Getting Started with STM32 - Introduction to STM32CubeIDE

By ShawnHymel

32-bit microcontrollers are gaining more popularity as they become more affordable in comparison to traditional 8- and 16-bit microcontrollers. ARM is one of the most popular 32-bit architectures available, and STMicroelectronics offers a suite of controllers that meet almost every need in the 32-bit range. The following video gives you an overview of ST’s offerings along with the steps to use STM32CubeIDE:


Understanding the STM32 Lineup

STMicroelectronics offers a dizzying array of microcontrollers and microprocessors. The most useful place to start is on their Microcontrollers and Microprocessors page. There, you still find an overview of their offerings, likely in a chart like the one below.

STM32 family of microcontrollers

Image credits: STMicroelectronics Microcontrollers and Microprocessors

As you can see, ST has 8-bit microcontroller units (MCUs), 32-bit microprocessor units (MPUs), 32-bit MCUs, and 32-bit MCUs designed for automotive use. For now, we will focus on the 32-bit MCUs.

Additionally, you can see that the 32-bit MCUs (non-automotive) are divided up into 4 categories: Mainstream, Ultra-low-power, High-performance, and Wireless. This should help you figure out which microcontroller you should use depending on your application(s). If you are just starting out, I recommend sticking with the Mainstream line to learn the ropes.

Within the Mainstream line, you have a number of options. At the time of this writing, you can choose among:

  • STM32F0 Series: Based on the ARM Cortex-M0 architecture. Inexpensive and a good place to start if you’re coming from the 8- and 16-bit microcontroller world.
  • STM32F1 Series: Based on ARM Cortex-M3. These microcontrollers generally have more speed, memory, and peripherals than their Cortex-M0 cousins.
  • STM32F3 Series: Based on ARM Cortex-M4. The M4 architecture is very similar to the M3 architecture with added digital signal processing (DSP) functions, such as a hardware floating-point unit (FPU) and specialized assembly instructions (e.g. multiply-accumulate).
  • STM32G0 Series: Based on ARM Cortex-M0+, which works similarly to M0, but has some extra features to allow for low-power operation.
  • STM32G4 Series: Based on ARM Cortex-M4. Similar to the F3 with even more power: up to 170 MHz. USB Type-C is also available on many of the G4 series.

ST has worked to make transitioning among its lineup as seamless as possible. Microcontrollers that come in the same package are often pin-for-pin compatible. If you are working with an STM32F0 and find that you are running out of resources in the controller, you can (in most cases) drop a F1 series with the same package in its place on your board, and it will just work. ST’s HAL libraries also make this transition seamless, as it abstracts away most direct register reading and writing.

Welcome, Nucleo

In addition to just manufacturing chips, ST has given us a number of development boards to aid in our learning process. The Nucleo series of boards are their most popular.

STM32 Nucleo-L476RG

The Nucleo boards have a similar set of features with 3 standard pinouts. All include built-in ST-LINK/V2 circuitry for in-circuit debugging, which rely on the Serial Wire Debug (SWD) implementation of the JTAG interface.

Once again, the naming convention of the Nucleo line can be slightly daunting. The 3 pinout versions are referenced by the number of pins:

  • Nucleo-32: Breadboard-compatible development boards useful for learning and small projects
  • Nucleo-64: Arduino-like boards with the Arduino pinout. Can be used with Arduino shields.
  • Nucelo-144: More pins than you can shake a stick at. These boards often include the most powerful and largest of the STM32 microcontrollers. Note the double row Arduino-compatible headers, which allow the Nucleo-144 to accept Arduino shields.

Note that not every STM32 part has an associated Nucleo board. This chart on ST’s site offers a useful visual for choosing the right Nucleo board.

All of the Nucleo boards can be programmed using assembly, C, or C++ with the GNU ARM Toolchain (in any number of IDEs). Most of them have support in ARM’s mbed online editor/compiler. Some of them even have Arduino and PlatformIO support. Similarly, keep an eye on the CircuitPython list of supported Nucleo boards.

You can use any Nucleo board to complete this tutorial. I will be showing the Nucleo-L476RG, as it is the only STM32 board supported by the DigiKey IoT Studio at the moment (which I plan to show in a later tutorial).

Installing STM32CubeIDE

Until recently, Atollic’s TrueSTUDIO and AC6’s System Workbench for STM32 were the two primary, professional, Eclipse-based integrated development environments (IDEs) that were supported for STM32 development. In 2017, ST acquired Atollic and has since released a new IDE that combines TrueSTUDIO and the STM32CubeMX graphical tool. This new IDE is called STM32CubeIDE, and it’s what ST recommends for new developments.

To begin, navigate to the STM32CubeIDE page and download the installer for your operating system (at the time of this writing, I am using STM32CubeIDE v1.0.1). Note that you will need to sign up for an account on ST’s site (free, but requires an email address). Follow the installation process, accepting all the defaults.

Install STM32CubeIDE

Configuring Your Board

Start STM32CubeIDE, and you will be presented with a window asking you to choose your workspace. In Eclipse-based IDEs, a workspace is simply a directory on your computer where you keep all your project files. I’ll keep mine as default and click Launch.

Select Eclipse workspace

Select File > New > STM32 Project. You’ll be presented with a Target Selection window. Select the Board Selector tab (as our Nucleo is an officially supported development board), and search for “Nucleo-L476RG” (or your Nucleo’s name) in the search bar. You should see the Nucleo board appear in the center pain. Click on the Nucleo-L476RG name in the lower, middle pane to select it, and click Next.

Selecting board in STM32CubeIDE

Give your project a name, like “nucleo-l476rg-blinky” and leave the other options at their defaults. Click Finish

Set up project in STM32CubeIDE

You will be asked to initialize all components in their default mode. Click Yes. If you are working with a bare chip (instead of a Nucleo board), you might want to click No here to have better control over which peripherals are on by default.

You will then be asked to open the STM32CubeMX perspective. Once again, click Yes. A perspective in Eclipse is a set of windows, panes, and visuals that take up the IDE in support of a particular feature or programming mode.

After that, you should have the CubeMX view open, showing a pinout of your chosen STM32 part (notice that this is the microcontroller and not the whole Nucleo board). 

Pin configuration tool STM32CubeMX

By default, you should have the peripherals and pins enabled to support the bare minimum of Nucleo board functionality (LED, button, oscillators, and USART). 

At this point, we’re ready to code. However, note that the CubeMX offers a powerful, graphical way to initialize peripherals and pins on your microcontroller. If you click on a pin, you get a list of peripherals that pin supports. If you click on one, you can enable the peripheral on that pin. For example, clicking GPIO_Output will turn that pin into an output (ready to toggle some digital logic). 

Changing pin function in STM32CubeIDE

We don’t need any other pins right now (the onboard LED is already enabled for us). If you’ve enabled some features on pins, simply click on that feature (in the drop-down menu after clicking on a pin) to disable it.

Click File > Save, and you will be asked to generate code. Click Yes.

Programming Blinky

In the file viewer on the left side, click on Src > main.c to open main code of our project. In the code section, scroll down to find the int main(void) function. This is the entry point to our program. You will see a number of automatically generated function calls that assist in setting up our system clocks and peripherals.

Comment guards in main in STM32CubeIDE

You will also see a number of comment guards (labeled with BEGIN and END, as highlighted in the screenshot above). Generally, you will want to write your user code in between the BEGIN and END part of these guards. If you ever need to change something in the CubeMX graphical tool (double-click on the .ioc file in your project to open the tool), you will need to regenerate code. Any code you write between these comment guards will persist when you update the generated code.

Inside the while(1) loop, add the following two lines:

Copy Code


This is the actual blinky code: we’re telling GPIO Port A, Pin 5 (PA5) to toggle every 1000 ms. If you look above the while(1) loop, you will see the following function call:

Copy Code


Find this definition (below in main.c), you will see how the Port C clock was enabled and how PC5 (also assigned the name “LD2” to match with the board’s LED) was configured to be an output. The MX_GPIO_Init() function was automatically generated from the CubeMX graphical tool we used earlier.

Your finished main() function should look like the following:

Copy Code
int main(void)


/* MCU Configuration--------------------------------------------------------*/

/* Reset of all peripherals, Initializes the Flash interface and the Systick. */


/* USER CODE END Init */

/* Configure the system clock */


/* USER CODE END SysInit */

/* Initialize all configured peripherals */


/* Infinite loop */
while (1)



At the time of this writing, there are no good online tools to help you navigate the available HAL documentation from ST. Unfortunately, the documentation exists in a series of PDFs that you must read or search through. The best place I have found to download these PDFs is from ST’s STM32Cube MCU & MPU Packages page.

Scroll down to the graphic of the various available families. Each family name (F0, G0, F1, etc.) can be clicked on to take you to that family’s page. If you’re following along with the Nucleo-L476RG, click on L4. In the Resources tab, find the PDF labeled Description of STMxx HAL and Low-level drivers (where xx is the family name of your part, such as L4). Download it to see all the available HAL functions for your particular part.

Note that most of the HAL functions are the same among all of the STM32 parts. This helps keep your code portable when moving to a new family. However, if your part lacks a particular feature (e.g. touch sensing), the HAL functions will not be available.

Running and Debugging

Save your code. Click Project > Build Project. Your code should compile and link to the appropriate libraries. When it’s done (and you see a message showing 0 errors in the console pane at the bottom), click Run > Debug As > STM32 MCU C/C++ Application

You should get a pop-up window asking you to set the debug configurations. Leave everything as default and click OK

Creating a debug configuration for STM32

When asked about switching perspectives, click Switch. You should get a new perspective with a new toolbar at the top of your IDE. Click the Resume button.

Running a program in STM32CubeIDE

The green LED on your Nucleo board (labeled LD2) should begin to flash on for 1 second and off for 1 second.

STM32 Nucleo blinking

If you double-click on a line number (e.g. 102 as shown in the screenshot below), you can add a breakpoint (shown by the hook-like symbol to the left of the line number). 

Adding a breakpoint to STM32CubeIDE

The code will stop execution at this line. You can then use the Step Into, Step Over, and Step Return buttons (to the right of the Stop button.

Step through debugging buttons in STM32CubeIDE

To step through lines of code, one at a time.

  • Step Into: If you are currently on a function call, go into that functions definition to execute lines of code one at a time. If not on a function call, execute the line of code.
  • Step Over: If you are currently on a function call, execute all the code within that function without going into the function’s definition. If not on a function call, execute the line of code.
  • Step Return: If you are currently inside a function definition, execute the rest of the code in that function and return from the function.

Feel free to play around with these debugging features to see how powerful a real step-through debugger can be.


Download STM32CubeIDE:

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