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RIOT Documentation

RIOT in a nutshell

RIOT is an open-source microcontroller operating system, designed to match the requirements of Internet of Things (IoT) devices and other embedded devices. These requirements include a very low memory footprint (on the order of a few kilobytes), high energy efficiency, real-time capabilities, support for a wide range of low-power hardware, communication stacks for wireless and communication stacks for wired networks.

RIOT provides threading, multiple network stacks, and utilities which include cryptographic libraries, data structures (bloom filters, hash tables, priority queues), a shell and more. RIOT supports a wide range of microcontroller architectures, radio drivers, sensors, and configurations for entire platforms, e.g. Atmel SAM R21 Xplained Pro, Zolertia Z1, STM32 Discovery Boards etc. (see the list of supported boards. Across all supported hardware (32-bit, 16-bit, and 8-bit platforms), RIOT provides a consistent API and enables C and C++ application programming, with multithreading, IPC, system timers, mutexes etc.

A good high-level overview can be found in the article RIOT: An Open Source Operating System for Low-End Embedded Devices in the IoT (IEEE Internet of Things Journal, December 2018).

Contribute to RIOT

RIOT is developed by an open community that anyone is welcome to join:

  • Download and contribute your code on GitHub. You can read about how to contribute in our contributing document.
  • Sign-up to our forum to ask for help using RIOT or writing an application for RIOT, discuss kernel and network stack development as well as hardware support, or to show-case your latest project.
  • Follow us on Mastodon for news from the RIOT community.
  • Regarding critical vulnerabilities we would appreciate if you give us a 90-days head-start by reporting to secur.nosp@m.ity@.nosp@m.riot-.nosp@m.os.o.nosp@m.rg, before making your information publicly available
  • Contact us on Matrix for live support and discussions: riot-os:matrix.org

The quickest start

You can run RIOT on most IoT devices, on open-access testbed hardware (e.g. IoT-lab), and also directly as a process on your Linux or FreeBSD machine (we call this the native port). Try it right now in your terminal window:

git clone https://github.com/RIOT-OS/RIOT.git # assumption: git is pre-installed
git checkout <LATEST_RELEASE>
sudo ./dist/tools/tapsetup/tapsetup # create virtual Ethernet
# interfaces to connect multiple
# RIOT instances
cd examples/default/
make all
make term

... and you are in the RIOT shell! Type help to discover available commands. For further information see the README of the default example.

To use RIOT directly on your embedded platform, and for more hands-on details with RIOT, see Getting started.

Before that, skimming through the next section is recommended (but not mandatory).


This section walks you through RIOT's structure. Once you understand this structure, you will easily find your way around in RIOT's code base.


RIOT's code base is structured into five groups.

  • The kernel (core)
  • Platform specific code (cpu; boards)
  • Device drivers (drivers)
  • Libraries and network code (sys; pkg)
  • Applications for demonstrating features and for testing (examples; tests)

In addition RIOT includes a collection of scripts for various tasks (dist) as well as a predefined environment for generating this documentation (doc).

The structural groups are projected onto the directory structure of RIOT, where each of these groups resides in one or two directories in the main RIOT directory.

The following list gives a more detailed description of each of RIOT's top-level directories:


This directory contains the actual kernel. The kernel consists of the scheduler, inter-process-communication (messaging), threading, and thread synchronization, as well as supporting data-structures and type definitions.

See Kernel for further information and API documentations.


The platform dependent code is split into two logic elements: CPUs and boards, while maintaining a strict 1-to-n relationship, a board has exactly one CPU, while a CPU can be part of n boards. The CPU part contains all generic, CPU specific code (see below).

The board part contains the specific configuration for the CPU it contains. This configuration mainly includes the peripheral configuration and pin-mapping, the configuration of on-board devices, and the CPU's clock configuration.

On top of the source and header files needed for each board, this directory additionally may include some script and configuration files needed for interfacing with the board. These are typically custom flash/debug scripts or e.g. OpenOCD configuration files. For most boards, these files are located in a dist sub-directory of the board.

See here Boards for further information.


For each supported CPU this directory contains a sub-directory with the name of the CPU. These directories then contain all CPU specific configurations, such as implementations of power management (LPM), interrupt handling and vectors, startup code, clock initialization code and thread handling (e.g. context switching) code. For most CPUs you will also find the linker scripts in the ldscripts sub-directory.

In the periph sub-directory of each CPU you can find the implementations of the CPU's peripheral drivers like SPI, UART, GPIO, etc. See Peripheral Driver Interface for their API documentation.

Many CPUs share a certain amount of their code (e.g. all ARM Cortex-M based CPUs share the same code for task switching and interrupt handling). This shared code is put in its own directories, following a xxxxx_common naming scheme. Examples for this is code shared across architectures (e.g. cortexm_common, msp430_comon) or code shared among vendors (e.g. stm32_common).

See CPU/CPU_MODEL for more detailed information.


This directory contains the drivers for external devices such as network interfaces, sensors and actuators. Each device driver is put into its own sub-directory with the name of that device.

All of RIOT's device drivers are based on the peripheral driver API (e.g. SPI, GPIO, etc.) and other RIOT modules like the xtimer. This way the drivers are completely platform agnostic and they don't have any dependencies into the CPU and board code.

See Drivers for more details.


RIOT follows a modular design paradigm where everything is supposed to be a module. All of these modules that are not part of the hardware abstraction nor device drivers can be found in this directory. The libraries include data structures (e.g. bloom, color), crypto libraries (e.g. hashes, AES) , high-level APIs (e.g. Posix implementations), memory management (e.g. malloc), the RIOT shell and many more.

See System for a complete list of available libraries


The sys/net sub-directory needs to be explicitly mentioned, as this is where all the networking code in RIOT resides. Here you can find the network stack implementations (e.g. the GNRC stack) as well as network stack agnostic code as header definitions or network types.

See Networking for more details on networking code.


RIOT comes with support for a number of external libraries (e.g. ccn-lite, microcoap). The way they are included is that RIOT ships with a custom Makefile for each supported library that downloads the library and optionally applies a number of patches to make it work with RIOT. These Makefiles and patches can be found in the pkg directory.

See Packages for a detailed description on how this works.


Here you find a number of example applications that demonstrate certain features of RIOT. The default example found in this directory is a good starting point for anyone who is new to RIOT.

For more information best browse that directory and have a look at the README.md files that ship with each example.

To create your own application - here or anywhere else - see Creating an application


Many features/modules in RIOT come with their own test application, which are located in this directory. In contrary to the examples these tests are mostly focusing on a single aspect than on a set of features. Despite for testing, you might consider these tests also for insights on understanding RIOT.

dist & doc

All the tooling around RIOT can be found in these two folders.

doc contains the doxygen configuration and also contains the compiled doxygen output after running make doc.

Lastly, the dist directory contains tools to help you with RIOT. These include the serial terminal application pyterm, generic scripts for flashing, debugging, resetting (e.g. support for OpenOCD, Jlink), as well as code enabling easy integration to open testbeds such as the IoT-LAB. Furthermore you can find here scripts to do all kind of code and style checks.

Further information