Bare Metal Assembly on the Teensy 3.1

12 Nov 2015

I started to look at bare metal programming on the Teensy 3.1 and found quite a few examples mainly based off the work of Karl Lunt. All of these examples include several files and do not explain what they are for or where they are obtained. I started to dig a bit deeper and found an nice guide to low level arm programming here which explained what some of them where for. Then I found a minimal working example in pure assembly for the Teensy 3.0 here. I also found the programmers manual for the MK20DX256VLH7 very useful.

I took the minimal assembly example above with what I learned from other articles around the topic to give a more complete, but still minimal, example. The final source can be found in this github repository and only contains two files: the assembly source and the linker script, which I will explain in this post.


This post is about what is needed to get the Teensy up and running rather then a guide to assembly programming so I assume you have a basic knowledge of assembly. You will also require the arm-none-eabi toolkit, explicitly the assembler arm-none-eabi-as, linker arm-none-eabi-ld and objcopy arm-none-eabi-objcopy binaries. These can be obtained from most Linux distribution's package managers or from inside a Arduino SDK's tools directory: $ARDUINO_SDK/hardware/tools/arm/bin.

The Linker script

    FLASH (rx) : ORIGIN = 0x00000000, LENGTH = 256K
    RAM  (rwx) : ORIGIN = 0x1FFF8000, LENGTH = 64K

    . = 0x00000000;
    .text : {
        . = 0x400;
    } > FLASH

    _estack = ORIGIN(RAM) + LENGTH(RAM); /* stack pointer start */

There are two main blocks to the linker script called MEMORY and SECTIONS. The MEMORY block tells the linker how the storage address space should be broken up. Typical microncontrollers have two main type os storage, flash (slower but non-volatile) and ram (faster but volatile).

At a minimum you should define where the non-volitile (flash) and volitile (ram) storage blocks, which is what we do above. These values are defined in the datasheet of the chip, for the teensy 3.1 it is this one. For example, in our linker scripts we have split the storage address space into two parts, one for non-volatile FLASH storage and the other for volatile RAM storage. We tell the linker where these regions start, the ORIGIN and how long they are, the LENGTH.

You can split these sections up as much as you like and in doing so can change the permissions for various different parts. For example, you can make a section for read only, non executable data to protect that section from being manuplated at runtime with the following.

    FLASH (rx) : ORIGIN = 0x00000000, LENGTH = 128K
    RODATA (ro) : ORIGIN = 0x00020000, LENGTH = 128K
    RAM  (rwx) : ORIGIN = 0x1FFF8000, LENGTH = 64K

The SECTIONS block tells the linker where and what order to place the various parts of the program. In our example we only have .text (aka the code) but typically you would also have a block for initialized and uninitialized data (.data and .bss respectively).

. = 0x000000000; sets the current location to the start of the address space.

.text : {...} > FLASH matches all the text (aka code) and tells it to place it in the FLASH section defined above.

The first part of all arm chips is where the exception vectors are placed. These hold locations that the arm chip will jump to an events occurs, such as an interrupt firing or a memory fault occurs. For a full list of them see the table on page 63 of the programmers manual. We tell the linker to place the vectors first with KEEP(*(.vectors)). To break this down further:

  • KEEP(...) tells the linker to not remove any dead/duplicate code as we do not want it moving or skipping various vectors.
  • *(...) matches any file, you could specify a file name to only include code from within that file however you generally don't need to make use of this feature.
  • .vectors is the part of our code that we want to place here, we will look at how to label the code when we look at the assembly file below.

Next . = 0x400 causes us to skip to address 0x400 and tells the linker to place the .flashconfig section here. This address and the values in this section allow you to configure the protection settings of the flash, you can read more about the values on page 569 of the programmers manual.

After the flashconfig the startup code is placed with *(.startup) and finally the rest of the code with *(.text).

Finally we set a variable _estack to point to the end of the ram which will be used to set the stack pointer.

The assembly code

Arm assembly comes in two flavors, the 16bit thumb instruction set and the full 32bit arm instruction set. With the first line of code .syntax unified we well the assembler we are using a mix of the instruction sets.

First thing to do is set the instruction set we wish to use, for modern ARM THUMB we use the unified syntax.

    .syntax unified

Then as we discussed above, we need to define the exception vectors:

    .section ".vectors"
    // Interrupt vector definitions - page 63
    .long _estack  //  0 ARM: Initial Stack Pointer
    .long _startup //  1 ARM: Initial Program Counter
    .long _halt    //  2 ARM: Non-maskable Interrupt (NMI)
    .long _halt    //  3 ARM: Hard Fault
    .long _halt    //  4 ARM: MemManage Fault
    .long _halt    //  5 ARM: Bus Fault
    .long _halt    //  6 ARM: Usage Fault

The .section ".vectors" tells the assembler to place this bit of code in the .vectors section described in the linker script above, which we placed at the start of the flash section. Due to this it does not matter where in the file this code is placed, it will always be placed at the start of the flash by the linker script.

In this example we only really make use of the Inital Program Counter to tell the chip where to start executing from a reset, here we tell it to jump to the _startup label which is defined below.

The Inital Stack Pointer tells the arm chip where to start the stack, which we defined at the end of the ram in the linker script. However we do not properly initialize or make use of the stack in this example.

The rest of the vectors defined just jump to an infinite loop to halt execution on the chip. We have also skipped a whole bunch of other vectors that are described on page 63 of the programmers manual as they will not be needed in this example.

Next we place the .flashconfig section, which will be placed at 0x400 due to our linker script described in the last section. This address and the values are described in the programmers manual on page 569 but we are not making any real use of these features in this example.

    .section ".flashconfig"
    .long   0xFFFFFFFF
    .long   0xFFFFFFFF
    .long   0xFFFFFFFF
    .long   0xFFFFFFFE

Now we move on to the setup code. This will be placed after the .flashconfig as we defined in the linker script. _startup: is the label that the arm chip will jump to when it resets as we defined in the exception vectors above.

    .section ".startup","x",%progbits
    .global _startup

There are a few things we need to do to setup the arm chip, first we reset all the registers to 0.

    mov     r0,#0
    mov     r1,#0
    mov     r2,#0
    mov     r3,#0
    mov     r4,#0
    mov     r5,#0
    mov     r6,#0
    mov     r7,#0
    mov     r8,#0
    mov     r9,#0
    mov     r10,#0
    mov     r11,#0
    mov     r12,#0

The Teensy 3 has a watchdog, which is enabled by default. This will cause the chip to reset if the watchdog is not reset frequently. We do not want to worry about the watchdog in this example so we are going to disable it. This involves disabling interrupts, unlocking the watchdog (so it can be configured) then disable it before enabling interrupts again. You can read more about how to configure the watchdog on page 463 of the programmers manual.

    cpsid i // Disable interrupts

    // Unlock watchdog - page 478
    ldr r6, = 0x4005200E // address from page 473
    ldr r0, = 0xC520
    strh r0, [r6]
    ldr r0, = 0xD928
    strh r0, [r6]

    // Disable watchdog - page 468
    ldr r6, = 0x40052000 // address from page 473
    ldr r0, = 0x01D2
    strh r0, [r6]

    cpsie i // Enable interrupts

With that the general configuration of the chip is done. We can now configure the parts of the chip we want to use and start running our application loop. In this example that means to enable and set as an OUTPUT the GPIO pin the led is connected to.

    // Enable system clock on all GPIO ports - page 254
    ldr r6, = 0x40048038 
    ldr r0, = 0x00043F82 // 0b1000011111110000010
    str r0, [r6]

    // Configure the led pin
    ldr r6, = 0x4004B014 // PORTC_PCR5 - page 223/227
    ldr r0, = 0x00000143 // Enables GPIO | DSE | PULL_ENABLE | PULL_SELECT - page 227
    str r0, [r6]

    // Set the led pin to output
    ldr r6, = 0x400FF094 // GPIOC_PDDR - page 1334,1337
    ldr r0, = 0x20 // pin 5 on port c
    str r0, [r6]

Our logic is very simple:

  • Turn on the led
  • Busy wait
  • Turn off the led
  • Busy wait
  • Repeat

Which is done by the following loop.

    bl led_on
    bl delay
    bl led_off
    bl delay
    b loop

Rather then embedding logic in the loop above we have moved it into separate functions to mimic an actual application closer. The two functions to turn the led on and off are as follows.

    // Function to turn the led off
    .global led_off
    ldr r6, = 0x400FF080 // GPIOC_PDOR - page 1334,1335
    ldr r0, = 0x0
    str r0, [r6]
    mov pc, r14

    // Function to turn the led on
    .global led_on
    ldr r6, = 0x400FF080 // GPIOC_PDOR - page 1334,1335
    ldr r0, = 0x20
    str r0, [r6]
    mov pc, r14

And the last function just causes the processor to busy wait for a reasonable amount of time by counting down from a fairly large number.

    // Uncalibrated busy wait
    .global delay
    ldr r1, = 0x2625A0
    sub r1, r1, #1
    cmp r1, #0
    bne delay_loop
    mov pc, r14

Finally we have the busy wait which will cause the chip to lockup in cause any of the interrupts we defined at the start trigger.

_halt: b _halt

Compile and Upload

To compile and upload to the Teensy run:

arm-none-eabi-as -g -mcpu=cortex-m4 -mthumb -o blink.o blink.s
arm-none-eabi-ld -T layout.ld -o blink.elf blink.o
arm-none-eabi-objcopy -O ihex -R .eeprom blink.elf blink.hex
echo "Reset teensy now"
teensy-loader-cli -w --mcu=mk20dx256 blink.hex


This was a very informative experience for me, having never touched assembly or done any bare metal programming on the arm before. There are still some bits missing that are required by higher level languages or more complete programs but is nice start to understanding what happens on the arm ship at the lowest level. I hope to expand on this in the future and see what it takes to convert the assembler to a higher level language such as C.


  1. Karl Lunt - Bare-metal Teensy 3.x Development
  2. Vijay Kumar B. - Embedded Programming with the GNU Toolchain
  3. glock45 - Turn the LED on with assembler code ( Teensy 3.1 )