Porting Contiki‐NG to new platforms

This page provides a basic guide on how to port Contiki-NG to a new hardware device. The guide assumes that your device is an IoT-type device with the following characteristics:

  • A microcontroller (e.g. Arm Cortex, msp430- or avr-based), plus on-chip peripherals (such as UART, SPI, I2C, DMA…).

  • A radio (either integrated on the same chip as your MCU, or on a separate chip). This can be e.g. a standard IEEE 802.15.4 radio operating at the 2.4GHz band, a sub-ghz radio, or a BLE radio.

  • Various off-chip peripherals, e.g. LEDs, buttons, sensors.

This guide assumes that you understand the basics of the C programming language and of GNU make. It also assumes that you have already familiarised yourself with the basics of the Contiki-NG build system (doc:build-system), especially the concepts of TARGET, BOARD and MODULES.

Port Contiki-NG to your board and MCU

In a nutshell, creating a Contiki-NG port involves the following steps:

  • Adding support for your CPU. Simply speaking, this means adding support for everything that happens inside your device’s main chip. If your CPU is already supported, you can skip to the next step.

    • Developing drivers and arch-specific modules for your CPU.

    • Extending the Contiki-NG build system for your CPU.

  • Adding support for your platform. Simply speaking, this means adding support for everything that happens outside your device’s main chip (e.g. LEDs, buttons, sensors).

    • Developing drivers and arch-specific modules for your platform.

    • Extending the Contiki-NG build system for your platform.

  • Writing some examples.

  • Adding some compile tests for your port.

  • Creating API docs and guides.

CPU code

If your CPU is already supported by Contiki-NG, skip to the “Platform code” section of this guide.

If not, let’s assume that your MCU is called my-new-mcu.

  • Create a directory under arch/cpu/ and name it my-new-mcu.

  • Under arch/cpu/my-new-mcu, create the following files:

    • Makefile.my-new-mcu: This is where you will explain to the build system how to build firmware images suitable for your MCU.

    • my-new-mcu-conf.h: This is where you will put MCU-specific macros that users are expected to be able to modify (for example whether you want your internal watchdog timer to be enabled/disabled).

    • my-new-mcu-def.h: This is where you will put MCU-specific macros that users should not modify. One such example is the define for CLOCK_CONF_SIZE and the number of software clock ticks per second CLOCK_CONF_SECOND

    • doxygen-group.txt: This is where you will define where your CPU code’s documentation will be located in the API doc structure. See for example arch/cpu/cc2538/doxygen-group.txt.

Configure the build system

In all cases, your Makefile.my-new-mcu will need to specify your CPU-dependent source files that you will implement later. These are specified by appending to the CONTIKI_SOURCEFILES make variable. For example, after you have developed your CPU code, you are likely to end up with something like this:

#### CPU-dependent source files
CONTIKI_CPU_SOURCEFILES += soc.c clock.c rtimer-arch.c uart.c watchdog.c

DEBUG_IO_SOURCEFILES += dbg-printf.c dbg-snprintf.c dbg-sprintf.c strformat.c

USB_SOURCEFILES += usb-core.c cdc-acm.c usb-arch.c usb-serial.c cdc-acm-descriptors.c

#### This is what will actually instruct the system to build all of the above

If your MCU is cortex-based, you are very likely going to be able to use the existing CM3/CM4 build infrastructure. This could be as simple as including our CM3- or CM4-specific Makefile at the end of your Makefile.my-new-mcu. For example, if your MCU is a CM3:

include $(CONTIKI)/arch/cpu/arm/cortex-m/cm3/Makefile.cm3

This will automatically do most of the things you need to do to build Contiki-NG for CM3- or CM4-based systems. It will configure build targets, the toolchain and some common CFLAGS and LDFLAGS. You can always append to those in your Makefile.

If your MCU is not cortex-based, you have additional work to do. You will at least need to:

  • Specify your toolchain name and location by providing values for the CC, LD etc make variables.

  • Specify CFLAGS, LDFLAGS etc in order to build for your MCU.

  • Provide a compile rule. Here you have two options, either to use the rule in the top-level Makefile.include or create your own rule. To do the latter, you will have to set CUSTOM_RULE_C_TO_OBJECTDIR_O = 1 in your Makefile.

  • Provide a link rule. Here you have two options, either to use the link rule in the top-level Makefile.include or create your own link rule. To do the latter, you will have to set CUSTOM_RULE_LINK = 1 in your Makefile.

Generally-speaking, a Makefile.my-new-mcu will be very different for different MCUs and its impossible to provide an exhaustive guide of what needs to go in it, this largely depends on your requirements. As a rule of thumb, try to re-use existing build infrastructure where possible and consult existing CPU Makefiles for ideas and common practices. Do get in touch with questions if in doubt!

Develop MCU drivers

Contiki-NG provides its own platform-independent main() function (implemented in os/contiki-main.c). Depending on your CPU architecture/toolchain etc, you will need to specify that this function needs to be called at the end of your firmware’s entry point / CPU initialisation code.

You will then need to implement drivers to underpin the Contiki-NG timer infrastructure. As a bare minimum, you will need to provide:

  • A source for the software clock. Commonly, you will create a clock.c file and implement the functions required by the clock API. You will also most likely need to implement an interrupt handler that will update the software clock counter each time your selected hardware clock source ticks. See os/sys/clock.h for the function prototypes.

  • The arch-specific implementation of rtimers: This is likely to be in files named rtimer-arch.[ch]. See os/sys/rtimer.h.

Once timing drivers are in place, you will most likely want to implement a driver such that your device can print debugging output for you. Again, this is very CPU-dependent, but the main objective here is to reach a stage where printf in the code results in some console output that you are able to see. In some cases this means you will need to implement a UART driver and provide an implementation of putchar that outputs bytes over the UART. If your toolchain provides implementations of printf and related functions you can choose to use them. Or you can have a look at our lightweight implementations under os/lib/dbg-io.

It is recommended to proceed with providing implementations of functions to manipulate the global interrupt flag. Have a look at the API in os/sys/int-master.h.

When you reach this stage you should have all the CPU code you need to run a simple hello-world example and a simple example that uses Contiki-NG’s timers and events. You can continue with CPU drivers, or you can shift your attention to platform (off-chip) code (next section).

With interrupt manipulation in place, your MCU will support generic mutexes and critical sections. Generic mutexes rely on disabling/re-enabling interrupts. If your MCU features mutex-related instructions, you can choose to provide a mutex implementation that exploits those instructions and therefore does not rely on disabling the global interrupt. Such functions are already provided for Cortex-M MCUs. You may also choose to provide MCU-specific memory barriers (again, already supported for Cortex-M processors, as well as for msp430).

The following steps really depend on your priorities. On most cases and depending on your requirements, you will want to consider developing the following drivers:

  • A driver for your MCU’s internal watchdog timer, if it has one (API in os/dev/watchdog.h).

  • An implementation of the MCU-specific parts of the GPIO HAL (see os/dev/gpio-hal) for the API.

  • Serial line input. Commonly, by extending your UART driver so it can receive characters from a console. This will enable usage of the Contiki-NG shell.

  • A driver for your radio, if your MCU has on-chip radio capability. If it does, you will need to implement the arch-specific components of the API defined in os/dev/radio.h. Special attention must be paid if you wish for your radio to support TSCH. Detailed information on adding TSCH support to your radio can be found in the respective wiki page.

  • A driver for your MCU’s internal RNG, if it has one (API in os/lib/random.h).

  • Drivers that will allow you to use external peripherals, for example SPI, I2C, ADC. A HAL is defined for SPI (os/dev/spi.h), but not for the rest (yet!).

Interrupt handlers

If you are developing CPU code, you will almost certainly be required to implement hardware interrupt handlers. While doing so, please pay special attention to the fact that some Contiki-NG system and library functions are not safe to run within an interrupt context. More details in doc:multitasking-and-scheduling.

Platform code

If you are reading this, your CPU is either already supported by Contiki-NG, or you have already started adding support as per the instructions in the “CPU code” section of this guide.

Let’s assume that your platform is called my-platform and that it is powered by a new CPU called my-new-mcu, for which you are adding support at the same time.

  • Under arch/platform, create a directory called my-platform.

  • Under arch/platform/my-platform, create the following files:

    • Makefile.my-platform: This is where you will explain to the build system how to build firmware images suitable for your platform and its variants.

    • platform.c: This is where you will provide platform-specific functions needed by Contiki-NG’s main() routine. Using platform.c as the filename is a convention, not a strictly technical requirement.

    • contiki-conf.h: This is where you will put platform-specific macros that users are expected to be able to modify.

    • my-platform-def.h (optionally): This is where you will put platform-specific macros that users should not modify (for example, LED pin mappings).

    • doxygen-group.txt: This is where you will define where your platform code’s documentation will be located in the API doc structure. See for example arch/platform/nrf/doxygen-group.txt.

Prepare the configuration system

Open contiki-conf.h and:

  • Paste the boilerplate that includes example-specific configuration files at the top:

/* Include Project Specific conf */
#endif /* PROJECT_CONF_PATH */
  • Include my-platform-def.h, my-new-mcu-def.h at the top, before any user configuration

  • Include my-new-mcu-conf.h at the end, after all user configuration.

In the end, your contiki-conf.h should look something like this:


/* Possibly standard includes here, e.g. stdint.h */
/* Include Project Specific conf */
#endif /* PROJECT_CONF_PATH */
#include "my-platform-def.h"
#include "my-new-mcu-def.h"
 * All user configuration to go here
/* Include CPU-related configuration */
#include "my-new-mcu-conf.h"
#endif /* CONTIKI_CONF_H */

Configure the build system

Edit your Makefile.my-platform. As a minimum, you will need to:

  • Add to the CLEAN variable, so that your port’s firmware images will get cleaned when you run make clean.

CLEAN += *.my-platform
  • Append platform sourcefiles to the CONTIKI_SOURCEFILES make variable.

  • Define the path to the CPU dir and include Makefile.my-new-mcu.

include $(CONTIKI_CPU)/Makefile.my-new-mcu
  • Specify MODULES needed by your platform. For example, if you need the CC1200 radio driver, you will need to add:

MODULES += arch/dev/cc1200
  • Specify additional, platform-specific make rules. For example, you may wish to specify rules for the upload and login targets. See existing platform Makefiles for more info on those.

In the end, your Makefile.my-platform will look something like that

CONTIKI_SOURCEFILES += platform.c <platform sourcefiles here>

CLEAN += *.my-platform

include $(CONTIKI_CPU)/Makefile.my-new-mcu

MODULES += arch/dev/cc1200

As before, these are merely the basics to get you started. You will almost certainly want to add more content to your Makefile.my-platform, depending on your requirements. Before adding things, always think if there is something already in place that you can re-use. Also think whether adding something to the CPU Makefile is a more sane choice.

Provide startup, main loop and low-power functions

Contiki-NG has a platform-independent main() routine. The first thing you need to do is provide implementations for platform-specific functions that will be called by main() as part Contiki-NG’s startup sequence. You will need to provide three functions, commonly in platform.c:

  • platform_init_stage_one()

  • platform_init_stage_two()

  • platform_init_stage_three()

See the documentation in os/sys/platform.h for details of what should go in which of those functions.

You then need to decide whether you want to specify your own main loop (do so only if you have a good reason), or simply use the one provided by Contiki-NG. In the former case, you will need to implement the main loop inside a function called platform_main_loop() (again, commonly in platform.c) and to add to my-platform-def.h:


One platform that defines its own main loop is the native platform.

Lastly, the main loop will periodically try to put your device to a low-power state. This is achieved by calling platform_idle(), which is one more function that you will need to provide an implementation for (once again in platform.c).

Develop platform drivers

At this stage, you can choose to start implementing drivers for your other peripherals, such as:

  • LEDs, in a file commonly called leds-arch.c (see the HAL/API under os/dev/leds.h)

  • Buttons, in a file commonly called board-buttons.c (see the HAL/API under os/dev/button-hal.h)

  • Sensors/Actuators

  • External storage (e.g. SPI flash). Have a look at a generic driver available under arch/dev/ext-flash, it may prove suitable for your needs.

  • Displays (e.g. LCD displays)

Add support for similar board variants

Imagine that you are adding support for two very similar, but not quite identical devices. For example, imagine that you are porting Contiki-NG for two devices. Both devices have the same CPU and the same LED and button configuration, but:

  • One device has a USB connector and is primarily meant to be used as a border router or slip radio. Let’s assume this is called usb-board.

  • The second device does not have a USB connector, but has additional sensing elements and a battery holder. Let’s call this sensing-board.

In this scenario, it makes sense to re-use as much as possible platform code for both device variants. In terms of the Contiki-NG build system, the TARGET make variable for both devices will be my-platform, but the BOARD make variable will be different for the two (usb-board and sensing-board respectively).

The best way to support this is by creating two subdirectories under arch/platform/my-platform, each with the name of the respective board. Within each of those subdirectories, you can optionally create a Makefile using the board’s name as its extension. So in this example, you will end up with:

  • platform/my-platform/usb-board/Makefile.usb-board

  • platform/my-platform/sensing-board/Makefile.sensing-board

Then edit your platform’s top-level Makefile.my-platform and add this line:

#### Include the board dir if one exists
-include $(PLATFORM_ROOT_DIR)/$(BOARD)/Makefile.$(BOARD)

Within these newly-created Makefiles, you can specify board-specific Make variables and, importantly, board-specific source files to be included in the build. You will want to place those source-files in the board-specific directory. An example of this approach is adopted in arch/platform/zoul.

Following our example above, here is what you should put where:

  • In platform/my-platform: Everything common for both boards, e.g. the LED driver and button driver.

  • In platform/my-platform/sensing-board: Drivers for the sensing elements on this board. You will append them to CONTIKI_SOURCEFILES inside Makefile.sensing-board.

  • In platform/my-platform/usb-board: Drivers for anything specific to the usb-board. If there is nothing specific to this board, then note that you do not have to create the sub-directory in the first place.

As a final comment, imagine that you have a number of different boards, featuring partially overlapping sets of peripherals. In this scenario, one approach is to create a directory called common under your arch/platform/my-platform. You can place all peripheral drivers in this directory and then pick and choose what to compile for each board using the CONTIKI_SOURCEFILES make variable within each individual board’s $(BOARD)/Makefile.$(board). For an example of this approach, see arch/platform/cc26x0-cc13x0.

Create some examples

You will likely want your users to be able to use some of the existing Contiki-NG platform-independent examples on your device. For those examples, either make sure they run off-the-shelf, or extend them accordingly. If you want an existing example to do something slightly different on your hardware, do not create a copy of the entire example in a separate directory. It is always better to change the examples so it can provide for platform-specific extensions. For some ideas of how this can be achieved, see the mqtt-client, sensniff and slip-radio examples.

You will also likely want your users to use examples the fully expose your platform’s features (e.g. sensors). Under examples/platform-specific, create a sub-directory with the same name as your target’s name and create such examples therein. Examples in this location are expected to contain any amount of platform-specific code.

Add CI tests

As part of this step, you will want to achieve two things:

  • Compile-test existing examples for your platform

  • Compile-test your new platform-specific examples

All of those can be achieved by adding to the existing Makefiles under tests/NN-compile-XYZ (e.g. tools/01-compile-base/Makefile). In all cases, you will simply need to add a single line for each example that you wish to compile-test for your platform.

For example, assume that you have developed multiple board variants (eg. board-a and board-b). If BOARD is unspecified, your platform code builds for board-a by default. Assume also that:

  • You have developed two platform-specific examples under examples/platform-specific/my-platform and those examples are base-example and advanced-example. You want to test those for both boards.

  • You want to test hello-world, and rpl-udp for board-a only.

  • You want to test rpl-border-router and sensniff for board-b only.

You then need to add the following lines (not all need to be added to the same Makefile/CI job):

hello-world/my-platform \
rpl-udp/my-platform \
rpl-border-router/my-platform:BOARD=board-b \
sensniff/my-platform:BOARD=board-b \
platform-specific/my-platform/basic-example/my-platform:BOARD=board-a \
platform-specific/my-platform/basic-example/my-platform:BOARD=board-b \
platform-specific/my-platform/advanced-example/my-platform:BOARD=board-a \
platform-specific/my-platform/advanced-example/my-platform:BOARD=board-b \

You do not need to add tests for every single example/board combination, apply common sense in terms of what tests will be sufficient to cover your entire platform/CPU code base. Test what you consider to be the most key examples for your platform.

If you are uncertain in terms of which Makefile to add your tests to, don’t hesitate to get in touch.

Add documentation

If you are not planning to release the port then this section is of little relevance. However, if you are planning to release your port and especially if you wish for it to be considered for upstream merge, you will be expected to provide the following:

  • A basic how-to page on the wiki, similar to those listed under The Contiki-NG platforms. Make sure to name long-term maintainers.

  • README files in platform-specific examples.

  • API docs (doxygen) for new code modules that you may have developed as part of your porting work. This is especially true if you are providing code that is likely to be used by other platform developers. As a bare minimum, you will be expected to document all non-static functions and their arguments, enums and configuration defines. Make sure to also document semantics: For example, don’t just say that the argument foo can take values true or false, but also describe the function’s expected behaviour for each of those two cases.

If you are planning to contribute your port for inclusion, please also make sure to read “New platforms” in the Contributing page.

Some common good practice

Observe the code style convention

If you are planning to contribute your port for inclusion, make sure you observe the code style and naming convention described in the respective wiki page.

Avoid code duplication

Try to avoid code duplication as much as possible. If a source file already exists that does what you need, try to compile it in-place instead of creating a copy of it. If the original source file does almost, but not quite, what you need to do, it is better to recommend modifications to the original file, instead of creating a copy. This is true for platform drivers, but also for examples. In the latter case, Contiki-NG provides mechanisms to write cross-platform examples that only require minor extensions to use on new devices. Before copying an entire example directory, make sure your goal cannot be achieved by extending an existing one.

Is it a CPU thing, or is it a platform thing?

Try to put the correct code module / configuration macro / Make code at the correct location. For example, if you introduce a user configuration macro that is likely to be applicable to all boards using the same CPU, put this macro in the respective file in your CPU directory, instead of the platform directory. In the long term, this will prevent duplication and make code easier to maintain.

Do not add platform code in platform-independent files

Do not wrap platform-specific code inside #if blocks in platform-independent code files (files under os and examples). Imagine for example the following snippet:

static void
  /* Do platform independent stuff */


  /* Do remaining platform independent stuff */

Even though we have some examples of this coding practice in the current code base, the practice is strongly discouraged. The preferred way to achieve the same goal is situation-dependent; if you absolutely need to make a change of this nature and you are stuck as to how to achieve this in a portable fashion, don’t hesitate to get in touch for advice.


Feel free to ask your porting questions in the “Developers” room on gitter.