High-Level Interrupts

The Xtensa architecture has support for 32 interrupts, divided over 8 levels, plus an assortment of exceptions. On the ESP32, the interrupt mux allows most interrupt sources to be routed to these interrupts using the interrupt allocator. Normally, interrupts will be written in C, but ESP-IDF allows high-level interrupts to be written in assembly as well, allowing for very low interrupt latencies.

Interrupt Levels






Exception and level 0 interrupts. Handled by ESP-IDF



Medium level interrupts. Handled by ESP-IDF



Normally used by ESP-IDF debug logic



Free to use



Free to use



Debug exception. Called on e.g. a BREAK instruction.

Using these symbols is done by creating an assembly file (suffix .S) and defining the named symbols, like this:

    .section .iram1,"ax"
    .global     xt_highint5
    .type       xt_highint5,@function
    .align      4
    ... your code here
    rsr     a0, EXCSAVE_5
    rfi     5

For a real-life example, see the esp_system/port/soc/esp32/dport_panic_highint_hdl.S file; the panic handler interrupt is implemented there.


  • Do not call C code from a high-level interrupt; because these interrupts still run in critical sections, this can cause crashes. (The panic handler interrupt does call normal C code, but this is OK because there is no intention of returning to the normal code flow afterwards.)

  • Make sure your assembly code gets linked in. If the interrupt handler symbol is the only symbol the rest of the code uses from this file, the linker will take the default ISR instead and not link the assembly file into the final project. To get around this, in the assembly file, define a symbol, like this:

         .global ld_include_my_isr_file

The symbol is called ld_include_my_isr_file here but can have any arbitrary name not defined anywhere else.

Then, in the component CMakeLists.txt, add this file as an unresolved symbol to the ld command line arguments:

target_link_libraries(${COMPONENT_TARGET} "-u ld_include_my_isr_file")

If using the legacy Make build system, add the following to component.mk, instead:

COMPONENT_ADD_LDFLAGS := -u ld_include_my_isr_file

This should cause the linker to always include a file defining ld_include_my_isr_file, causing the ISR to always be linked in.

  • High-level interrupts can be routed and handled using esp_intr_alloc and associated functions. The handler and handler arguments to esp_intr_alloc must be NULL, however.

  • In theory, medium priority interrupts could also be handled in this way. For now, ESP-IDF does not support this.