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6.2 STM32 quick start guide

1. Introduction

This is a quick start guide for the person who wants to gain experience with the extensive STM32 Arm®-Cortex® microcontroller portfolio and learns by example.

Tutorials and examples are provided as part of a mapped journey to ascend Arm® mountain. A working knowledge of C is essential.

The following free software tool is needed to get started:

  • STM32CubeIDE : a free cross-platform IDE (Integrated Development Environment) based on Eclipse CDT to build and debug STM32 microcontroller applications. It includes a GCC build toolchain for C and C++.

1.1 Reference documents

The STM32 portfolio is vast and the STM32L072RB has been selected as a good practical introduction to start the journey. It is comprehensively documented here:

The reference documents can also be found here for off-line viewing:


2. Brief introduction to processor architecture

The STM32L072RB incorporates the ubiquitous 32-bit Arm Cortex-M0+ processor core. ST licenses the standard core design from Arm, decides which core options to use and designs vendor specific clocks, memory and peripherals around the core.

This intro may feel totally weird and alien at first and it may help to read it again in conjunction with the first tutorial 01 Flashing an LED in assembler.

2.1 32-bit general purpose registers R0 to R15

The processor core has sixteen 32-bit general purpose registers R0 to R15. A special function is assigned to R13 (SP - Stack Pointer), R14 (LR - Link Register) and R15 (PC - Program Counter).

R15 / PC contains the address of the current executing function. If a value is written to PC, the processor core will execute the instruction at that address next. The PC value is also handy to read constant values stored relative to the current instruction, e.g. ldr r0, [pc, #56] (Load Register R0 with the 32-bit value stored at PC + 56)

R14 / LR is used when a function (or subroutine) is called using the "bl" (Branch Link) instruction, e.g. bl delay. The processor core save the return address in LR before jumping to the function. When the function ends, it can simply load PC with LR to return.

R13 / SP contains the address of the current 32-bit value saved on the stack. Saving a value on the stack is known as "pushing" (e.g. push {r0, lr}) and restoring a saved value from the stack is known as "popping" (e.g. pop {r0, pc}).

2.2 PSR - Program Status Register

The PSR is a combination of three registers that can be accessed separately or as a whole.

The APSR (Application Program Status Register) contains the condition code flags: N = Negative Flag, Z = Zero Flag, C = Carry Flag and V = Overflow Flag. The condition flags are set as the result of an instruction, e.g. subs r0, #1. An instruction can then be executed conditionally depending on the state of a flag, e.g. bne _delay_loop (Branch Not Equal: jump to address if Zero Flag is not set).

The IPSR (Interrupt Program Status Register) contains the number of the exception (interrupt) currently executing.

The EPSR (Execution Program Status Register) contains the T (Thumb bit). This bit is to ensure code compatibility with processor cores that support switching between 32-bit ARM instructions and 16-bit Thumb instructions.

The LSB (Least Significant Bit) of a 32-bit address must be set to indicate to the processor core that it is jumping to a 16-bit Thumb instruction, not a 32-bit ARM instruction. The assembler and processor core takes care of this automatically, but it explains why the value does not match the actual instruction address, for example in 01 Flashing an LED in assembler, the reset address value stored in the vector table is 0x0800_0B15, but the actual address of main() is 0x0800_0B14. Also, the return value stored in LR when calling delay() is 0x0800_0037, but the actual return instruction address is 0x0800_0036.

The Cortex-M0+ core only supports 16-bit Thumb instructions and it will result in a Hard Fault if the T bit is not set.

2.3 PRIMASK - Priority Mask Register

The PRIMASK (Priority Mask) Register contains the PM flag. If this flag is set, interrupts are enabled. If this flag is cleared, interrupts are disabled.

Interrupts are enabled by default.

2.4 CONTROL Register

The CONTROL Register is mentioned here, but it can be safely ignored for normal bare metal applications. The processor core has built-in partitioning ("firewall") support for an operating system. Two separate stack pointers (MSP - Main Stack Pointer and PSP - Process Stack Pointer) are available to protect the operating system stack from a faulty application. Two modes (Thread Mode and Handler Mode) are also available to restrict an application's access to critical resources and to prevent a faulty application from stalling or corrupting the operating system.

2.5 16-bit / 32-bit instructions

The Arm Cortex-M0+ implements the Thumb-2 instruction set. Most are 16-bit, but six instructions are 32-bit. The 16-bit and 32-bit instructions can be intermixed freely. The instructions are summarized in [4] "3. Cortex-M0+ instruction set" (page 36) and thoroughly documented in the beefy Armv6-M Architecture Reference Manual.

Most 16-bit instructions can only access the lower eight general purpose registers R0 - R7 and a small number of 16-bit instructions can access the high registers R8 - R15.

2.6 32-bit (4 GB) Memory map

The 32-bit processor core can access 4 GB of memory space (0x0000_0000 to 0xFFFF_FFFF), but most of it will not be accessible (RESERVED).

At address 0x0000_0000, the processor core expects the Vector Table. At a minimum it must contain the initial Stack Pointer value and the reset address (the address of the first instruction to execute).

Normally Flash memory is mapped to 0x0000_0000, but System Memory (Read Only Memory containing the ST Bootloader) or SRAM can be also be mapped to 0x0000_0000 by pulling the BOOT0 pin low or changing the BOOT1 configuration option bit. For more info, see [3] "2.4 Boot configuration" (page 63).

2.7 Vector Table

When the processor core starts, it loads the value stored at 0x0000_0000 into SP (Stack Pointer). It then jumps to the instruction address stored at 0x0000_0004.

The NMI (Non Maskable Interrupt) handler is called when an external crystal is used as a clock source and it stops working. "Non Maskable" means that the interrupt cannot be disabled.

The HardFault handler is called to signal various fault conditions, for example if a misaligned memory read or write is performed, or if the firmware attemps to read from or write to nonexistent (reserved) memory locations.

A word (32-bit) read or write must be perfomed on a word aligned 32-bit address. A half-word (16-bit) read or write must be performed on a half-word aligned 32-bit address. A byte (8-bit) read or write can be performed on any memory adress.

The SysTick handler is called when the standarm Arm SysTick 24-bit timer peripheral generates an interrupt. It is most often used to generate a 1 ms interrupt to increment a counter to track timing or used as an embedded operating system tick to stop the current executing task and decide which task should execute next.

IRQ0 to IRQ31 is generated by the Standard Arm NVIC (Nested Vectored Interrupt Controller) peripheral. The interrupts are mapped to peripherals, for example IRQ27 is connected to the USART1 peripheral interrupt.

Each exception / interrupt has an exception number, for example the SysTick interrupt's exception number is 15. When an interrupt occurs, the processor core will load this value in the IPSR (Interrupt Program Status Register).

For more info, see [4] "2.3.4 Vector table" (page 29).

2.8 Full-descending stack

SP (Stack Pointer) is initialised with an adress value pointing to top of SRAM. Note that it starts in the reserved region just above the top of SRAM. As 32-bit values are saved on the stack ("pushed"), SP decreases: the stack grows downwards. As values are restored from the stack ("popped"), SP increases. SP will point to the last item pushed on the stack.

2.9 Clocks

Power consumption increases as the clock frequency goes up and it becomes vital to manage the clock frequency and distribution to the peripherals. Microcontrollers with Arm processor cores have an extensive number of flexible clocking options and it is the most complex aspect of the microcontroller to understand and get right. Fortunately ST provides a graphical tool called STM32CubeMX to configure the clocks and generate working start up code.

In the graphical example above for the PX-HER0 Board the LSE (Low Speed External) clock is enabled to run from an accurate 32.768 kHz crystal (±20 ppm) and it feeds the RTC (Real Time Clock).

The internal 16 MHz HSI (High Speed Internal) RC oscillator (±1% accuracy at 25°C after calibration) is enabled and feeds the PLL (Phase Locked Loop) to scale the clock frequency up to 32 MHz. It is the principal source for SYSCLK (System Clock), AHB (Arm High performance Bus), APB1 (Arm Peripheral Bus 1), APB2, etc.

The 48 MHz RC oscillator (±4% accuracy at 25°C after calibration) is also enabled to feed the USB peripheral clock. The CRS (Clock Recovery System) uses the USB SOF (Start Of Frame) packet which is sent precisely every 1 ms by the USB host to improve the accuracy of the 48 MHz USB clock.

The processor core use the MSI (Multi Speed Internal) RC oscillator at 2.1 MHz when it starts.

3. Install IDE software

Follow the steps HERE to install STM32CubeIDE. The section also describes how to create a new project that uses an external Makefile as used in this library.

For a gentle introduction to Makefiles, see 7.2 How to understand and modify Makefiles.

4. Build an example in the IDE

The tutorials and examples are provided with pre-configured STM32CubeIDE projects. External Makefiles are referenced, instead of using STM32CubeIDE's build system, to make the projects easier to maintain.

Open and build the 7.1 STM32 Flashing LED Example. The project file is here:


If the ".project" file is associated with STM32CubeIDE, then it's as simple as double-clicking on it, otherwise you need to add it to the workspace within STM32CubeIDE:

File > Open Projects from File System...

Specify the directory containing the STM32CubeIDE project files (".project", ".cproject" & ".settings" folder):

Click once on the project to make sure that it is selected:

A common mistake (for me at least) is trying to execute a project related commmand without the project being selected, for example pressing the F5 keyboard button to refresh the project, but the project does not have a light blue background (indicating that it is selected). IDE menu options related to a project may also not be available until the project is selected.

Check that the active build is set to "BUILD_DEBUG" to creates a build suitable for debugging in the "BUILD_DEBUG" output directory:

Start the build by clicking on the hammer icon or selecting "Project > Build All Ctrl+B" or pressing the "Ctrl+B" keyboard combo:

The build output will appear in the console window:

Observe that the IDE is executing a make build=debug all command by spotting the "DEBUG" text in the start and end banner.

5. Program and debug example in IDE

Before debugging can start a debug configuration must exist. See HERE for the required steps.

You can start debugging by clicking on the green bug icon or selecting "Run > Debug F11" or pressing the "F11" keyboard button:

All of the debug commands and keyboard shortcuts can be found in the Run menu:

The SFR (Special Function Register) window is great for inspecting the content of the microcontroller's peripheral registers:

By selecting "Run > Instruction Stepping Mode", the code can be stepped on an assembly level:

The processor core register content can be inspected in the Registers window:

Click HERE to proceed to the tutorials section.