Developing Cortex M3 Applications Using Visual Studio Code

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Revision as of 11:58, 20 March 2022 by Jshankar (Talk | contribs) (5. Installing Visual Studio Code Plugins)

Developing Cortex M3/M4 Applications Using Visual Studio Code

Visual Studio Code 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 (short. VSCode) requires you 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 (well, almost: VSCode must be installed before VSCode plugins can be installed). Understanding the purpose of individual components helps to debug potential problems and understand the behavior of the system.

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.


This plugin adds support for debugging ARM executable through a GDB Server.


Syntax highlighting for ARM assembly code

Linker Script:

Syntax highlighting for linker scripts

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. NXP provides such independent project definitions in CMakeLists.txt files. CMake converts these into makefiles that can be processed by the GNU ARM Embedded Toolchain.

3. Debugger Tools

OpenOCD: (for generic hardware debugger)

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.

4. Installation Steps for Linux machines

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 metalcode-eu 
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 below 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

Plugin Name
Code Name
Vscode plugin c cpp.png C/C++ Required ms-vscode.cpptools
Vscode plugin linux arm none eabi.png linux-arm-none-eabi Required metalcode-eu
Vscode plugin cortex-debug.png Cortex-Debug Required marus25.cortex-debug
Vscode plugin CMake Syntax Highlighting.png CMake Syntax Highlighting 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

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

Vscode armdev plugins.png


The Windows versions of Build/Debug Tools will be installed using CHOCOLATEY - SOFTWARE MANAGEMENT FOR WINDOWS

6a. Installing Build Tools (Ubuntu)

  • GNU Arm Embedded Toolchain
    Please follow this link to install GNU ARM Embedded Toolchain
  • Make and CMake :
$ sudo apt-get update
$ sudo apt-get install make cmake

6b. Installing Build Tools (Windows)

  • GNU Arm Embedded Toolchain
> choco install gcc-arm-embedded
  • Make
> choco install make
  • CMake
> choco install cmake

7a. Installing Debugging Tools (Ubuntu)


$ sudo apt-get update
$ sudo apt-get install openocd

7b. Installing Debugging Tools (Windows)


> choco install openocd

See Also