amazon SMP FreeRTOS documentation.


The Amazon SMP FreeRTOS implementation (and its port in ESP-IDF) are currently in experimental/beta state. Therefore, significant behavioral changes and breaking API changes can occur.


Kernel Configuration

Vanilla FreeRTOS requires that ports and applications configure the kernel by adding various #define config... macro definitions to the FreeRTOSConfig.h header file. Vanilla FreeRTOS supports a list of kernel configuration options which allow various kernel behaviors and features to be enabled or disabled.

However, for all FreeRTOS ports in ESP-IDF, the FreeRTOSConfig.h header file is considered private and must not be modified by users. A large number of kernel configuration options in FreeRTOSConfig.h are hard-coded as they are either required/not supported by ESP-IDF. All kernel configuration options that are configurable by the user are exposed via menuconfig under Component Config/FreeRTOS/Kernel.

For the full list of user configurable kernel options, see Project Configuration. The list below highlights some commonly used kernel configuration options:

  • CONFIG_FREERTOS_UNICORE runs FreeRTOS only on Core 0. Note that this is not equivalent to running Vanilla FreeRTOS. Furthermore, this option may affect behavior of components other than freertos. For more details regarding the effects of running FreeRTOS on a single core, refer to Single-Core Mode (if using ESP-IDF FreeRTOS) or the official Amazon SMP FreeRTOS documentation. Alternatively, users can also search for occurrences of CONFIG_FREERTOS_UNICORE in the ESP-IDF components.


As ESP32-C3 is a single core SoC, the CONFIG_FREERTOS_UNICORE configuration is always set.

Port Configuration

All other FreeRTOS related configuration options that are not part of the kernel configuration are exposed via menuconfig under Component Config/FreeRTOS/Port. These options configure aspects such as:

  • The FreeRTOS ports themselves (e.g., tick timer selection, ISR stack size)

  • Additional features added to the FreeRTOS implementation or ports

Using FreeRTOS

Application Entry Point

Unlike Vanilla FreeRTOS, users of FreeRTOS in ESP-IDF must never call vTaskStartScheduler() and vTaskEndScheduler(). Instead, ESP-IDF starts FreeRTOS automatically. Users must define a void app_main(void) function which acts as the entry point for user's application and is automatically invoked on ESP-IDF startup.

  • Typically, users would spawn the rest of their application's task from app_main.

  • The app_main function is allowed to return at any point (i.e., before the application terminates).

  • The app_main function is called from the main task.

Background Tasks

During startup, ESP-IDF and the FreeRTOS kernel automatically create multiple tasks that run in the background (listed in the the table below).

List of Tasks Created During Startup

Task Name


Stack Size



Idle Tasks (IDLEx)

An idle task (IDLEx) is created for (and pinned to) each core, where x is the core's number. x is dropped when single-core configuration is enabled.


Core x


FreeRTOS Timer Task (Tmr Svc)

FreeRTOS will create the Timer Service/Daemon Task if any FreeRTOS Timer APIs are called by the application


Core 0


Main Task (main)

Task that simply calls app_main. This task will self delete when app_main returns




IPC Tasks (ipcx)

When CONFIG_FREERTOS_UNICORE is false, an IPC task (ipcx) is created for (and pinned to) each core. IPC tasks are used to implement the Inter-processor Call (IPC) feature.


Core x


ESP Timer Task (esp_timer)

ESP-IDF creates the ESP Timer Task used to process ESP Timer callbacks


Core 0



Note that if an application uses other ESP-IDF features (e.g., Wi-Fi or Bluetooth), those features may create their own background tasks in addition to the tasks listed in the table above.

FreeRTOS Additions

ESP-IDF provides some supplemental features to FreeRTOS such as Ring Buffers, ESP-IDF style Tick and Idle Hooks, and TLSP deletion callbacks. See FreeRTOS (Supplemental Features) for more details.

FreeRTOS Heap

Vanilla FreeRTOS provides its own selection of heap implementations. However, ESP-IDF already implements its own heap (see Heap Memory Allocation), thus ESP-IDF does not make use of the heap implementations provided by Vanilla FreeRTOS. All FreeRTOS ports in ESP-IDF map FreeRTOS memory allocation or free calls (e.g., pvPortMalloc() and pvPortFree()) to ESP-IDF heap API (i.e., heap_caps_malloc() and heap_caps_free()). However, the FreeRTOS ports ensure that all dynamic memory allocated by FreeRTOS is placed in internal memory.


If users wish to place FreeRTOS tasks/objects in external memory, users can use the following methods: