Using Atmel's DFU Bootloader ABI on ATMega32U4 in avr-gcc

I've recently used Atmel's ATMega32u4 and I liked it a lot. 32 kilobytes of flash, USB transceiver and bootloader support are the most important features of this rather inexpensive device, which make it very easy to use for prototyping USB devices.

A nice addition is that the device comes preflashed with Atmel's DFU bootloader, which makes it possible to program the device over USB without connecting SPI or JTAG. It doesn't support any debugging, but it's good enough for simple projects.

I've been working on a project recently, where I assumed JTAG or SPI wouldn't be necessary and decided to rely on the stock bootloader. The problem is, I needed to change the contents of the flash memory in run-time. This is possible with the bootloader's ABI, but as it turned out, not that easy.

Understanding the bootloader

There's a lot of information available about writing bootloaders for these chips, the avr-libc even has all the necessary routines implemented. But that's if you want to write your own bootloader. What if you just don't want to? Why wouldn't you - one could ask. Well, at least because you don't want to require the users of your device to program its bootloader with additional tools, which they may not have, and because you don't want to program the bootloader for them, as this requires additional headers on the board.

And that is just what I thought when I designed this board. No JTAG, no ISP, just USB, and I decided to rely on Atmel's bootloader.

Strangely, I found absolutely nothing about the bootloader on the Internet, except for Atmel's documentation, which is, to say the least, a bit misleading.

The last 3 days (shame to admit that...) I spent trying to make the bootloader save data to the program memory during run-time (i.e. without the bootloader actually running and the device enumerating as DFU), so I decided to share the conclusions here.


The starting point to understanding how to call the bootloader's functions is its source code. Atmel provides the sources for bootloader's functions which are capable of programming flash and fuses in runtime. The main reason I failed the first time I tried to use them is because I didn't read it, trying to understand the documentation instead.

Atmel provides the documentation in USB DFU Bootloader Datasheet Complete. Looking at "C Code Example" doesn't help, since the functions are not gcc-compatible. Let's take a look at one of functions instead (original formatting):

It takes its only parameter from three registers: r18, r17 and r16 and that is not the C calling convention that avr-gcc has. Why Atmel claims this bootloader is C-compatible, I don't know, since they are using gcc as part of Atmel Studio 6...

Anyway, according to gcc's documentation, registers r2-r17 and r28-r29 are call-saved, which means that the compiler is assuming their values won't change when a function returns (with respect to what they were before the call). Unfortunately, some of them (namely r16 and r17) are used to pass the argument, so we have to make sure to save them before and restore after the call.

To call this function from C, we'll need the following assembler inline:

This code saves r16 and 17 on the stack and restores them later, because flash_prg_page is going to destroy them. The clobber list contains all three argument-registers and all the other registers which the bootloader is going to use. r20, r30 and r31 are call-used, but we still have to declare them in the clobber list, since the compiler doesn't know there's a call - it's inlined in assembler - so it doesn't know they're about to change!

Where are the functions?

We know how to call the functions, but we also need their addresses. The bootloader's source code says this:

The function table starts at FLASH_END - 0x1B, it would make sense if that was 28 bytes before the end of flash, since there are 7 functions and that would mean 4 bytes per function, which is correct - a jump instruction is 2 words long.

In iom32u4.h there is a macro named FLASHEND and it's defined to be 0x7FFF, so it's the address of the last byte of the flash memory. That means the last function, lock_wr_bits, is located at FLASHEND - 3. And this means that the addresses of function calls should look like this:

atmel_bootloader library

I've decided to prepare macros to support all the functions and I ended up writing three: for 1-argument functions, for 1-argument functions which return a byte and for 2-argument functions.

For example the wrapper for a 1-argument function which returns a byte looks like this:

PUSH_REGS and POP_REGS are defined like this:

I also added r0 and r1, because they are used in some of the bootloader's functions and they're described as "Fixed registers", so gcc reads from them sometimes and I wouldn't like to overwrite them.

In the end, calling a function like this is simple:

I also added a couple of extra features: a function which counts the bootloader's size basing on the fuse bytes' values, a function which jumps to the bootloader, putting the device in DFU mode, and one which writes a whole page to flash.

You can download the library from its github repository.

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