Developing Cortex M3 Applications Using Visual Studio Code

From EdWiki

Revision as of 09:01, 16 April 2022 by Jshankar (Talk | contribs) (OpenOCD)

Developing Cortex M3/M4 Applications Using Visual Studio Code

Visual Studio Code (VSCode) can be used to edit the source code, build the application and finally debug it.

Required Software Components

In contrast to fully integrated IDEs, setting up Visual Studio Code requires us to setup a number of software packages, which finally work together to build the complete development environment. The software packages can be split into three groups:

  1. VSCode and plugins
  2. ARM Build Tools (compiler etc.)
  3. Debug tools
  • The packages can be installed in any order
  • VSCode must be installed before VSCode plugins can be installed.

1. Visual Studio Code and Plugins

Visual Studio Code

We can look at VSCode as an intelligent text editor which provides an extensive framework to add functionality through plugins. VSCode includes a project explorer, which can show the contents of one or multiple folders as a workspace. There is more information on required plugins further down in this list.

Required Plugins


This plugin offers many features to simplify editing of C/C++ code, including Syntax highlighting, Intellisense (finding definitions of symbols), auto-completion of keywords and identifier names, and marking syntax errors while typing. For more details, please refer the following documents:


This plugin adds support for debugging ARM Cortex-M devices executable through a GDB Server.


CMake Language Support for Visual Studio Code.


Syntax highlighting for ARM assembly code

Linker Script

Syntax highlighting for linker scripts

Plugin Name
Code Name
Vscode plugin c cpp.png C/C++ support for Visual Studio Code to enable cross-platform
C and C++ development on Windows, Linux, and macOS.
Required ms-vscode.cpptools
Vscode plugin cortex-debug.png Cortex-Debug is an extension to add debugging capabilities for
ARM Cortex-M devices to Visual Studio Code.
Required marus25.cortex-debug
Vscode plugin CMake Syntax Highlighting.png CMake Language Support for Visual Studio Code Optional twxs.cmake
Vscode plugin ARM Assembly highlighting.png ARM Assembly highlighting Optional dan-c-underwood.arm
Vscode plugin Linker Script.png Language support for GNU linker script Optional Zixuan Wang

2. ARM Build Tools

GNU ARM Embedded Toolchain

GNU ARM Embedded Toolchain is the C/C++ compiler and linker along with additional tools. It is used to turn your source code into a binary executable.


CMake is a tool which turns compiler-independent project definitions into compiler-specific project definitions. CMake converts these into makefiles that can be processed by the GNU ARM Embedded Toolchain.

3. Debugger Tools


OpenOCD is an open-source debugger, supporting a wide variety of JTAG hardware interfaces. For customers using a JTAG adapter other than the J-Link, this probably is the matching software. The package contains a GDB server, which connects to VSCode on one side, and to the J-Link JTAG/SWD hardware on the other side.

Chocolatey (The Package Manager For Windows)

The Windows versions of required software will be installed using Chocolately

  • Launch Power shell as an administrator, then run the following command:

> Get-ExecutionPolicy

If it returns Restricted, then run Set-ExecutionPolicy AllSigned or Set-ExecutionPolicy Bypass -Scope Process.

Now run the following command:

> Set-ExecutionPolicy Bypass -Scope Process -Force; [System.Net.ServicePointManager]::SecurityProtocol = [System.Net.ServicePointManager]::SecurityProtocol -bor 3072; iex ((New-Object System.Net.WebClient).DownloadString(''))

If you don't see any errors, you are ready to use Chocolatey! Type choco or choco -? now, or see following documents for more info:

Note: Always run Chocolatey (choco) under Windows Power Shell (as an administrator)

4. Install VSCode



> choco install vscode

5. Installing Visual Studio Code Plugins

The easiest way is to install them from the command prompt inside the IDE:

code --install-extension ms-vscode.cpptools
code --install-extension marus25.cortex-debug
code --install-extension twxs.cmake
code --install-extension dan-c-underwood.arm
code --install-extension zixuanwang.linkerscript

Or we can use in the IDE the menu View > Extensions.

  1. Open VSCode
  2. Select View → Extensions
    This will show the Extension sidebar
  3. In the search box above the Extension sidebar, type the Code name from the above table (without the angle brackets) or another reasonable search term
  4. Click on the little green Install button which appears next to the found plugin.

Below is our installed extensions (menu File > Preferences > Extensions):

Vscode armdev plugins.png

6. Install Build Tools


GNU Arm Embedded Toolchain

  • Please follow this link to install GNU ARM Embedded Toolchain
  • OR, we can install using apt
$ sudo apt update
$ sudo apt install gcc-arm-none-eabi binutils-arm-none-eabi

Make and CMake

$ sudo apt update
$ sudo apt install make cmake


GNU Arm Embedded Toolchain

> choco install gcc-arm-embedded


> choco install make


> choco install cmake

7. Install Debugging Tools



$ sudo apt update
$ sudo apt install openocd


> choco install openocd

Sample Project

You can download sample project from here