Position-Independent Code with GCC for ARM Cortex-M

Welcome to ‘Alice in Wonderland‘! For a university research project using an ARM Cortex-M33 we are evaluating position-independent code as way to load applications or part of it with a bootloader. It sounds simple: just add -fPIC to the compiler settings and you are done.

Unfortunately, it is not that simple. That option opened up a ‘rabbit hole’ with lots of wonderful, powerful and strange things. Something you might not have been aware of what could be possible with the tools you have at hand today. Leading to the central question: how is position-independent code going to work with an embedded application on an ARM Cortex-M?

Let’s find out! Let’s start a journey through the wonderland…

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Touch & Build: Auto-Update of Firmware Date and Time

It is very valuable to have a date and time information in the binary. That way for example using a shell I can check the version of the firmware running on a device, or it can be printed on a console or UART as needed.

Firmware Date and Time

Firmware Date and Time

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Error for ‘implicit function declaration’ Warning in C

“A young man is smoking one cigarette after each other without a pause. An elderly woman observes that and says: “Young man, you are smoking like crazy! Don’t you know that there is a warning on each cigarette package that this can kill you?” The young man finishes his cigarette, looks at the elderly person and says: “Yes, I know. But look, I’m a programmer, and it is only a warning.”

I don’t smoke, and I do pay attention to warnings :-). I always try to keep my source code free of compiler warnings. And I always pay special attention to the following on:

implicit declaration of function

implicit declaration of function

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Tutorial: GNU Coverage with MCUXpresso IDE

If you are developing Linux or desktop applications with GNU tools, you  very likely are familiar with gcov: the GNU coverage tool. It collects data what parts of the code gets executed and represents that in different formats, great to check what is really used in the application code or what has been covered during multiple test runs.

Coverage Information with gcov

Coverage Information with gcov

line never executed

line never executed

GNU coverage is possible for resource constraint embedded systems too: it still needs some extra RAM and code space, but very well spent for gathering metrics and improves the firmware quality. As I wrote in “MCUXpresso IDE V11.3.0 for 2021” things are now easier to use, so here is a short tutorial how to use it.

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NXP published MCUXpresso SDK 2.9.0 on GitHub

There are many different aspects of Open Source projects: It is not only about the fact if the sources are available (‘open’). It is about the licensing terms (how permissible is it, what can I do with it), maintenance and continuous development (what has changed between releases), how and where is it delivered (Sourceforge, dedicated distribution, packaging) up to collaboration (how can I contribute or submit issues).

NXP has now published the MCUXpresso SDK on Github:

MCUXpresso SDK on GitHub

MCUXpresso SDK on GitHub

Something I was waiting for a long time.

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MCUXpresso IDE V11.3.0 for 2021

I’m in the middle of the university exam season: means writing exams and do grading. The same time the new semester is approaching too and I need to prepare the new course material. For the classes using NXP parts I’m using the Eclipse based MCUXpresso IDE, and I just received the announcement that a new version V11.3.0 is available: time to check out what is new.

MCUXpresso IDE v11.3.0 (Build 5222)

MCUXpresso IDE v11.3.0 (Build 5222)

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Eclipse CODAN (Static Code Analysis) for C/C++

The Eclipse CODAN (Code Analysis) plugin is part of CDT and is a powerful static analysis tool finding all kind of possible bugs and issues. Still to my surprise not many C/C++ developers take advantage of it maybe because they are not aware that it exists?

ups! Programming error catched by CODAN

ups! Programming error detected by CODAN

In this article I show a few tips how to effectively use it, especially with the NXP MCUXpresso SDK.

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Getting a 96bit Unique ID for each Kinetis Device using MCUXpresso SDK

The NXP Kinetis devices implement a UID (Unique ID) for each device, using the ‘Unique Identification Register) which is part of the SIM (System Integration Module):

SIM Unique ID

SIM Unique ID (NXP K22P144M120SF5RM.pdf Reference Manual)

While this number should be unique, I was wondering last week why students in the labs reported the same UID for multiple robots in the lab. So maybe this number is not so unique as it should be?
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Steps to use FreeRTOS with newlib reentrant Memory Allocation

Reentrancy is an attribute of a piece of code and basically means it can re-entered by another execution flow, for example by an interrupt or by another task or thread. This is an important concept and still a lot of code ‘in the wild’ does violate reentrancy. As a result the application crashes immediately in the best case. Worse it crashes randomly or even worse it behaves incorrectly 😦 .

Reentrancy is always a concern if using standard library functions, including printf() or malloc(). FreeRTOS offers a reentrant wrapper to the standard malloc() and free() (Memory Scheme 3)

Running FreeRTOS with reentrant newlib

Running FreeRTOS with reentrant newlib

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Debugging Bootloader and Application with one Debug Session

If having a boot loader running on a micro-controller, it is very useful if both the boot loader and the loaded application can be debugged together:

Bootloader with Application Code

Bootloader with Application Code

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