Zephyr Project

Article by:
Date Published:
Last Modified:


The Zephyr Project (also just called Zephyr, which will be used for the remainder of this page) is a real-time operating system designed for resource-constrained devices such as microcontrollers. Is is part of the Linux Foundation.

The main repo can be found on GitHub.

Zephyr provides cooperative and preemptive scheduling.

Uses a CMake build environment.

Zephyr is cross-platform (i.e. you can build projects and flash embedded devices) and supported on Linux, Windows and macOS. However, you will experience the least amount of issues and friction running Zephyr on Linux. Linux is also the only platform currently supported by the Zephyr SDK.

Zephyr is also a platform supported by the PlatformIO build system and IDE.



The easiest way to install Zephyr on Windows is to use the chocolatey package manager. Once that is installed, run the following steps from an elevated command prompt:


Make sure to use a command-prompt and not PowerShell, as PowerShell does not play nice with the set method of defining environment variables.

  1. Enable global confirmation so that you don’t have to manually confirm the installation of individual programs:

    > choco feature enable -n allowGlobalConfirmation
    Chocolatey v0.10.15
    Enabled allowGlobalConfirmation
  2. Install Zephyr dependencies:

    > choco install cmake --installargs 'ADD_CMAKE_TO_PATH=System'
    > choco install ninja gperf python git

    If you already have some of these packages installed on your machine via means other than chocolatey, it’s advisable to remove them from the above command so you don’t install them again and have one program shadow/conflict the other.

  3. Install the Zephyr command-line tool called west (NOTE: I have run into problems using a Python virtual environment, so I install west to the OS version of Python, more on this below):

    > pip install west
  4. Create a new Zephyr project:

    > west init myproject
    === Initializing in C:\Users\gbmhunter\myproject
    --- Cloning manifest repository from https://github.com/zephyrproject-rtos/zephyr, rev. master
    Initialized empty Git repository in C:/Users/gbmhunter/myproject/.west/manifest-tmp/.git/
    remote: Enumerating objects: 55, done.
    remote: Counting objects: 100% (55/55), done.
    remote: Compressing objects: 100% (42/42), done.
    Branch 'master' set up to track remote branch 'master' from 'origin'.
    --- setting manifest.path to zephyr
    === Initialized. Now run "west update" inside C:\Users\gbmhunter\zephyrproject.

    WARNING: I got the following error when trying to use a Python virtual environment rather than the OS Python environment to install west and then run west init:

    > python -m venv .venv
    > .\.venv\Scripts\activate
    > pip install west
    > west init myproject
    Updating files: 100% (14758/14758), done.
    Already on 'master'
    Branch 'master' set up to track remote branch 'master' from 'origin'.
    Traceback (most recent call last):
      File "C:\Users\gbmhunter\AppData\Local\Programs\Python\Python38-32\lib\shutil.py", line 788, in move
        os.rename(src, real_dst)
    PermissionError: [WinError 5] Access is denied: 'C:\\Users\\gbmhunter\\myproject\\.west\\manifest-tmp' -> 'C:\\Users\\gbmhunter\\myproject\\zephyr'
  5. Change into the project directory and run west update:

    > west update

    This command can take a few minutes to run as it clones a number of repositories into the project directory.

  6. Export a Zephyr CMake package to your local CMake user package registry. This allows CMake to automatically find a Zephyr “base”:

    > west zephyr-export
    Zephyr (C:/Users/gbmhunter/zephyrproject/zephyr/share/zephyr-package/cmake)
    has been added to the user package registry in:

    ZephyrUnittest (C:/Users/gbmhunter/zephyrproject/zephyr/share/zephyrunittest-package/cmake) has been added to the user package registry in: HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Kitware\CMake\Packages\ZephyrUnittest

  7. Download and install the GNU Arm Embedded Toolchain from https://developer.arm.com/tools-and-software/open-source-software/developer-tools/gnu-toolchain/gnu-rm/downloads. By default it will want to be installed on your system at C:\Program Files (x86)\GNU Arm Embedded Toolchain\10 2020-q4-major>, but don’t let it! Zephyr does not like spaces in the path, so install it to a path which has none. I chose C:\gnu-arm-embedded-toolchain\10-2020-q4-major\:

  8. Setup environment variables:

    set GNUARMEMB_TOOLCHAIN_PATH=C:\gnu-arm-embedded-toolchain\10-2020-q4-major
  9. Install the Python dependencies that Zephyr

  10. Build the application! For this example I will be using the ST NUCLEO F070RB development board. Note that you can’t build this from the project root directory, first you have to change into the zephyr subdirectory:

    > cd .\zephyr
    > west build -b nucleo_f070rb samples/basic/blinky
    C:\Users\gbmhunter\temp\myproject\zephyr>west build -b nucleo_f070rb samples/basic/blinky
    [121/128] Linking C executable zephyr\zephyr_prebuilt.elf

    [128/128] Linking C executable zephyr\zephyr.elf Memory region Used Size Region Size %age Used FLASH: 13544 B 128 KB 10.33% SRAM: 4416 B 16 KB 26.95% IDT_LIST: 0 GB 2 KB 0.00%

  11. Install OpenOCD from https://github.com/xpack-dev-tools/openocd-xpack/releases. I extracted the .zip file and then copied the files to C:\Program Files\OpenOCD\bin.

  12. Flash the application:

    west flash

    NOTE: I got an error when running this:

      File "C:\Users\gbmhunter\temp\myproject\zephyr\scripts/west_commands\runners\core.py", line 504, in require
        if shutil.which(program) is None:
      File "C:\Users\gbmhunter\AppData\Local\Programs\Python\Python38-32\lib\shutil.py", line 1365, in which
        if os.path.dirname(cmd):
      File "C:\Users\gbmhunter\AppData\Local\Programs\Python\Python38-32\lib\ntpath.py", line 223, in dirname
        return split(p)[0]
      File "C:\Users\gbmhunter\AppData\Local\Programs\Python\Python38-32\lib\ntpath.py", line 185, in split
        p = os.fspath(p)
    TypeError: expected str, bytes or os.PathLike object, not NoneType


  1. Install system dependencies:

    sudo apt install --no-install-recommends git cmake ninja-build gperf \
      ccache dfu-util device-tree-compiler wget \
      python3-dev python3-pip python3-setuptools python3-tk python3-wheel xz-utils file \
      make gcc gcc-multilib g++-multilib libsdl2-dev
  2. Install west:

    pip3 install --user -U west
    echo 'export PATH=~/.local/bin:"$PATH"' >> ~/.bashrc
    source ~/.bashrc
  3. Get the Zephyr source code:

    west init ~/zephyrproject
    cd ~/zephyrproject
    west update

  4. Export a Zephyr CMake package:

    west zephyr-export
  5. Download the Zephyr SDK:

    cd ~
    wget https://github.com/zephyrproject-rtos/sdk-ng/releases/download/v0.12.3/zephyr-sdk-0.12.3-x86_64-linux-setup.run
  6. Install the Zephyr SDK:

    $ chmod +x zephyr-sdk-0.12.3-x86_64-linux-setup.run
    $ sudo ./zephyr-sdk-0.12.3-x86_64-linux-setup.run -- -d /opt/zephyr-sdk-0.12.3
    Verifying archive integrity...  100%   All good.
    Uncompressing SDK for Zephyr  100%  
    Installing SDK to /opt/zephyr-sdk-0.12.3
    Creating directory /opt/zephyr-sdk-0.12.3
    [*] Installing arm tools... 
    [*] Installing arm64 tools... 
    [*] Installing arc tools... 
    [*] Installing nios2 tools... 
    [*] Installing riscv64 tools... 
    [*] Installing sparc tools... 
    [*] Installing mips tools... 
    [*] Installing x86_64 tools... 
    [*] Installing xtensa_sample_controller tools... 
    [*] Installing xtensa_intel_apl_adsp tools... 
    [*] Installing xtensa_intel_s1000 tools... 
    [*] Installing xtensa_intel_bdw_adsp tools... 
    [*] Installing xtensa_intel_byt_adsp tools... 
    [*] Installing xtensa_nxp_imx_adsp tools... 
    [*] Installing xtensa_nxp_imx8m_adsp tools... 
    [*] Installing CMake files... 
    [*] Installing additional host tools... 
    Success installing SDK.
    SDK is ready to be used.

    You don’t have to install into /opt/ if you don’t want to. Installing into your home directory is also valid.

  7. Install udev rules:

    sudo cp /opt/zephyr-sdk-0.12.3/sysroots/x86_64-pokysdk-linux/usr/share/openocd/contrib/60-openocd.rules /etc/udev/rules.d
    sudo udevadm control --reload
  8. cd into the zephyr directory (a sub-directory of the project directory) and build the Blinky sample:

    cd ~/zephyrproject/zephyr
    west build -p auto -b nucleo_f070rb samples/basic/blinky
  9. Make sure the dev. kit is plugged into the computer, and then flash the application onto the dev kit (remember we were using the NUCLEO-F070RB for this example):

    west flash

Hardware Abstraction Layers

Examples of some of the HALs (which are installed under <project root dir>/modules/hal/) supported by Zephyr:

  • ST
  • STM32
  • NXP
  • Atmel
  • Microchip

Zephyr SDK

The Zephyr SDK contains toolchains to compile, assemble, link and program/debug Zephyr applications. Currently it is only supported on Linux. On Windows and macOS, you have to manually install the toolchains you require for your Zephyr application.

Supported Boards

See https://docs.zephyrproject.org/latest/boards/index.html#boards for a comprehensive list of all the development boards supported by the Zephyr platform.

Device Trees

Example device tree (for the STM32F070RB development board):

 * Copyright (c) 2018 qianfan Zhao
 * SPDX-License-Identifier: Apache-2.0

/dts-v1/; #include <st/f0/stm32f070Xb.dtsi> #include "arduino_r3_connector.dtsi"

/ { model = "STMicroelectronics NUCLEO-F070RB board"; compatible = "st,stm32f070rb-nucleo", "st,stm32f070";

chosen {
	zephyr,console = &amp;usart2;
	zephyr,shell-uart = &amp;usart2;
	zephyr,sram = &amp;sram0;
	zephyr,flash = &amp;flash0;

leds { compatible = &#34;gpio-leds&#34;; green_led_2: led_2 { gpios = &lt;&amp;gpioa 5 GPIO_ACTIVE_HIGH&gt;; label = &#34;User LD2&#34;; }; };

gpio_keys { compatible = &#34;gpio-keys&#34;; user_button: button { label = &#34;User&#34;; gpios = &lt;&amp;gpioc 13 GPIO_ACTIVE_LOW&gt;; }; };

aliases { led0 = &amp;green_led_2; sw0 = &amp;user_button; };


&usart1 { current-speed = <115200>; status = "okay"; };

&usart2 { current-speed = <115200>; status = "okay"; };

&i2c1 { status = "okay"; clock-frequency = <I2C_BITRATE_FAST>; };

&i2c2 { status = "okay"; clock-frequency = <I2C_BITRATE_FAST>; };

&spi1 { status = "okay"; };

&spi2 { status = "okay"; };

&iwdg { status = "okay"; };

Peripheral APIs

The latest documentation for peripheral (UART, SPI, PWM, PIN, e.t.c.) APIs can be found at https://docs.zephyrproject.org/latest/reference/peripherals/index.html.

What Does A Basic Zephyr Firmware Application Look Like?

The following example shows main.c (the only .c file) for the Blinky sample project:

 * Copyright (c) 2016 Intel Corporation
 * SPDX-License-Identifier: Apache-2.0

#include <zephyr.h> #include <device.h> #include <devicetree.h> #include <drivers/gpio.h> /* 1000 msec = 1 sec / #define SLEEP_TIME_MS 1000 / The devicetree node identifier for the "led0" alias. / #define LED0_NODE DT_ALIAS(led0) #if DT_NODE_HAS_STATUS(LED0_NODE, okay) #define LED0 DT_GPIO_LABEL(LED0_NODE, gpios) #define PIN DT_GPIO_PIN(LED0_NODE, gpios) #define FLAGS DT_GPIO_FLAGS(LED0_NODE, gpios) #else / A build error here means your board isn't set up to blink an LED. / #error "Unsupported board: led0 devicetree alias is not defined" #define LED0 "" #define PIN 0 #define FLAGS 0 #endif void main(void) { const struct device dev; bool led_is_on = true; int ret;

dev <span style="color:#f92672">=</span> device_get_binding(LED0);
<span style="color:#66d9ef">if</span> (dev <span style="color:#f92672">==</span> NULL) {
	<span style="color:#66d9ef">return</span>;

ret <span style="color:#f92672">=</span> gpio_pin_configure(dev, PIN, GPIO_OUTPUT_ACTIVE <span style="color:#f92672">|</span> FLAGS); <span style="color:#66d9ef">if</span> (ret <span style="color:#f92672">&lt;</span> <span style="color:#ae81ff">0</span>) { <span style="color:#66d9ef">return</span>; }

<span style="color:#66d9ef">while</span> (<span style="color:#ae81ff">1</span>) { gpio_pin_set(dev, PIN, (<span style="color:#66d9ef">int</span>)led_is_on); led_is_on <span style="color:#f92672">=</span> <span style="color:#f92672">!</span>led_is_on; k_msleep(SLEEP_TIME_MS); }



Zephyr supports the targets qemu_x86 and qemu_cortex_m3 for running Zephyr applications on desktop computers. This is great for development, testing and CICD purposes.

Un-supported C++ Features

There are a number of C++ features that Zephyr does not support which removes C++ as a 1st tier language for writing Zephyr applications. This includes:

  • No dynamic memory allocation support via new or delete. Dynamic memory allocation in the embedded land is a contentious subject, but it’s nice to be able to use it if it’s a suitable choice for your application.
  • No RTTI (run-time type information)
  • No support for exceptions. Again, another contentious embedded subject, but nice to have the option of using them if you want.

Common Errors

File not found (on Windows)

If you get an error when running west build similar to:

CMake Error at C:/Users/Geoffrey Hunter/temp/zephyrproject/zephyr/cmake/kconfig.cmake:206 (message):
  File not found: C:/Users/Geoffrey

It is due to there being one or more spaces in the path to your Zephyr project directory. This isn’t a bug that is going to be fixed anytime soon, Zephyr is very clear on the matter in their documentation:

I found this out the hard way and went through all the trouble of renaming my user directory to fix the issue.

No module named ‘elftools’

FAILED: zephyr/include/generated/kobj-types-enum.h zephyr/include/generated/otype-to-str.h zephyr/include/generated/otype-to-size.h
cmd.exe /C "cd /D C:\Users\gbmhunter\temp\myproject\zephyr\build\zephyr && C:\Users\gbmhunter\AppData\Local\Programs\Python\Python38-32\python.exe C:/Users/gbmhunter/temp/myproject/zephyr/scripts/gen_kobject_list.py --kobj-types-output C:/Users/gbmhunter/temp/myproject/zephyr/build/zephyr/include/generated/kobj-types-enum.h --kobj-otype-output C:/Users/gbmhunter/temp/myproject/zephyr/build/zephyr/include/generated/otype-to-str.h --kobj-size-output C:/Users/gbmhunter/temp/myproject/zephyr/build/zephyr/include/generated/otype-to-size.h --include C:/Users/gbmhunter/temp/myproject/zephyr/build/zephyr/misc/generated/struct_tags.json "
Traceback (most recent call last):
  File "C:/Users/gbmhunter/temp/myproject/zephyr/scripts/gen_kobject_list.py", line 62, in <module>
    import elftools
ModuleNotFoundError: No module named 'elftools'

You typically get the error No module named 'elftools' if you haven’t installed the Python modules that Zephyr requires to build. To install the required modules:

> pip3 install -r scripts/requirements.txt


Geoffrey Hunter

Dude making stuff.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License .

Related Content:


comments powered by Disqus
Page contents: