Enforce Zephyr code quality with pre-commit


In this article, I’ll describe how embedded firmware developers can leverage pre-commit to automate and enforce code quality checks in their Zephyr RTOS embedded firmware projects.


An earlier revision of this article recommended running clang-format as a pre-commit hook. While this is still possible, there are some downsides to running clang-format automatically via pre-commit (for example, clang-format formatting does not 100% align with the Zephyr project coding style and needs some manual fixing).

I have updated this article to focus on using pre-commit to automatically run the Zephyr checkpatch.pl script as recommended by the Zephyr project coding style. If you’re interested in setting up clang-format as a pre-commit hook, check out this article from the Interrupt blog.

What’s the problem?

To prevent back-and-forth discussions over code style and improve code quality, many embedded development teams have adopted a set of “coding style” guidelines. However, if these style guidelines are simply written down in a README or some other project documentation, it’s inevitable that those guidelines will be ignored.

Phillip Johnston from Embedded Artistry wrote an excellent article Creating and Enforcing a Code Formatting Standard with clang-format with this quote from MongoDB that bears repeating here:

A formatting process which is both manual and insufficient is doomed to be abandoned.

Phillip’s article is a fantastic deep-dive on how to use the clang-format tool to automatically format code to comply with code formatting guidelines encoded in a .clang-format config file. In a follow up article, he describes how to enforce these rules on a build server in a CI environment to ensure that all changes are checked for formatting before they are merged into the main branch.

He also mentions that it’s possible to enforce formatting checks in a local development environment using git hooks, but points out the following caveat:

[…] the use of git hooks requires users to install the hooks on their end. It’s hard to fully enforce that flow, especially since you’re relying on developers to remember that hooks need to be installed.

The reality is that managing git hooks manually is painful and it’s hard to enforce consistency across multiple developers, especially as those hooks change over time.

How do you make sure that everyone on your team is running the same set of pre-commit checks?

A case for using pre-commit in Zephyr projects

Fortunately, there is a fantastic tool called pre-commit that can automatically install, manage, and run git commit hooks, without requiring individual developers to manage these hooks manually. By shipping a single .pre-commit-config.yaml config with your embedded project, you can make it trivially easy for individual developers to run code quality checks and automatically enforce code style rules in their development environment. And this all happens before the code is checked into git. This can help ensure that code submitted for peer review is consistently formatted and matches the agreed-upon code style for the project, allowing discussions to focus on the actual content of the changes without devolving into code style arguments.

In addition to checking for code style issues such as formatting and linting, pre-commit can be configured to run other types of checks (linting, line-endings & whitespace, YAML file syntax issues, common code security issues, etc). There is a growing set of custom community-provided hooks in addition to the ones provided out-of-the-box by the developers.

For a great introduction to using pre-commit for embedded development in general, Noah Pendleton published an article on the Interrupt blog about how they Automatically format and lint code with pre-commit at Memfault.

At this point, you might be thinking “I don’t want to learn a new tool” or “I don’t want to introduce additional dependencies”. However, I would argue that pre-commit actually simplifies the setup process for new developers vs. a manual approach.

First, if you’re using Zephyr, you’re probably already setting up a python virtual environment. Installing pre-commit for a Zephyr project is just two commands:

pip install pre-commit
pre-commit install

That’s it! Once pre-commit is installed, the code quality checks will run automatically whenever a developer runs git commit in their local development environment. No more having to manually run checks before committing!

Second, if you’re already using west manifest files to manage dependencies for your project’s source code, you will find .pre-commit-config.yaml to be familiar in concept. Just as west.yml can be used to lock the specific revision for each source code dependency, the .pre-commit-config.yaml file is used to lock the specific revision for each code quality check you want to run. Just check this file into the git repo for your project, and all developers on your team will run the exact same set of checks.

What checks should I run?

The Zephyr project Coding Style recommends using a modified version of the Linux kernel checkpatch.pl tool shipped with Zephyr, along with the provided .checkpatch.conf file. This is a good place for us to start when setting up pre-commit checks in our Zephyr application.

The remainder of this article is going to describe how to configure pre-commit to automatically run Zephyr’s checkpatch.pl before each git commit. This will flag any code style issues present in our project code before we commit any changes.

If you don’t already have existing code style guidelines required by your team or project, I would recommend simply copying .checkpatch.conf from the Zephyr project as a starting point. For example, if your project follows the recommended layout in the Zephyr example-application, you can copy this file into your application as follows:

cd example-application-workspace/
cp zephyr/.checkpatch.conf example-application/.checkpatch.conf

You’ll need to change the following line in .checkpatch.conf to match the location of the typedefsfile file in your project (in this example, I’m just using the one included in the Zephyr repository):


If this path is set up incorrectly, you’ll get an error that looks like this:

No additional types will be considered - file '../foo/bar/typedefsfile': No such file or directory

Check these config files into the root of your project’s git repository.

How to configure pre-commit in a Zephyr project

Now that we’ve got the .checkpatch.conf config file in our project repo, we can create a pre-commit config to run these checks. For the remainder of this article, I’m going to assume your project follows the recommended layout in the Zephyr example-application, but it should be simple to adapt this to your project layout.

First, we need to add an empty pre-commit config file to our project repo:


pre-commit hooks are just git repositories and they are specified in the .pre-commit-config.yaml file as a list of values under the repos key. Each hook has a:

  • repo key that contains the URL of the git repository
  • rev key that contains the specific revision of the hook
  • hooks key that describes the hooks to run (repos can contain multiple hooks)

Next, we’ll add a hook that runs Zephyr’s checkpatch.pl (using the .checkpatch.conf config file we added earlier):

  - repo: https://github.com/cgnd/zephyr-pre-commit-hooks
    rev: v1.0.0
    - id: zephyr-checkpatch-diff
Unfortunately, Zephyr’s checkpatch does not currently work on Windows 😿

Finally, check in the .pre-commit-config.yaml file into your project’s git repository.

Now we’re ready to install and run pre-commit.

How to install and run pre-commit

As mentioned earlier, it’s simple to install the pre-commit tool:

pip install pre-commit

Next, run the following command to install the git hooks:

cd example-application-workspace/example-application/
pre-commit install

NOTE: The zephyr-checkpatch-diff hook we added requires that the Zephyr environment scripts have been run. Run the following command to set up the Zephyr environment variables (this must be run for each new terminal session):

source example-application-workspace/zephyr/zephyr-env.sh

The zephyr-checkpatch-diff hook we added will run checks on any staged changes that we’re trying to commit (i.e. it will only check the output of git diff --cached and does NOT check entire files).

To show how this works, let’s make some changes in the project’s main.c to violate Zephyr’s coding style:

 #include <zephyr/logging/log.h>

-int main(void)
-       int ret;
+int main(void) {
+       int new;
        const struct device *sensor;

        printk("Zephyr Example Application %s\n", APP_VERSION_STRING);

Let’s see what happens when we try to commit this change:

❯ git add app/src/main.c
❯ git commit -m "Change variable name"
Run Zephyr's checkpatch.pl...............................................Failed
- hook id: zephyr-checkpatch-diff
- exit code: 1

-:12: ERROR:OPEN_BRACE: open brace '{' following function definitions go on the next line
#12: FILE: app/src/main.c:13:
+int main(void) {

- total: 1 errors, 0 warnings, 11 lines checked

In this example, checkpatch.pl checks failed because the Zephyr coding style requires that open braces go on the next line after function definitions.

After fixing the error (by moving the open brace to the next line), we can git add the modified files:

❯ git add app/src/main.c

When we try to commit again, all the checks pass!

❯ git commit -m "Change variable name"
Run Zephyr's checkpatch.pl...............................................Passed
[test 689d9c0] Change variable name
 1 file changed, 1 insertion(+), 1 deletion(-)

Tips & Tricks

What to do when clang-format and checkpatch.pl disagree

You may run into cases where Zephyr’s .clang-format and .checkpatch.conf disagree on code style (in the Zephyr project, clang-format is not intended to be a one-stop solution to all the code style issues).

For example, here’s how clang-format will format the following code using Zephyr’s .clang-format:

static const struct divider_config divider_config = {
	.io_channel =
	.power_gpios = GPIO_DT_SPEC_GET_OR(VBATT, power_gpios, {}),
	.output_ohm = DT_PROP(VBATT, output_ohms),
	.full_ohm = DT_PROP(VBATT, full_ohms),

If we try to commit this, checkpatch.pl will fail because it thinks that the { should be on the same line as .io_channel =:

Run Zephyr's checkpatch.pl...............................................Failed
- hook id: zephyr-checkpatch-diff
- exit code: 1

-:15: ERROR:OPEN_BRACE: that open brace { should be on the previous line
#15: FILE: src/battery_monitor/battery.c:87:
+       .io_channel =
+               {

- total: 1 errors, 0 warnings, 24 lines checked

You can resolve this conflict by using special comments to tell clang-format to skip formatting on certain lines in the file:

static const struct divider_config divider_config = {
	/* clang-format off */
	.io_channel = {
	/* clang-format on */
	.power_gpios = GPIO_DT_SPEC_GET_OR(VBATT, power_gpios, {}),
	.output_ohm = DT_PROP(VBATT, output_ohms),
	.full_ohm = DT_PROP(VBATT, full_ohms),

Now, if you try to commit this, checkpatch.pl checks will pass.

How to skip running pre-commit hooks if necessary

There may be times when pre-commit is failing but you need to commit anyway.

To skip all pre-commit hooks, add the --no-verify switch to the git commit command:

git commit --no-verify -m "foo"

To skip one or more hooks, you can set the SKIP environment variable to a comma separated list of hook ids:

SKIP=zephyr-checkpatch-diff git commit -m "foo"

Automatically install pre-commit hooks when a repo is cloned

You can configure git init to automatically install pre-commit hooks when a new repository is cloned (rather than having to run pre-commit install manually).

Follow the recommended setup instructions at https://pre-commit.com/#pre-commit-init-templatedir

Example Repo

If you would like to check out an example Zephyr application with a pre-commit config, I’ve added a pre-commit branch to my fork of the Zephyr example-application repo. Here’s a direct link to the .pre-commit-config.yaml file:


Revision History

Revision Date Description
1 2023-07-16 Initial release
2 2023-08-23 Remove clang-format hook


If you are using pre-commit (or something like it) as part of your embedded development workflow, let me know in the comments below! I’d love to learn more about how other embedded teams are using tools like this in their workflow.