Porting Tock

This guide covers how to port Tock to a new platform.

This guide is a work in progress. Comments and pull requests are appreciated!


At a high level, to port Tock to a new platform you will need to create a new "board" as a crate, as well as potentially add additional "chip" and "arch" crates. The board crate specifies the exact resources available on a hardware platform by stitching capsules together with the chip crates (e.g. assigning pins, setting baud rates, allocating hardware peripherals etc.). The chip crate implements the peripheral drivers (e.g. UART, GPIO, alarms, etc.) for a specific microcontroller by implementing the traits found in kernel/src/hil. If your platform uses a microcontroller already supported by Tock then you can use the existing chip crate. The arch crate implements the low-level code for a specific hardware architecture (e.g. what happens when the chip first boots and how system calls are implemented).

Is Tock a Good Fit for my Hardware?

Before porting Tock to a new platform or microcontroller, you should determine if Tock is a good fit. While we do not have an exact rubric, there are some requirements that we generally look for:

  • Must have requirements:

    • Memory protection support. This is generally the MPU on Cortex-M platforms or the PMP on RISC-V platforms.
    • At least 32-bit support. Tock is not designed for 16-bit platforms.
    • Enough RAM and flash to support userspace applications. "Enough" is underspecified, but generally boards should have at least 64 kB of RAM and 128 kB of flash.
  • Generally expected requirements:

    • The platform should be 32-bit. Tock may support 64-bit in the future.
    • The platform should be single core. A multicore CPU is OK, but the expectation is that only one core will be used with Tock.

Crate Details

This section includes more details on what is required to implement each type of crate for a new hardware platform.

arch Crate

Tock currently supports the ARM Cortex-M0, Cortex-M3, and Cortex M4, and the rv32i architectures. There is not much architecture-specific code in Tock, the list is pretty much:

  • Syscall entry/exit
  • Interrupt configuration
  • Top-half interrupt handlers
  • MPU configuration (if appropriate)
  • Power management configuration (if appropriate)

It would likely be fairly easy to port Tock to another ARM Cortex M (specifically the M0+, M23, M4F, or M7) or another rv32i variant. It will probably be more work to port Tock to other architectures. While we aim to be architecture agnostic, this has only been tested on a small number of architectures.

If you are interested in porting Tock to a new architecture, it's likely best to reach out to us via email or Slack before digging in too deep.

chip Crate

The chip crate is specific to a particular microcontroller, but should attempt to be general towards a family of microcontrollers. For example, support for the nRF58240 and nRF58230 microcontrollers is shared in the chips/nrf52 and chips/nrf5x crates. This helps reduce duplicated code and simplifies adding new specific microcontrollers.

The chip crate contains microcontroller-specific implementations of the interfaces defined in kernel/src/hil.

Chips have a lot of features and Tock supports a large number of interfaces to express them. Build up the implementation of a new chip incrementally. Get reset and initialization code working. Set it up to run on the chip's default clock and add a GPIO interface. That's a good point to put together a minimal board that uses the chip and validate with an end-to-end userland application that uses GPIOs.

Once you have something small like GPIOs working, it's a great time to open a pull request to Tock. This lets others know about your efforts with this chip and can hopefully attract additional support. It also is a chance to get some feedback from the Tock core team before you have written too much code.

Moving forward, chips tend to break down into reasonable units of work. Implement something like kernel::hil::UART for your chip, then submit a pull request. Pick a new peripheral and repeat!

Historically, Tock chips defined peripherals as static mut global variables, which made them easy to access but encouraged use of unsafe code and prevented boards from instantiating only the set of peripherals they needed. Now, peripherals are instantiated at runtime in main.rs, which resolves these issues. To prevent each board from having to instantiate peripherals individually, chips should provide a ChipNameDefaultPeripherals struct that defines and creates all peripherals available for the chip in Tock. This will be used by upstream boards using the chip, without forcing the overhead and code size of all peripherals on more minimal out-of-tree boards.

Tips and Tools

  • Using System View Description (SVD) files for specific microcontrollers can help with setting up the register mappings for individual peripherals. See the tools/svd2regs.py tool (./svd2regs.py -h) for help with automatically generating the register mappings.

board Crate

The board crate, in boards/src, is specific to a physical hardware platform. The board file essentially configures the kernel to support the specific hardware setup. This includes instantiating drivers for sensors, mapping communication buses to those sensors, configuring GPIO pins, etc.

Tock is leveraging "components" for setting up board crates. Components are contained structs that include all of the setup code for a particular driver, and only require boards to pass in the specific options that are unique to the particular platform. For example:

fn main() {
let isl29035 = components::isl29035::Isl29035Component::new(sensors_i2c, mux_alarm)

let ambient_light = components::isl29035::AmbientLightComponent::new(

instantiates the components for a specific light sensor (the ISL29035) and for an ambient light sensor interface for userspace. Board initiation should be largely done using components, but not all components have been created yet, so board files are generally a mix of components and verbose driver instantiation. The best bet is to start from an existing board's main.rs file and adapt it. Initially, you will likely want to delete most of the capsules and add them slowly as you get things working.

Warning: [capsule name]_component_static!() macros are singletons, and must not be called in a loop or within a function. These macros should instead be instantiated directly in main().

Component Creation

Creating a component for a capsule has two main benefits: 1) all subtleties and any complexities with setting up the capsule can be contained in the component, reducing the chance for error when using the capsule, and 2) the details of instantiating a capsule are abstracted from the high-level setup of a board. Therefore, Tock encourages boards to use components for their main startup process.

Basic components generally have a structure like the following simplified example for a Console component:

fn main() {
use core::mem::MaybeUninit;

/// Helper macro that calls `static_buf!()`. This helps allow components to be
/// instantiated multiple times.
macro_rules! console_component_static {
    () => {{
        let console = kernel::static_buf!(capsules::console::Console<'static>);

/// Main struct that represents the component. This should contain all
/// configuration and resources needed to instantiate this capsule.
pub struct ConsoleComponent {
    uart: &'static capsules::virtual_uart::UartDevice<'static>,

impl ConsoleComponent {
    /// The constructor for the component where the resources and configuration
    /// are provided.
    pub fn new(
        uart: &'static capsules::virtual_uart::UartDevice,
    ) -> ConsoleComponent {
        ConsoleComponent {

impl Component for ConsoleComponent {
    /// The statically defined (using `static_buf!()`) structures where the
    /// instantiated capsules will actually be stored.
    type StaticInput = &'static mut MaybeUninit<capsules::console::Console<'static>>;
    /// What will be returned to the user of the component.
    type Output = &'static capsules::console::Console<'static>;

    /// Initializes and configures the capsule.
    unsafe fn finalize(self, s: Self::StaticInput) -> Self::Output {
        /// Call `.write()` on the static buffer to set its contents with the
        /// constructor from the capsule.
        let console = s.write(console::Console::new(self.uart));

        /// Set any needed clients or other configuration steps.
        hil::uart::Transmit::set_transmit_client(self.uart, console);
        hil::uart::Receive::set_receive_client(self.uart, console);

        /// Return the static reference to the newly created capsule object.

Using a basic component like this console example looks like:

fn main() {
// in main.rs:

let console = ConsoleComponent::new(uart_device)

When creating components, keep the following steps in mind:

  • All static buffers needed for the component MUST be created using static_buf!() inside of a macro, and nowhere else. This is necessary to help allow components to be used multiple times (for example if a board has two temperature sensors). Because the same static_buf!() call cannot be executed multiple times, static_buf!() cannot be placed in a function, and must be called directly from main.rs. To preserve the ergonomics of components, we wrap the call to static_buf!() in a macro, and call the macro from main.rs instead of static_buf!() directly.

    The naming convention of the macro that wraps static_buf!() should be [capsule name]_component_static!() to indicate this is where the static buffers are created. The macro should only create static buffers.

  • All configuration and resources not related to static buffers should be passed to the new() constructor of the component object.

Finally, some capsules and resources are templated over chip-specific resources. This slightly complicates defining the static buffers for certain capsules. To ensure that components can be re-used across different boards and microcontrollers, components use the same macro strategy for other static buffers.

fn main() {
use core::mem::MaybeUninit;

macro_rules! alarm_mux_component_static {
    ($A: ty) => {{
        let alarm = kernel::static_buf!(capsules::virtual_alarm::MuxAlarm<'static, $A>);

pub struct AlarmMuxComponent<A: 'static + time::Alarm<'static>> {
    alarm: &'static A,

impl<A: 'static + time::Alarm<'static>> AlarmMuxComponent<A> {
    pub fn new(alarm: &'static A) -> AlarmMuxComponent<A> {
        AlarmMuxComponent { alarm }

impl<A: 'static + time::Alarm<'static>> Component for AlarmMuxComponent<A> {
    type StaticInput = &'static mut MaybeUninit<capsules::virtual_alarm::MuxAlarm<'static, A>>;
    type Output = &'static MuxAlarm<'static, A>;

    unsafe fn finalize(self, s: Self::StaticInput) -> Self::Output {
        let mux_alarm = s.write(MuxAlarm::new(self.alarm));

Here, the alarm_mux_component_static!() macro needs the type of the underlying alarm hardware. The usage looks like:

fn main() {
let mux_alarm = components::alarm::AlarmMuxComponent::new(&peripherals.ast)

Board Support

In addition to kernel code, boards also require some support files. These specify metadata such as the board name, how to load code onto the board, and anything special that userland applications may need for this board.

panic!s (aka io.rs)

Each board must author a custom routine to handle panic!s. Most panic! machinery is handled by the Tock kernel, but the board author must provide some minimalist access to hardware interfaces, specifically LEDs and/or UART.

As a first step, it is simplest to just get LED-based panic! working. Have your panic! handler set up a prominent LED and then call kernel::debug::panic_blink_forever.

If UART is available, the kernel is capable of printing a lot of very helpful additional debugging information. However, as we are in a panic! situation, it's important to strip this down to a minimalist implementation. In particular, the supplied UART must be synchronous (note that this in contrast to the rest of the kernel UART interfaces, which are all asynchronous). Usually implementing a very simple Writer that simply writes one byte at a time directly to the UART is easiest/best. It is not important that panic! UART writer be efficient. You can then replace the call to kernel::debug::panic_blink_forever with a call to kernel::debug::panic.

For largely historical reasons, panic implementations for all boards live in a file named io.rs adjacent to the board's main.rs file.

Board Cargo.toml, build.rs

Every board crate must author a top-level manifest, Cargo.toml. In general, you can probably simply copy this from another board, modifying the board name and author(s) as appropriate.

Note that Tock also provides a build script, boards/build.rs, that you should add to your Cargo.toml manifest. The build script simply adds a dependency on any link scripts to ensure the board is rebuilt when any changes.

Board Makefile

There is a Makefile in the root of every board crate, at a minimum, the board Makefile must include:

# Makefile for building the tock kernel for the Hail platform

TARGET=thumbv7em-none-eabi      # Target triple
PLATFORM=hail                   # Board name here

include ../Makefile.common      # ../ assumes board lives in $(TOCK)/boards/<board>

Tock provides boards/Makefile.common that drives most of the build system. In general, you should not need to dig into this Makefile -- if something doesn't seem to be working, hop on slack and ask.

Getting the built kernel onto a board

In addition to building the kernel, the board Makefile should include rules for getting code onto the board. This will naturally be fairly board-specific, but Tock does have two targets normally supplied:

  • make program: For "plug-'n-plug" loading. Usually these are boards with a bootloader or some other support IC. The expectation is that during normal operation, a user could simply plug in a board and type make program to load code.
  • make flash: For "more direct" loading. Usually this means that a JTAG or some equivalent interface is being used. Often it implies that external hardware is required, though some of the development kit boards have an integrated JTAG on-board, so external hardware is not a hard and fast rule.
  • make install: This should be an alias to either program or flash, whichever is the preferred approach for this board.

If you don't support program or flash, you should define an empty rule that explains how to program the board:

.PHONY: program
        echo "To program, run SPEICAL_COMMAND"
        exit 1

Every board must have a README.md file included in the top level of the crate. This file must:

  • Provide links to information about the platform and how to purchase/acquire the platform. If there are different versions of the platform the version used in testing should be clearly specified.
  • Include an overview on how to program the hardware, including any additional dependencies that are required.

Loading Apps

Ideally, Tockloader will support loading apps on to your board (perhaps with some flags set to specific values). If that is not the case, please create an issue on the Tockloader repo so we can update the tool to support loading code onto your board.

Common Pitfalls

  • Make sure you are careful when setting up the board main.rs file. In particular, it is important to ensure that all of the required set_client functions for capsules are called so that callbacks are not lost. Forgetting these often results in the platform looking like it doesn't do anything.

Adding a Platform to Tock Repository

After creating a new platform, we would be thrilled to have it included in mainline Tock. However, Tock has a few guidelines for the minimum requirements of a board that is merged into the main Tock repository:

  1. The hardware must be widely available. Generally that means the hardware platform can be purchased online.
  2. The port of Tock to the platform must include at least:
    • Console support so that debug!() and printf() work.
    • Timer support.
    • GPIO support with interrupt functionality.
  3. The contributor must be willing to maintain the platform, at least initially, and help test the platform for future releases.

With these requirements met we should be able to merge the platform into Tock relatively quickly. In the pull request to add the platform, you should add this checklist:

### New Platform Checklist

- [ ] Hardware is widely available.
- [ ] I can support the platform, which includes release testing for the
      platform, at least initially.
- Basic features are implemented:
  - [ ] `Console`, including `debug!()` and userspace `printf()`.
  - [ ] Timers.
  - [ ] GPIO with interrupts.