If you want to know the insides of how to set up a development environment, read on!
There is not much documentation about the NRF51, and the tool-collection hunting and gathering process can be intimidating.
I hope this blog entry will help those that want to use and program the Nordic NRF51 development board to test out BLE functionality.
We are using the NRF51 development board, which was purchased from here.
Connecting to the board
Connection is done via conneting a standard Micro USB Cable to your host computer. Once power is supplied to board, it will run the current program automatically.
Communicating with the board
Flashing the device can be done using the JLinkExe program runing on the host computer. JLinkExe can be downloaded from here.
Resetting the board to manufacturer settings
From a terminal window, as the device is connected and turned on, run the following command line:
prompt> JLinkExe -device nrf51822
When the JLink prompt appears, type the following:
J-Link> w4 4001e504 2 J-Link> w4 4001e50c 1 J-Link> r J-Link> g J-Link> exit
This will erase all the programs that were loaded.
Programming the device
In order to program the device, you must first set up the following tools:
The Nordic SDK
The SDK can be downloaded from the Nordic website here. For our testing, we used nRF51_SDK_v9.0.0. The SDK contains a binary referred to as “SoftDevice” that supports BLE management of the chip. Please see below on how to load the SoftDevice to the board using JLink.
Compiler and Linker toolchain from GNU
The cross-compiler/linker tools that are needed to build executables for the board can be found here. We placed them under ‘/usr/local’. If you have multiple development environments, it may be easier to set an alias to run the right tools rather than modifying the path. For example:
alias gdb51="/usr/local/gcc-arm-none-eabi-4_9-2015q2/bin/arm-none-eabi-gdb" alias jdb51="jlinkgdbserver -device nrf51822 -if swd -speed 4000 -noir -port 2331”
Loading a binary to the device
An executable image is created in the form of “.HEX” files that has to be loaded to the board’s flash memory. To load it to the device, open a terminal window and run JLinkExe, this time using the loadfile command:
prompt> JLinkExe -device nrf51822 J-Link> loadfile path-to-binary J-Link> r J-Link> g J-Link> exit
When you program BLE functionality, you will need to load the chip’s firmware in order to support your programs. This is packaged as an executable and is part of the SDK. In order to load the SoftDevice, simply use the loadfile command with the correct path, such as:
J-Link> loadfile SDK_ROOT/components/softdevice/s110/hex/s110_softdevice.hex J-Link> r J-Link> g J-Link> exit
Select a different path if you want to change the version loaded (in this example, it’s S110).
At this stage, you should have a connected board that has a version of the firmware loaded, and the toolchain downloaded, ready for development to begin!
BLE is hard, but blinking the board is easy
Using the toolchain let’s compile and load the demo blink program that comes with the SDK to make sure we have everything in place for future development.
Making Make make
Here you’ll edit the file named Makefile.posix to point to the correct toolchain for cross-development. The file is found at SDK_ROOT/components/toolchain/gcc/Makefile.posix, where SDK_ROOT being the location you installed the Nordik SDK files.
Edit this file so it contains the path to where you installed the cross-compiler:
GNU_INSTALL_ROOT := /usr/local/gcc-arm-none-eabi-4_9-2015q2 GNU_VERSION := 4.9.3 GNU_PREFIX := arm-none-eabi
Building the blink example
Navigate to the “blink” example directory
Depending on your board (the one we used was PCA10028), you might need to create a subdirectory within “blinky” by copying the one present, if your model number does not appear there:
cp -r pcaXXXXX pca10028
Edit the Makefile in the PCA10028/armgcc directory to reference DBOARD_PCA10028, if it’s not already referenced there.
The path to the makefile is: SDK_ROOT/examples/peripheral/blinky/pca10028/s110/armgcc/Makefile.
Once you have saved the modification, return to the terminal window and invoke make to build the image:
in the directory where the makefile is located.
Even though the LED program does not need BLE functionality, let’s load the S110 firmware prior to loading our image for illustrative purposes:
prompt> JLinkExe -device nrf51822 JLink> loadfile SDK_ROOT/components/softdevice/s110/hex/s110_softdevice.hex
And now we’ll load our blink example
JLink> loadfile _build/nrf51422_xxac.hex JLink> r JLink> g
You should now see the board’s four LEDs should blink at a nice rhythm.
Download the jlinkgdbserver debugger from here. When run, it will connect to the board via the serial cable, and wait for commands coming from the GNU debugger, which was included in the GCC download described previously.
To build with debug symbols, invoke make with the debug goal:
prompt> make clean prompy> make debug
Run the debugger server in a terminal window or tab:
prompt> jlinkgdbserver -device nrf51822 -if swd -speed 4000 -noir -port 2331
Open another terminal window and run your image from the armgcc subdirectory so that JLinkExe will be able to load the debug symbols created when building the application:
This runs the debugger, loading debug symbols which will relay instructions to the JLink server that in turn will relay those to the board.
We made sure that the hardware and the development environment was set up correctly for future application development. In order to take advantage of the hardware’s capabilities, please refer to the documention of the board and firmware here, which contains essential links to the BLE functionality as well as a demo mesh project.
I’d like to thank Tim Kadom, my friend and colleague at ThoughtWorks, who sparked my interest by introducing me to BLE and mesh applications and was instrumental in helping me set up the environment and getting everything to work.