Starting simple

The easiest way to debug and also the way how all the things started was just print out what ever you consider important to know. Wait the embedded system does not have any screen or printer connected. Well you are right, but there used to be a serial port. And if it is hopefully free to use and can be connected to real PC then you have your first poor man's debugger.

To be able to receive UART data from Core Module you need USB UART and terminal emulator on PC (e.g. PuTTY) on Microsoft Windows or picocom on Linux).

Core Module Rev 1

Core Module revision 1 does not have FTDI serial to USB converter. You need to connect your own converter to the UART2 to the pins TX2 and RXD2. You can skip to the next chapter if you have newer Core Module Rev 2 with FTDI.

For example USB UART from SparkFun:

Or another example USB UART from Mouser:

Connect USB UART and Core Module into one PC's USB host sockets and interconnect Core Module with USB UART by single wire USB UART RX (YELLOW wire on cable) and Core Module TXD2 (header pin 22) - have a look at Core Module Header drawing.

Beware of groud loop and ground voltage difference in case you do not use same PC to power Core Module and to connect USB UART.

Core Module Rev 2

Core Module Rev 2 have integrated FTDI chip connected to the UART2. You do not need to use separate serial converter, just connect USB cable to your computer.

Example code

You need to add just two function calls into your application:

  • bc_log_init into application_init

  • bc_log_debug or bc_log_info or bc_log_warning or bc_log_error into handlers

Have a look into BigClown SDK bc_log.

Example of modified app/application.c from default project code after bcf create:

#include <application.h>
// LED instance
bc_led_t led;
// Button instance
bc_button_t button;
void button_event_handler(bc_button_t *self, bc_button_event_t event, void *event_param)
(void) self;
(void) event_param;
bc_led_set_mode(&led, BC_LED_MODE_TOGGLE);
// Logging in action
bc_log_info("Button event handler - event: %i", event);
void application_init(void)
// Initialize logging
// Initialize LED
bc_led_init(&led, BC_GPIO_LED, false, false);
bc_led_set_mode(&led, BC_LED_MODE_ON);
// Initialize button
bc_button_init(&button, BC_GPIO_BUTTON, BC_GPIO_PULL_DOWN, false);
bc_button_set_event_handler(&button, button_event_handler, NULL);

After flashing of Core Module execute terminal emulator, open serial port with USB UART and set communication parameters:

  • speed: 115 200 baud

  • 8 bits, no parity (8N)

Example of output:

# 4.54 <I> Button event handler - event: 0
# 4.84 <I> Button event handler - event: 1
# 4.84 <I> Button event handler - event: 2
# 10.24 <I> Button event handler - event: 0
# 12.24 <I> Button event handler - event: 3
# 13.64 <I> Button event handler - event: 1

For mapping number to event type have a look into BigClown SDK documentation for bc_button

Read logs with bcf

Read log with connected device and following command:

bcf log --device [device]

[device] port can be founded by command:

bcf devices

Example of outuput:


Flash and immediately start logging

You can force bcf tool to start logging right after the code is uploaded. This way you do not miss a single debug output and you do not need any other application or terminal.

bcf flash firmware.bin --device [device] --log

Colored logs

You can colorized your log output to highlight errors or warnings as you can see below:

As you did debugging in previous chapter by command


You can colorized logs to 4 different colors as following commands down below. All colors you can see on screenshot in the beginning of this chapter.









Getting more

Sooner or later when you are in troubles you might come to the idea that you want to look inside the CPU check the current values of registers or memory areas. Good news, you are not alone! Bad news, it's not that easy as on x86 Borland Pascal compiler with embedded debugger and profiler. Nevertheless there is a standard for that by IEEE IEEE Standard 1149.1-1990 shortly called JTAG after the group that made the standard. This standard is intended for those situations when you need to look inside. It is kind of periscope for your desktop PC into the MCU. It builds up on the other standard (fast) bus called SPI it adds some requirements for device (or function block inside device) to comply with. But not to overwhelm you with unnecessary details it gives you exactly that key hole view with capability to stop "time(r)" in order to give you a snapshot of the MCU. Last but not least point to mention, that even JTAG has undergone evolution and ARM architecture has adopted the JTAG in "less wires* option named Single Wire Debug (aka SWD) which available in ARM based architectures including ARM Cortex M4 ~ STM32L series of MCUs.

From the developer's point of view you should have working USB adapter that is recognized by your debugger (PC software like OpenOCD/Gdb/DDD or Segger's Ozone). If I would simplify that even more you can connect any kind of interpret into the debugging abstraction that has capability to map your original C/C++ source code to code and data addresses if the target (MCU) and then on demand read the program counter (PC), stack poiter (SP) and pull the data from target and display them conveniently decoded for your elaboration.

Its is worth to note that the debugger is also capable of setting data watch or instruction interrrupt set at particulat address to let you stop your programm and check registers/variables.

Note: Compared to PC where the debugger tends to be invasive i.e. single byte INT 3 instruction injection.

Growing beyond

The debugger might not be enough for dynamic or real-time debugging and certification. In such case you might need a tracing capability. The tracing compared to simple break debugging does not actually stop at the trace point. It rather collects data for later (off-line) analysis and continues in execution. Those traces can also be optional or enabled just for a short period. Well this is because it might add some non-negligible overhead to power, CPU or memory consumption on heavy loaded system. Unfortunately these tools does not come for free and as they are not used that often they come little pricy.

For those who have encoutered instrumentation in a PC form like SystemTap on Linux or DTrace at Solaris, BSD, Linux, these things might sound familiar

1 - youtube notes on debugging 2 - poor man's debugger and tracer 3 - The Lauterbach company