• MicroPython
    4 min | 110

    Tutorial: Getting Started with MicroPython on ESP32, M5Stack and ESP8266

    MicroPython | 4 min | 110

    diy projects
    esp32 projects

    MicroPython has almost all the features of Python, and allows you to easily interact with microcontrollers and sensors, making them accessible to both beginners and experienced Python programmers.

    If you are new to MicroPython, I quote the official MicroPython page for you:

    MicroPython is a lean and efficient implementation of the Python 3 programming language that includes a small subset of the Python standard library and is optimized to run on microcontrollers and in "constrained environments".

    If you have one of the boards listed in the hardware section below or another one with an ESP32, you can flash the MicroPython firmware on that chip. Then, you have two options: you can compile it yourself, or you can download a pre-compiled firmware and flash it.

    If you are still not sure about MicroPython, check out the section: MicroPython. There are many interesting articles and projects to read! Otherwise, you can start reading the following sections to flash micropython and upload your code on the board!


    This is just a selection of boards that support MicroPython.

    If you've bought a Pycom WiPy3.0, you don't need to flash the MicroPython firmware. That board comes with a version of MicroPython pre-flashed and you can update it using the Pycom's update tool.

    Flashing a pre-compiled Firmware

    This is the easiest way to get the MicroPython running on an ESP32. However, you get only what you download. So you cannot extend the version or freeze any new module.

    If you are not familiar with Linux, this is your best option:

    1. Install Python >=3.6 on your PC (Guide)
      • On Windows install it with PIP support
      • On Linux install pip too: sudo apt-get install python3-pip
    2. Go to the MicroPython download website
    3. Download the firmware:

      • if you have a board with pSRAM, download a GENERIC-SPIRAM firmware;
      • if you need BLE, download the firmware built with ESP-IDF v4.x

      There are many versions: stable ones, and a nightly release. You can choose one of them. I prefer the last stable release.

    4. Install the esptool.py tool following these instructions:
      # on Linux
      pip install esptool
      # or usually on Windows
      python -m pip install esptool 


    5. Using the esptool.py tool and type the following lines:
      # On Linux:
      esptool.py --chip esp32 --port /dev/ttyUSBx erase_flash
      esptool.py --chip esp32 --port /dev/ttyUSBx --baud 460800 write_flash -z 0x1000 <file_name>.bin
      # On Windows:
      python -m esptool --chip esp32 --port COMx erase_flash
      python -m esptool --chip esp32 --port COMx --baud 460800 write_flash -z 0x1000 <file_name>.bin

      The first line erases the entire flash, you need this if you are flashing MicroPython for the first time on the board.

    Compiling MicroPython

    If you want to compile your MicroPython version from scratch, follow these instructions:

    1. Install the pre-requirements:
      sudo apt-get install git wget libncurses-dev flex bison gperf python python-pip python-setuptools python-serial python-click python-cryptography python-future python-pyparsing python-pyelftools cmake ninja-build ccache libffi-dev libssl-dev
    2. Download the ESP-IDF framework (I'm using here the new version V4.x):

      mkdir ~/esp/
      cd ~/esp/
      git clone https://github.com/espressif/esp-idf.git
      cd esp-idf
      git checkout 310beae373446ceb9a4ad9b36b5428d7fdf2705f 
      ## the above hash is defined by the variable ESPIDF_SUPHASH_V4 in the file:
      # https://github.com/micropython/micropython/blob/master/ports/esp32/Makefile
      git submodule update --init --recursive
      ## if you don't clone the submodules (recursive)
      # you'll get the following error while compiling MicroPython: 
      # xtensa-esp32-elf/bin/ld: cannot find -lrtc
    3. Download and install the toolchain:
      wget https://dl.espressif.com/dl/xtensa-esp32-elf-linux64-1.22.0-80-g6c4433a-5.2.0.tar.gz
      cd ~/esp/
      tar -xzf ~/Downloads/xtensa-esp32-elf-linux64-1.22.0-80-g6c4433a-5.2.0.tar.gz
      export PATH="$HOME/esp/xtensa-esp32-elf/bin:$PATH"
      export IDF_PATH="$HOME/esp/esp-idf"
      ## Don't use the install.sh option, it didn't work for me and
      # I got a lot of errors while compiling MicroPython
    4. Clone MicroPython and compile the cross-compiler:

      git clone https://github.com/micropython/micropython.git
      cd micropython/mpy-cross
      cd ../ports/esp32
    5. (Optional) Modify the setup to include support for BLE. If you have a board with pSRAM, change GENERIC to GENERIC_SPIRAM:

      nano boards/GENERIC/mpconfigboard.mk
      ##  boards/GENERIC/mpconfigboard.mk 
      # add the following line at the end
      SDKCONFIG += boards/sdkconfig.ble
    6. Select the board version (change this to GENERIC_SPIRAM if your board has pSRAM):
      export BOARD=GENERIC
    7. Compile the submodules and MicroPython:
      make submodules
    8. Flash the MicroPython firmware on the ESP32, which should be already connected to a USB port:
      make deploy

    Freeze modules on MicroPython

    As I mentioned, you can freeze modules and include them into the firmware. This reduces the memory use on MicroPython and makes your code faster. To do that, copy the module files that you want to freeze into micropython/ports/esp32/modules. Then, repeat step 7 and 8. You should see something like this:

    Use make V=1 or set BUILD_VERBOSE in your environment to increase build verbosity.
    Building with ESP IDF v4
    MPY sx127x.py
    GEN build-GENERIC/frozen_content.c
    CC build-GENERIC/frozen_content.c
    LINK build-GENERIC/application.elf
       text    data     bss     dec     hex filename
    1151395  269960   46244 1467599  1664cf build-GENERIC/application.elf
    Create build-GENERIC/application.bin
    esptool.py v2.8-dev
    Create build-GENERICM/firmware.bin
    bootloader     22528
    partitions      3072
    application  1421488
    total        1487024

    In this case, the SX127x driver (sx127x.py) was included. The module is compiled (MPY) and added to the MicroPython firmware as a frozen module. Then, you don't need to upload it using the PyMakr extension and you can import/use it as usual. In the example case:

    from sx127x import TTN, SX127x

    Fonts files and drivers are good candidates for this procedure.

    Uploading code to the board

    I recommend using VSCode and the Pymakr extension to program and upload code to the ESP32 boards running MicroPython firmware. A tutorial is available on this link: MicroPython: Visual Studio Code (VSCode) as IDE.

    Furthermore, you can get IntelliSense, autocompletion, dependency management, and linting capabilities on VSCode installing the micropy-cli. A tutorial about the extension is available on this link: MicroPython: VSCode IntelliSense, Autocompletion & Linting capabilities.