Arduino IDE 1.5 3rd party Hardware specification

per1234 edited this page Sep 25, 2016 · 9 revisions

This specification is a 3rd party Hardware format to be used in Arduino IDE starting from 1.5.x series.
This specification allows a 3rd party vendor/maintainer to add support for new boards inside the Arduino IDE by providing a file to unzip into the hardware folder of Arduino's sketchbook folder.
It is also possible to add new 3rd party boards by providing just one configuration file.

Hardware Folders structure

The new hardware folders have a hierarchical structure organized in two levels:

  • the first level is the vendor/maintainer
  • the second level is the supported architecture

A vendor/maintainer can have multiple supported architectures. For example, below we have three hardware vendors called "arduino", "yyyyy" and "xxxxx":

hardware/arduino/avr/...     - Arduino - AVR Boards
hardware/arduino/sam/...     - Arduino - SAM (32bit ARM) Boards
hardware/yyyyy/avr/...       - Yyy - AVR
hardware/xxxxx/avr/...       - Xxx - AVR

The vendor "arduino" has two supported architectures (AVR and SAM), while "xxxxx" and "yyyyy" have only AVR.

Architecture configurations

Each architecture must be configured through a set of configuration files:

  • platform.txt contains definitions for the CPU architecture used (compiler, build process parameters, tools used for upload, etc.)
  • boards.txt contains definitions for the boards (board name, parameters for building and uploading sketches, etc.)
  • programmers.txt contains definitions for external programmers (typically used to burn bootloaders or sketches on a blank CPU/board)

Configuration files format

A configuration file is a list of "key=value" properties. The value of a property can be expressed using the value of another property by putting its name inside brackets "{" "}". For example:


In this example the property recipe.c.o.pattern will be set to /tools/g++_arm_none_eabi/bin/arm-none-eabi-gcc that is the composition of the two properties compiler.path and compiler.c.cmd.


Lines starting with # are treated as comments and will be ignored.

# Like in this example
# --------------------
# I'm a comment!

Automatic property override for specific OS

We can specify an OS-specific value for a property. For example the following file:


will set the property tools.bossac.cmd to the value bossac on Linux and Mac OS and bossac.exe on Windows.

Global Predefined properties

The Arduino IDE sets the following properties that can be used globally in all configurations files:

{runtime.platform.path}     - the absolute path of the platform folder (i.e. the folder containing boards.txt)    
{runtime.hardware.path}     - the absolute path of the hardware folder (i.e. the folder containing the current platform folder)    
{runtime.ide.path}          - the absolute path of the Arduino IDE folder     
{runtime.ide.version}       - the version number of the Arduino IDE as a number (for example "152" for Arduino IDE 1.5.2)     
{runtime.os}                - the running OS ("linux", "windows", "macosx")      


The platform.txt file contains information about a platform's specific aspects (compilers command line flags, paths, system libraries, etc.).

The following meta-data must be defined:

name=Arduino AVR Boards

The name will be shown in the Boards menu of the Arduino IDE.
The version is currently unused, it is reserved for future use (probably together with the libraries manager to handle dependencies on cores).

Build process

The platform.txt file is used to configure the build process performed by the Arduino IDE. This is done through a list of recipes. Each recipe is a command line expression that explains how to call the compiler (or other tools) for every build step and which parameter should be passed.

The Arduino IDE, before starting the build, determines the list of files to compile. The list is composed by:

  • the user's Sketch
  • source code in the selected board's Core
  • source code in the Libraries used in the sketch

The IDE creates a temporary folder to store the build artifacts whose path is available through the global property {build.path}. A property {build.project_name} with the name of the project and a property {build.arch} with the name of the architecture is set as well.

{build.path}              - The path to the temporary folder to store build artifacts
{build.project_name}      - The project name
{build.arch}              - The MCU architecture (avr, sam, etc...)

There are some other {} properties available, that are explained in the boards.txt section of this guide.

Recipes to compile source code

We said that the Arduino IDE determines a list of files to compile. Each file can be source code written in C (.c files), C++ (.cpp files) or Assembly (.S files). Every language is compiled using its respective recipe:

recipe.c.o.pattern       - for C files
recipe.cpp.o.pattern     - for CPP files
recipe.S.o.pattern       - for Assembly files

The recipes can be built concatenating other properties set by the IDE (for each file compiled):

{ide_version}              - the IDE version (ex. "152" for Arduino IDE 1.5.2)
{includes}                 - the list of include paths in the format "-I/include/path -I/another/path...."
{source_file}              - the path to the source file
{object_file}              - the path to the output file

For example the following is used for AVR:

## Compiler global definitions
compiler.c.flags=-c -g -Os -w -ffunction-sections -fdata-sections -MMD


## Compile c files
recipe.c.o.pattern="{compiler.path}{compiler.c.cmd}" {compiler.c.flags} -mmcu={build.mcu} -DF_CPU={build.f_cpu} -DARDUINO={runtime.ide.version} -DARDUINO_{build.board} -DARDUINO_ARCH_{build.arch} {build.extra_flags} {includes} "{source_file}" -o "{object_file}"

Note that some properties, like {build.mcu} for example, are taken from the boards.txt file which is documented later in this specification.

Recipes to build the core.a archive file

The core of the selected board is compiled as described in the previous paragraph, but the object files obtained from the compile are also archived into a static library named core.a using the

The recipe can be built concatenating the following properties set by the IDE:

{ide_version}              - the IDE version (ex. "152" for Arduino IDE 1.5.2)
{object_file}              - the object file to include in the archive
{archive_file}             - the name of the resulting archive (ex. "core.a")

For example, Arduino provides the following for AVR:


## Create archives"{compiler.path}{}" {} "{build.path}/{archive_file}" "{object_file}"

Recipes for linking

All the artifacts produced by the previous steps (sketch object files, libraries object files and core.a archive) are linked together using the recipe.c.combine.pattern.

The recipe can be built concatenating the following properties set by the IDE:

{ide_version}              - the IDE version (ex. "152" for Arduino IDE 1.5.2)
{object_files}             - the list of object files to include in the archive ("file1.o file2.o ....")
{archive_file}             - the name of the core archive file (ex. "core.a")

For example the following is used for AVR:

compiler.c.elf.flags=-Os -Wl,--gc-sections


## Combine gc-sections, archives, and objects
recipe.c.combine.pattern="{compiler.path}{compiler.c.elf.cmd}" {compiler.c.elf.flags} -mmcu={build.mcu} -o "{build.path}/{build.project_name}.elf" {object_files} "{build.path}/{archive_file}" "-L{build.path}" -lm

Recipes for extraction of executable files and other binary data

An arbitrary number of extra steps can be performed by the IDE at the end of objects linking. These steps can be used to extract binary data used for upload and they are defined by a set of recipes with the following format:


FILE_EXTENSION_x must be replaced with the extension of the extracted file, for example the AVR platform needs two files a .hex and a .eep, so we made two recipes like:


There are no specific properties set by the IDE here. A full example for the AVR platform can be:

## Create eeprom
recipe.objcopy.eep.pattern="{compiler.path}{compiler.objcopy.cmd}" {compiler.objcopy.eep.flags} "{build.path}/{build.project_name}.elf" "{build.path}/{build.project_name}.eep"

## Create hex
recipe.objcopy.hex.pattern="{compiler.path}{compiler.elf2hex.cmd}" {compiler.elf2hex.flags} "{build.path}/{build.project_name}.elf" "{build.path}/{build.project_name}.hex"

Recipes to compute binary sketch size

At the end of the build the Arduino IDE shows the final binary sketch size to the user. The size is calculated using the recipe recipe.size.pattern. The output of the command executed using the recipe is parsed through the regular expression set in the property recipe.size.regex. The regular expression must match the sketch size.

For AVR we have:

## Compute size
recipe.size.pattern="{compiler.path}{compiler.size.cmd}" -A "{build.path}/{build.project_name}.hex"

Pre and post build hooks (since IDE 1.6.5)

You can specify pre and post actions around each recipe. These are called "hooks". Here is the complete list of available hooks:

  • recipe.hooks.sketch.prebuild.NUMBER.pattern (called before sketch compilation)
  • recipe.hooks.sketch.postbuild.NUMBER.pattern (called after sketch compilation)
  • recipe.hooks.libraries.prebuild.NUMBER.pattern (called before libraries compilation)
  • recipe.hooks.libraries.postbuild.NUMBER.pattern (called after libraries compilation)
  • recipe.hooks.core.prebuild.NUMBER.pattern (called before core compilation)
  • recipe.hooks.core.postbuild.NUMBER.pattern (called after core compilation)
  • recipe.hooks.linking.prelink.NUMBER.pattern (called before linking)
  • recipe.hooks.linking.postlink.NUMBER.pattern (called after linking)
  • recipe.hooks.objcopy.preobjcopy.NUMBER.pattern (called before objcopy recipes execution)
  • recipe.hooks.objcopy.postobjcopy.NUMBER.pattern (called after objcopy recipes execution)
  • recipe.hooks.savehex.presavehex.NUMBER.pattern (called before savehex recipe execution)
  • recipe.hooks.savehex.postsavehex.NUMBER.pattern (called after savehex recipe execution)

Example: you want to execute 2 commands before sketch compilation and 1 after linking. You'll add to your platform.txt

recipe.hooks.sketch.prebuild.1.pattern=echo sketch compilation started at

recipe.hooks.linking.postlink.1.pattern=echo linking is complete

Warning: hooks recipes are sorted before execution. If you need to write more than 10 recipes for a single hook, pad the number with a zero, for example:

recipe.hooks.sketch.prebuild.01.pattern=echo 1
recipe.hooks.sketch.prebuild.02.pattern=echo 2
recipe.hooks.sketch.prebuild.11.pattern=echo 11


This file contains definitions and meta-data for the boards supported. Every board must be referred through its short name, the board ID. The settings for a board are defined through a set of properties with keys having the board ID as prefix.

For example the board ID chosen for the Arduino Uno board is "uno". An extract of the Uno board configuration in boards.txt looks like:

[......] Uno

Note that all the relevant keys start with the board ID uno.xxxxx.

The property contains the name of the board shown in the Board menu of the Arduino IDE.

The property is used to set a compile-time variable ARDUINO_{build.board} to allow use of conditional code between #ifdefs. The Arduino IDE automatically generates a build.board value if not defined. In this case the variable defined at compile time will be ARDUINO_AVR_UNO.

The other properties will override the corresponding global properties of the IDE when the user selects the board. These properties will be globally available, in other configuration files too, without the board ID prefix:           =>   build.mcu         =>   build.f_cpu         =>   build.board          =>   build.core       =>   build.variant

This explains the presence of {build.mcu} or {build.board} in the platform.txt recipes: their value is overwritten respectively by {} and {} when the Uno board is selected! Moreover the IDE automatically provides the following properties:

{build.core.path}         - The path to the selected board's core folder     
                            (for example hardware/arduino/avr/core/arduino)     
{build.system.path}       - The path to the selected platform's system folder if available     
                            (for example hardware/arduino/sam/system)     
{build.variant.path}      - The path to the selected board variant folder      
                            (for example hardware/arduino/avr/variants/micro)


Cores are placed inside the cores subfolder. Many different cores can be provided within a single platform. For example the following could be a valid platform layout:

hardware/arduino/avr/cores/         - Cores folder for "avr" architecture, package "arduino"
hardware/arduino/avr/cores/arduino  - the Arduino Core
hardware/arduino/avr/cores/rtos     - an hypothetical RTOS Core

The board's property build.core is used by the Arduino IDE to find the core that must be compiled and linked when the board is selected. For example if a board needs the Arduino core the build.core variable should be set to:

or if the RTOS core is needed to:

In any case the contents of the selected core folder are compiled and the core folder path is added to the include files search path.

Core Variants

Sometime a board needs some tweaking on default core configuration (different pin mapping is a typical example). A core variant folder is an additional folder that is compiled together with the core and allows to easily add specific configurations.

Variants must be placed inside the variant folder in the current architecture. For example Arduino AVR uses:

hardware/arduino/avr/cores               - Core folder for "avr" architecture, "arduino" package
hardware/arduino/avr/cores/arduino       - The Arduino core
hardware/arduino/avr/variant/            - Variant folder for "avr" architecture, "arduino" package
hardware/arduino/avr/variant/standard    - mega328 based variants
hardware/arduino/avr/variant/leonardo    - mega32u4 based variants

In this example, the Arduino Uno board needs the standard variant so the build.variant property is set to standard:


instead the Arduino Leonardo board needs the leonardo variant:


In the example above, both Uno and Leonardo share the same core but use different variants.
In any case the contents of the selected variant folder path is added to the include search path and its contents are compiled and linked with the sketch.

The parameter build.variant.path is automatically found by the IDE.


The Arduino IDE uses external command line tools to upload the compiled sketch to the board or to burn bootloaders using external programmers. Currently avrdude is used for AVR based boards and bossac for SAM based boards, but there is no limit, any command line executable can be used. The command line parameters are specified using recipes in the same way used for platform build process.

Tools are configured inside the platform.txt file. Every Tool is identified by a short name, the Tool ID. A tool can be used for different purposes:

  • upload a sketch to the target board (using a bootloader preinstalled on the board)
  • program a sketch to the target board using an external programmer
  • erase the target board's flash memory using an external programmer
  • burn a bootloader into the target board using an external programmer

Each action has its own recipe and its configuration is done through a set of properties having key starting with tools prefix followed by the tool ID and the action:


A tool may have some actions not defined (it's not mandatory to define all four actions).
Let's look at how the upload action is defined for avrdude:


tools.avrdude.upload.pattern="{cmd.path}" "-C{config.path}" -p{build.mcu} -c{upload.protocol} -P{serial.port} -b{upload.speed} -D "-Uflash:w:{build.path}/{build.project_name}.hex:i"

A {} and {} property is generated for the tools of Arduino AVR Boards and any other platform installed via Boards Manager.

The Arduino IDE makes the tool configuration properties available globally without the prefix. For example, the tools.avrdude.cmd.path property can be used as {cmd.path} inside the recipe, and the same happens for all the other avrdude configuration variables.

Verbose parameter

It is possible for the user to enable verbosity from Arduino IDE preferences panel. This preference is transferred to the command line by the IDE using the ACTION.verbose property (where ACTION is the action we are considering).
When the verbose mode is enabled the tools.TOOL_ID.ACTION.params.verbose property is copied into ACTION.verbose. When the verbose mode is disabled, the tools.TOOL_ID.ACTION.params.quiet property is copied into ACTION.verbose. Confused? Maybe an example will clear things:

tools.avrdude.upload.params.verbose=-v -v -v -v
tools.avrdude.upload.params.quiet=-q -q
tools.avrdude.upload.pattern="{cmd.path}" "-C{config.path}" {upload.verbose} -p{build.mcu} -c{upload.protocol} -P{serial.port} -b{upload.speed} -D "-Uflash:w:{build.path}/{build.project_name}.hex:i"

In this example if the user enables verbose mode, then {upload.params.verbose} is used in {upload.verbose}:

tools.avrdude.upload.params.verbose    =>    upload.verbose

If the user didn't enable verbose mode, the {upload.params.quiet} is used in {upload.verbose}:

tools.avrdude.upload.params.quiet      =>    upload.verbose

Sketch upload configuration

The Upload action is triggered when the user clicks on the "upload" button on the IDE toolbar. The Arduino IDE selects the tool to be used for upload by looking at the upload.tool property. A specific upload.tool property should be defined for every board in boards.txt:


Also other upload parameters can be defined together, for example in the Arduino boards.txt we have:

[.....] Uno
[.....] Leonardo

The {upload.XXXX} variables are used later in the avrdude upload recipe in platform.txt:

tools.avrdude.upload.pattern="{cmd.path}" "-C{config.path}" {upload.verbose} -p{build.mcu} -c{upload.protocol} -P{serial.port} -b{upload.speed} -D "-Uflash:w:{build.path}/{build.project_name}.hex:i"

Serial port

The Arduino IDE auto-detects all available serial ports on the running system and lets the user choose one from the GUI. The selected port is available as a configuration property {serial.port}.

Upload using an external programmer

The platform.txt associated with the selected programmer will be used.

Burn Bootloader

The platform.txt associated with the selected board will be used.

Custom board menus

The Arduino IDE allows adding extra menu items under the Tools menu. With these sub-menus the user can select different configurations for a specific board (for example a board could be provided in two or more variants with different CPUs, or may have different crystal speed based on the board model, and so on...).

Let's see an example of how a custom menu is implemented.
The board used in the example is the Arduino Duemilanove. This board was produced in two models, one with an ATmega168 CPU and another with an ATmega328.
We are going then to define a custom menu "Processor" that allows the user to choose between the two different microcontrollers.

We must first define a set of menu.MENU_ID=Text properties. Text is what is displayed on the GUI for every custom menu we are going to create and must be declared at the beginning of the boards.txt file:


in this case we declare only one custom menu "Processor" which we refer using the "cpu" MENU_ID.
Now let's add, always in the boards.txt file, the default configuration (common to all processors) for the duemilanove board:

[.....] Duemilanove

Now let's define the options to show in the "Processor" menu:


We have defined two options: "ATmega328" and "ATmega168".
Note that the property keys must follow the format
Finally, the specific configuration for every option:

## Arduino Duemilanove w/ ATmega328

## Arduino Duemilanove w/ ATmega168

Note that when the user selects an option, all the "sub properties" of that option are copied in the global configuration. For example when the user selects "ATmega168" from the "Processor" menu the Arduino IDE makes the configuration under atmega168 available globally:     =>   upload.maximum_size            =>   upload.speed               =>   build.mcu

There is no limit to the number of custom menus that can be defined.

TODO: add an example with more than one submenu

Referencing another core, variant or tool

Inside the boards.txt we can define a board that uses a core provided by another vendor/mantainer using the syntax VENDOR_ID:CORE_ID. For example, if we want to define a board that uses the "arduino" core from the "arduino" vendor we should write:

[....] Wonderful Arduino Compatible board

Note that we don't need to specify any architecture since the same architecture of "myboard" is used, so we just say "arduino:arduino" instead of "arduino:avr:arduino".

The platform.txt settings are inherited from the referenced platform, thus there is no need to provide a platform.txt unless there are some specific properties that need to be overridden.

In the same way we can use variants and tools defined on another platform:


Using this syntax allows us to reduce the minimum set of files needed to define a new "hardware" to just the boards.txt file.


As of Arduino IDE 1.6.6 per-platform keywords can be defined by adding a keywords.txt file to the platform's architecture folder. These keywords are only highlighted when one of the boards of that platform are selected. This file follows the same conventions as the keywords.txt used in libraries. Each keyword must be separated from the keyword identifier by a tab.