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5 OpenOCD Project Setup

To use OpenOCD with your development projects, you need to do more than just connect the JTAG adapter hardware (dongle) to your development board and start the OpenOCD server. You also need to configure your OpenOCD server so that it knows about your adapter and board, and helps your work. You may also want to connect OpenOCD to GDB, possibly using Eclipse or some other GUI.

5.1 Hooking up the JTAG Adapter

Today’s most common case is a dongle with a JTAG cable on one side (such as a ribbon cable with a 10-pin or 20-pin IDC connector) and a USB cable on the other. Instead of USB, some cables use Ethernet; older ones may use a PC parallel port, or even a serial port.

  1. Start with power to your target board turned off, and nothing connected to your JTAG adapter. If you’re particularly paranoid, unplug power to the board. It’s important to have the ground signal properly set up, unless you are using a JTAG adapter which provides galvanic isolation between the target board and the debugging host.
  2. Be sure it’s the right kind of JTAG connector. If your dongle has a 20-pin ARM connector, you need some kind of adapter (or octopus, see below) to hook it up to boards using 14-pin or 10-pin connectors ... or to 20-pin connectors which don’t use ARM’s pinout.

    In the same vein, make sure the voltage levels are compatible. Not all JTAG adapters have the level shifters needed to work with 1.2 Volt boards.

  3. Be certain the cable is properly oriented or you might damage your board. In most cases there are only two possible ways to connect the cable. Connect the JTAG cable from your adapter to the board. Be sure it’s firmly connected.

    In the best case, the connector is keyed to physically prevent you from inserting it wrong. This is most often done using a slot on the board’s male connector housing, which must match a key on the JTAG cable’s female connector. If there’s no housing, then you must look carefully and make sure pin 1 on the cable hooks up to pin 1 on the board. Ribbon cables are frequently all grey except for a wire on one edge, which is red. The red wire is pin 1.

    Sometimes dongles provide cables where one end is an “octopus” of color coded single-wire connectors, instead of a connector block. These are great when converting from one JTAG pinout to another, but are tedious to set up. Use these with connector pinout diagrams to help you match up the adapter signals to the right board pins.

  4. Connect the adapter’s other end once the JTAG cable is connected. A USB, parallel, or serial port connector will go to the host which you are using to run OpenOCD. For Ethernet, consult the documentation and your network administrator.

    For USB-based JTAG adapters you have an easy sanity check at this point: does the host operating system see the JTAG adapter? If you’re running Linux, try the lsusb command. If that host is an MS-Windows host, you’ll need to install a driver before OpenOCD works.

  5. Connect the adapter’s power supply, if needed. This step is primarily for non-USB adapters, but sometimes USB adapters need extra power.
  6. Power up the target board. Unless you just let the magic smoke escape, you’re now ready to set up the OpenOCD server so you can use JTAG to work with that board.

Talk with the OpenOCD server using telnet (telnet localhost 4444 on many systems) or GDB. See GDB and OpenOCD.

5.2 Project Directory

There are many ways you can configure OpenOCD and start it up.

A simple way to organize them all involves keeping a single directory for your work with a given board. When you start OpenOCD from that directory, it searches there first for configuration files, scripts, files accessed through semihosting, and for code you upload to the target board. It is also the natural place to write files, such as log files and data you download from the board.

5.3 Configuration Basics

There are two basic ways of configuring OpenOCD, and a variety of ways you can mix them. Think of the difference as just being how you start the server:

Here is an example openocd.cfg file for a setup using a Signalyzer FT2232-based JTAG adapter to talk to a board with an Atmel AT91SAM7X256 microcontroller:

source [find interface/ftdi/signalyzer.cfg]

# GDB can also flash my flash!
gdb_memory_map enable
gdb_flash_program enable

source [find target/sam7x256.cfg]

Here is the command line equivalent of that configuration:

openocd -f interface/ftdi/signalyzer.cfg \
        -c "gdb_memory_map enable" \
        -c "gdb_flash_program enable" \
        -f target/sam7x256.cfg

You could wrap such long command lines in shell scripts, each supporting a different development task. One might re-flash the board with a specific firmware version. Another might set up a particular debugging or run-time environment.

Important: At this writing (October 2009) the command line method has problems with how it treats variables. For example, after -c "set VAR value", or doing the same in a script, the variable VAR will have no value that can be tested in a later script.

Here we will focus on the simpler solution: one user config file, including basic configuration plus any TCL procedures to simplify your work.

5.4 User Config Files

A user configuration file ties together all the parts of a project in one place. One of the following will match your situation best:

Reuse the existing config files when you can. Look first in the scripts/boards area, then scripts/targets. You may find a board configuration that’s a good example to follow.

When you write config files, separate the reusable parts (things every user of that interface, chip, or board needs) from ones specific to your environment and debugging approach.

5.5 Project-Specific Utilities

A few project-specific utility routines may well speed up your work. Write them, and keep them in your project’s user config file.

For example, if you are making a boot loader work on a board, it’s nice to be able to debug the “after it’s loaded to RAM” parts separately from the finicky early code which sets up the DDR RAM controller and clocks. A script like this one, or a more GDB-aware sibling, may help:

proc ramboot { } {
    # Reset, running the target's "reset-init" scripts
    # to initialize clocks and the DDR RAM controller.
    # Leave the CPU halted.
    reset init

    # Load CONFIG_SKIP_LOWLEVEL_INIT version into DDR RAM.
    load_image u-boot.bin 0x20000000

    # Start running.
    resume 0x20000000

Then once that code is working you will need to make it boot from NOR flash; a different utility would help. Alternatively, some developers write to flash using GDB. (You might use a similar script if you’re working with a flash based microcontroller application instead of a boot loader.)

proc newboot { } {
    # Reset, leaving the CPU halted. The "reset-init" event
    # proc gives faster access to the CPU and to NOR flash;
    # "reset halt" would be slower.
    reset init

    # Write standard version of U-Boot into the first two
    # sectors of NOR flash ... the standard version should
    # do the same lowlevel init as "reset-init".
    flash protect 0 0 1 off
    flash erase_sector 0 0 1
    flash write_bank 0 u-boot.bin 0x0
    flash protect 0 0 1 on

    # Reboot from scratch using that new boot loader.
    reset run

You may need more complicated utility procedures when booting from NAND. That often involves an extra bootloader stage, running from on-chip SRAM to perform DDR RAM setup so it can load the main bootloader code (which won’t fit into that SRAM).

Other helper scripts might be used to write production system images, involving considerably more than just a three stage bootloader.

5.6 Target Software Changes

Sometimes you may want to make some small changes to the software you’re developing, to help make JTAG debugging work better. For example, in C or assembly language code you might use #ifdef JTAG_DEBUG (or its converse) around code handling issues like:

5.7 Target Hardware Setup

Chip vendors often provide software development boards which are highly configurable, so that they can support all options that product boards may require. Make sure that any jumpers or switches match the system configuration you are working with.

Common issues include:

Plus you should of course have reset-init event handlers which set up the hardware to match that jumper configuration. That includes in particular any oscillator or PLL used to clock the CPU, and any memory controllers needed to access external memory and peripherals. Without such handlers, you won’t be able to access those resources without working target firmware which can do that setup ... this can be awkward when you’re trying to debug that target firmware. Even if there’s a ROM bootloader which handles a few issues, it rarely provides full access to all board-specific capabilities.



Note that many systems support a "monitor mode" debug that is a somewhat cleaner way to address such issues. You can think of it as only halting part of the system, maybe just one task, instead of the whole thing. At this writing, January 2010, OpenOCD based debugging does not support monitor mode debug, only "halt mode" debug.


See chapter 8 "Semihosting" in ARM DUI 0203I, the "RealView Compilation Tools Developer Guide". The CodeSourcery EABI toolchain also includes a semihosting library.


As a more polite alternative, some processors have special debug-oriented registers which can be used to change various features including how the low power states are clocked while debugging. The STM32 DBGMCU_CR register is an example; at the cost of extra power consumption, JTAG can be used during low power states.

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