I've been wanting to get into microcontroller programming for a while now, and last week I broke down and ordered components for a breadboard Arduino from Mouser. There's a fair amount of buzz about the Arduino platform, but I find the whole sketch infrastucture confusing. I'm a big fan of command line tools in general, so the whole IDE thing was a bit of a turn off.

Because the ATMega328 doesn't have a USB controller, I also bought a Teensy 2.0 from PJRC. The Teensy is just an ATMega32u4 on a board with supporting hardware (clock, reset switch, LED, etc). I've packed the Teensy programmer and HID listener in my Gentoo overlay, to make it easier to install them and stay up to date.

Arduinos (and a number of similar projects) are based on AVR microcontrollers like the ATMegas. Writing code for an AVR processor is the similar to writing code for any other processor. GCC will cross-compile your code once you've setup a cross-compiling toolchain. There's a good intro to the whole embedded approach in the Gentoo Embedded Handbook.

For all the AVR-specific features you can use AVR-libc, an open source C library for AVR processors. It's hard to imagine doing anything interesting without using this library, so you should at least skim through the manual. They also have a few interesting demos to get you going.

AVR-libc sorts chip-support code into AVR architecture subdirectories. For example, object code specific to my ATMega32u4 is installed at /usr/avr/lib/avr5/crtm32u4.o. avr5 is the AVR architecture version of this chip.


Since you will probably not want to build a version of GCC that runs on your AVR chip, you'll be building a cross comiling toolchain. The toolchain will allow you to use your development box to compile programs for your AVR chip. On Gentoo, the recommended approach is to use crossdev to build the toolchain (although crossdev's AVR support can be flaky). They suggest you install it in a stage3 chroot to protect your native toolchain, but I think it's easier to just make btrfs snapshots of my hard drive before doing something crazy. I didn't have any trouble skipping the chroot on my sytem, but your mileage may vary.

# emerge -av crossdev

Because it has per-arch libraries (like avr5), AVR-libc needs to be built with multilib support. If you (like me) have avoided multilib like the plague so far, you'll need to patch crossdev to turn on multilib for the AVR tools. Do this by applying Jess' patch from bug 377039.

# wget -O crossdev-avr-multilib.patch 'https://bugs.gentoo.org/attachment.cgi?id=304037'
# patch /usr/bin/crossdev < crossdev-avr-multilib.patch

If you're using a profile where multilib is masked (e.g. default/linux/x86/10.0/desktop) you should use Niklas' extended version of the patch from the duplicate bug 378387.

Despite claiming to use the last overlay in PORTDIR_OVERLAY, crossdev currently uses the first, so if you use layman to manage your overlays (like mine), you'll want to tweak your make.conf to look like:

source /var/lib/layman/make.conf

Now you can install your toolchain following the Crossdev wiki. First install a minimal GCC (stage 1) using

# USE="-cxx -openmp" crossdev --binutils 9999 -s1 --without-headers --target avr

Then install a full featured GCC (stage 4) using

# USE="cxx -nocxx" crossdev --binutils 9999 -s4 --target avr

I use binutils-9999 to install live from the git mirror, which avoids a segfault bug in binutils 2.22.

After the install, I was getting bit by bug 147155:

cannot open linker script file ldscripts/avr5.x

Which I work around with:

# ln -s /usr/x86_64-pc-linux-gnu/avr/lib/ldscripts /usr/avr/lib/ldscripts

Now you're ready. Go forth and build!

Cross compiler construction

Why do several stages of GCC need to be built anyway? From crossdev --help, here are the stages:

  1. Build just binutils
  2. Also build a bare C compiler (no C library/C++/shared GCC libs/C++ exceptions/etc…)
  3. Also build kernel headers
  4. Also build the C library
  5. Also build a full compiler