AdaCore Blog

Getting started with the Ada Drivers Library device drivers

by Pat Rogers

The Ada Drivers Library (ADL) is a collection of Ada device drivers and examples for ARM-based embedded targets. The library is maintained by AdaCore, with development originally (and predominantly) by AdaCore personnel but also by the Ada community at large.  It is available on GitHub and is licensed for both proprietary and non-proprietary use.

The ADL includes high-level examples in a directory at the top of the library hierarchy. These examples employ a number of independent components such as cameras, displays, and touch screens, as well as middleware services and other device-independent interfaces. The stand-alone components are independent of any given target platform and appear in numerous products. (A previous blog entry examined one such component, the Bosch BLO055 inertial measurement unit (IMU)). Other examples show how to create high-level abstractions from low-level devices. For instance, one shows how to create abstract data types representing serial ports.

In this entry we want to highlight another extremely useful resource: demonstrations for the low-level device drivers. Most of these drivers are for devices located within the MCU package itself, such as GPIO, UART/USART, DMA, ADC and DAC, and timers. Other demonstrations are for some of the stand-alone components that are included in the supported target boards, for example gyroscopes and accelerometers. Still other demonstrations are for vendor-defined hardware such as a random number generator.

These demonstrations show a specific utilization of a device, or in some cases, a combination of devices. As such they do not have the same purpose as the high-level examples. They may just display values on an LCD screen or blink LEDs. Their purpose is to provide working examples that can be used as starting points when incorporating devices into client applications. As working driver API references they are invaluable.


Typically there are multiple, independent demonstration projects for each device driver because each is intended to show a specific utilization. For example, there are five distinct demonstrations for the analog-to-digital conversion (ADC) driver. One shows how to set up the driver to use polling to get the converted value. Another shows how to configure the driver to use interrupts instead of polling. Yet another shows using a timer to trigger the conversions, and another builds on that to show the use of DMA to get the converted values to the user. In each case we simply display the resulting values on an LCD screen rather than using them in some larger application-oriented sense.

Some drivers, the I2C and SPI communication drivers specifically,  do not have dedicated demonstrations of their own. They are used to implement drivers for devices that use those protocols, i.e., the drivers for the stand-alone components. The Bosch BLO055 IMU mentioned earlier is an example.

Some of the demonstrations illustrate vendor-specific capabilities beyond typical functionality. The STM32 timers, for example, have direct support for quadrature motor encoders. This support provides CPU-free detection of motor rotation to a resolution of a fraction of a degree. Once the timer is configured for this purpose the application merely samples a register to get the encoder count. The timer will even provide the rotation direction. See the encoder demonstration if interested.


All of the drivers and demonstration programs are written in Ada 2012. They use preconditions and postconditions, especially when the driver is complicated. The preconditions capture API usage requirements that are otherwise expressed only within the documentation, and sometimes not expressed at all. Similarly, postconditions help clients understand the effects of calls to the API routines, effects that are, again, only expressed in the documentation. Some of the devices are highly sophisticated -- a nice way of saying blindingly complicated -- and their documentation is complicated too. Preconditions and postconditions provide an ideal means of capturing information from the documentation, along with overall driver usage experience. The postconditions also help with the driver implementation itself, acting as unit tests to ensure implementer understanding. Other Ada 2012 features are also used, e.g., conditional and quantified expressions.

The STM32.Timers package uses preconditions and postconditions extensively because the STM timers are "highly sophisticated." STM provides several kinds of timer with significantly different capabilities. Some are defined as "basic," some "advanced," and others are "general purpose." The only way to know which is which is by the timer naming scheme ("TIM" followed by a number) and the documentation.  Hence TIM1 and TIM8 are advanced timers, whereas TIM6 and TIM7 are basic timers.  TIM2 through TIM5 are general purpose timers but not the same as TIM9 through TIM14, which are also general purpose. We use preconditions and postconditions to help keep it all straight. For example, here is the declaration of the routine for enabling an interrupt on a given timer. There are several timer interrupts possible, represented by the enumeration type Timer_Interrupt. The issue is that basic timers can only have one of the possible interrupts specified, and only advanced timers can have two of those possible. The preconditions express those restrictions to clients.

procedure Enable_Interrupt
   (This   : in out Timer;
    Source : Timer_Interrupt)
   Pre =>
      (if Basic_Timer (This) then Source = Timer_Update_Interrupt) and
      (if Source in Timer_COM_Interrupt | Timer_Break_Interrupt then Advanced_Timer (This)),
   Post => Interrupt_Enabled (This, Source);

The preconditions reference Boolean functions Basic_Timer and Advanced_Timer in order to distinguish among the categories of timers. They simply compare the timer specified to a list of timers in those categories.

The postcondition tells us that the interrupt will be enabled after the call returns. That is useful for the user but also for the implementer because it serves as an actual check that the implementation does what is expected. When working with hardware, though, we have to keep in mind that the hardware may clear the tested condition before the postcondition code is called. For example, a routine may set a bit in a register in order to make the attached device do something, but the device may clear the bit as part of its response. That would likely happen before the postcondition code could check that the bit was set. When looking throughout the drivers code you may notice some "obvious" postconditions are not specified. That may be the cause.

The drivers use compiler-dependent facilities only when essential. In particular, they use an AdaCore-defined aspect specifying that access to a given memory-mapped register is atomic even when only one part of it is read or updated. This access reflects the hardware requirements and simplifies the driver implementation code considerably.


The device driver demonstrations are vendor-specific because the corresponding devices exist either within the vendor-defined MCU packages or outside the MCU on the vendors' target boards. The first vendor supported by the library was STMicroelectroncs (STM), although other vendors are beginning to be represented too. As a result, the device driver demonstrations are currently for MCU products and boards from STM and are, therefore, located in a library subdirectory specific to STM. Look for them in the /Ada_Drivers_Library/ARM/STM32/driver_demos/ subdirectory of your local copy from GitHub. There you will see some drivers immediately. These are for drivers that are shared across an entire MCU family. Others are located in further subdirectories containing either a unique device's driver, or devices that do exist across multiple MCUs but nonetheless differ in some significant way.

Let's look at one of the demonstration projects, the "demo_LIS3DSH_tilt" project, so that we can highlight the more important parts.  This program demonstrates basic use of the LIS3DSH accelerometer chip. The four LEDs surrounding the accelerometer will come on and off as the board is moved, reflecting the directions of the accelerations measured by the device.

The first thing to notice is the "" file. As you might guess, this file explains what the project demonstrates and, if necessary, how to set it up. In this particular case the text also mentions the board that is intended for execution, albeit implicitly, because the text mentions the four LEDs and an accelerometer that are specific to one of the STM32 Discovery boards. In other words, the demo is intended for a specific target board. At the time of this writing, all the STM demonstration projects run on either the STM32F4 or the STM32F429I Discovery boards from STMicroelectronics. They are very inexpensive, amazingly powerful boards. Some demonstrations will run on either one because they do not use board-specific resources.

But even if a demonstration does not require a specific target board, it still matters which board you use because the demo's project file (the "gpr file") specifies the target. If you use a different target the executable will download but may not run correctly, perhaps not at all.

The executable may not run because the specified target's runtime library is used to build the binary executable. These libraries have configurations that reflect the differences in the target board, especially memory and clock rates, so using the runtime that matches the board is critical. This is the first thing to check when the board you are using simply won't run the demonstration at all.

The demonstration project file specifies the target by naming another project in a with-clause. This other project represents a specific target board. Here is the elided content of this demonstration's project file. Note the second with-clause that specifies a gpr file for the STM32F407 Discovery board. That is one of the two lines to change if you want to use the F429I Discovery instead.

with "../../../../boards/common_config.gpr";
with "../../../../boards/stm32f407_discovery.gpr";

project Demo_LIS3DSH_Tilt extends "../../../../examples/common/common.gpr" is

   for Runtime ("Ada") use STM32F407_Discovery'Runtime("Ada");

end Demo_LIS3DSH_Tilt;

The other line to change in the project file is the one specifying the "Runtime" attribute. Note how the the value of the attribute is specified in terms of another project's Runtime attribute. That other project is the one named in the second with-clause, so when we change the with-clause we must change the name of the referenced project too.

That's really all you need to change in the gpr file. GPS and the builder will handle everything else automatically.

There is, however, another effect of the with-clause naming a specific target. The demonstration programs must refer to the target MCU in order to use the devices in the MCU package. They may also need to refer to devices on the target board. Different MCU packages have differing numbers of devices (eg, USARTs) in the package. Similarly, different boards have different external components (accelerometers versus gyroscopes, for example). We don't want to limit the code in the ADL to work with specific boards, but that would be the case if the code referenced the targets by name, via packages representing the specific MCUs and boards. Therefore, the ADL defines two packages that represent the MCU and the board indirectly. These are the STM32.Device and STM32.Board packages, respectively. The indirection is then resolved by the gpr file named in the with-clause. In this demonstration the clause names the STM32F407_Discovery project so that is the target board represented by the STM32.Board package. That board uses an STM32F407VG MCU so that is the MCU represented by the STM32.Device package. Each package contains declarations for objects and constants representing the specific devices on that specific MCU and target board.

You'll also see a file named ".gdbinit" at the same level as the and gpr files. This is a local gdb script that automatically resets the board when debugging. It is convenient but not essential.

At that same level you'll also see a "gnat.adc" file containing configuration pragmas. These files contain a single pragma that ensures all interrupt handlers are elaborated before any interrupts can trigger them, among other things. It is not essential for the correct function of these demonstrations but is a good idea in general.

Other than those files you'll see subdirectories for the source files and compiler's products (the object and ALI files, and the executable file).

And that's it. Invoke GPS on the project file and everything will be handled by the IDE.

Application Use

We mentioned that you must change the gpr file if you want to use a different target board. That assumes you are running the demonstration programs themselves. There is no requirement that you do so. You could certainly take the bulk of the code and use it on some other target that has the same MCU family inside. That's the whole point of the demonstrations: showing how to use the device drivers! The Certyflie project, also on the AdaCore GitHub, is just such a project. It uses these device drivers so it uses an STM32.Device package for the on-board STM32F405 MCU, but the target board is a quad-copter instead of one of the Discovery kits.

Concluding Remarks

Finally, it must be said that not all available devices have drivers in the ADL, although the most important do. More drivers and demonstrations are needed. For example, the hash processor and the cryptographic processor on the STM Cortex-M4 MCUs do not yet have drivers. Other important drivers are missing as well. CAN and Ethernet support is either minimal or lacking entirely. And that's not even mentioning the other vendors possible. We need the active participation of the Ada community and hope you will join us!

Posted in #Ada    #Devices    #drivers    #STM32    #Embedded   

About Pat Rogers

Pat Rogers

Dr. Patrick Rogers has been a computing professional since 1975, primarily working on embedded real-time applications including high-fidelity flight simulators and Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) systems controlling hazardous materials. He was director of the Ada9X Laboratory for the U.S. Air Force’s Joint Advanced Strike Technology Program, Principal Investigator in distributed systems and fault tolerance research projects using Ada for the U.S. Air Force and Army, and Associate Director for Research at the NASA Software Engineering Research Center. As a member of the Senior Technical Staff at AdaCore, he specializes in supporting real-time/embedded application developers, develops bare-board products and demonstrations for AdaCore, and creates training courses and presentations. He serves as Convenor of ISO/IEC JTC 1/SC 22/WG 9, the group responsible for the Ada standard.