ESP32 Timers with ESP-IDF


In this article, we will learn about ESP32 general purpose timers. ESP32 has four 64-bit general purpose timers, which are divided into two groups, each group has two timer instances. We will learn how to initialise a timer, configure timer duration, start a timer, and how to use timer interrupt. We will implement a simple project in which a timer is used to count 1 second interval. Whenever timer expires, we will toggle a GPIO pin so that a LED connected with it blinks. Note that we will use APIs in ESP-IDF (version 4.3) to control timers.

Hardware Used

We will be using the following components to build a circuit for our project

QTYComponent NameBuy on
1ESP32 DevKit CAmazon
1LED KitAmazon
1Resistor KitAmazon
1Jumper Wire KitAmazon

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Timer library

The timer APIs are defined in driver/include/driver/timer.h and you need to include the driver before using it

#include "driver/timer.h"


The first step when working with ESP32 timer is to initialise it. We need to use function timer_init() to specify which timer to use and what parameters to configure the timer. The function has prototype

esp_err_t timer_init(timer_group_t group_num, timer_idx_t timer_num, const timer_config_t *config);

This function takes a number of arguments:

  • group_num: as mentioned earlier, there are two timer groups, TIMER_GROUP_0 and TIMER_GROUP_1, and these are accepted value for this argument.
  • timer_num: in each timer group, there are two timer instances, TIMER_0 and TIMER_1, you need to specify which timer to use.
  • config: a pointer that points to a timer configuration of type timer_config_t.

This function returns ESP_OK if initialisation is successful and ESP_ERR_INVALID_ARG if there is an invalid argument.

Configure timer parameters

The timer_config_t structure contains timer settings and specifies how the timer works. It includes the following settings:

  • alarm_en: whether to enable (TIMER_ALARM_EN) or disable (TIMER_ALARM_DIS) timer alarm. When alarm is enabled, and an alarm value is set, the timer will generate an interrupt when its internal counter value is equal alarm value.
  • counter_en: this value specifies whether to start timer immidately (TIMER_START) after initialisation or not (TIMER_PAUSE).
  • counter_dir: determines to count up (TIMER_COUNT_UP) or count down (TIMER_COUNT_DOWN)
  • auto_reload: if this value is equal TIMER_AUTORELOAD_EN, after an alarm event, the initial counter value will be reloaded and timer will start counting from the initial value. If this value is equal TIMER_AUTORELOAD_DIS, the initial counter value will not be reloaded, timer will continue to increase or decrease.
  • divider: determines the timer frequency. By default, the timer’s clock source is typically 80 MHz, hence the timer frequency is 80 MHz / divider

Set initial counter value

To set the initial counter value, you use the API timer_set_counter_value()

esp_err_t timer_set_counter_value(timer_group_t group_num, timer_idx_t timer_num, uint64_t load_val);

You need to specify the timer group group_num, timer index timer_num and the value load_val to start counting from.

Set alarm value

To set alarm value, e.g. the value at which timer generates an interrupt, you use the function timer_set_alarm_value(). As before, you need to tell the function which timer group and timer number and alarm value to be set.

esp_err_t timer_set_alarm_value(timer_group_t group_num, timer_idx_t timer_num, uint64_t alarm_value);

Enable timer interrupt

To enable timer interrupt, use the function timer_enable_intr()

esp_err_t timer_enable_intr(timer_group_tgroup_num, timer_idx_ttimer_num);

Add timer interrupt callback

To add a timer interrupt handler, use the API timer_isr_callback_add

esp_err_t timer_isr_callback_add(timer_group_t group_num, timer_idx_t timer_num, timer_isr_t isr_handler, void *arg, int intr_alloc_flags);

You need to tell which timer group and timer number are being used. The timer interrupt handler timer_isr_t has the following prototype

typedef bool (*timer_isr_t)(void *);

The interrupt handler needs to return true or false. If it returns true, do task yield at the end of the ISR.

Start a timer

To start a timer, use the API timer_start() and specify which timer to run

esp_err_t timer_start(timer_group_t group_num, timer_idx_t timer_num);

ESP-IDF Timer Example

Now you have learnt about some APIs to control hardware timers of ESP32, let’s use it in practice to build a simple project: blink an LED every 1 second using a timer. The circuit includes a ESP32 DevKitC board, a resistor, a LED connected to GPIO 32 as shown in the below image:

Step 1: Create a new project

We will start by copying the timer_group example in ESP-IDF and save it to another location, for example ~/esp32projects/timer. Now run the following commands to make sure we can compile and flash the code before continuing.

get_idf build -p [PORT] flash monitor

Step 2: Adding our code in app_main

After confirming everything is working, delete all code in timer_group_example_main.c by the following code

#include <stdio.h>
#include "freertos/FreeRTOS.h"
#include "freertos/task.h"
#include "freertos/semphr.h"
#include "driver/timer.h"
#include "driver/gpio.h"

#define TIMER_DIVIDER   (16)
#define LED_PIN         GPIO_NUM_32

static SemaphoreHandle_t s_timer_sem;
static bool IRAM_ATTR timer_group_isr_callback(void * args) {
    BaseType_t high_task_awoken = pdFALSE;
    xSemaphoreGiveFromISR(s_timer_sem, &high_task_awoken);
    return (high_task_awoken == pdTRUE);

void app_main(void)
    static int led_state = 0;
    gpio_set_direction(LED_PIN, GPIO_MODE_OUTPUT);
    gpio_set_level(LED_PIN, 0);
    s_timer_sem = xSemaphoreCreateBinary();
    if (s_timer_sem == NULL) {
        printf("Binary semaphore can not be created");
    timer_config_t config = {
        .divider = TIMER_DIVIDER,
        .counter_dir = TIMER_COUNT_UP,
        .counter_en = TIMER_PAUSE,
        .alarm_en = TIMER_ALARM_EN,
        .auto_reload = TIMER_AUTORELOAD_EN
    timer_init(TIMER_GROUP_0, TIMER_0, &config);
    timer_set_counter_value(TIMER_GROUP_0, TIMER_0, 0);
    timer_set_alarm_value(TIMER_GROUP_0, TIMER_0, (TIMER_BASE_CLK / TIMER_DIVIDER));
    timer_enable_intr(TIMER_GROUP_0, TIMER_0);
    timer_isr_callback_add(TIMER_GROUP_0, TIMER_0, timer_group_isr_callback, NULL, 0);
    timer_start(TIMER_GROUP_0, TIMER_0);
    while (1) {
        if (xSemaphoreTake(s_timer_sem, portMAX_DELAY) == pdPASS) {
            if (led_state == 0) {
                led_state = 1;
                gpio_set_level(LED_PIN, 1);
            } else {
                led_state = 0;
                gpio_set_level(LED_PIN, 0);

How the code works

  1. First, we set up timer using the APIs in the previous section. In this example, we are using TIMER_0 of TIMER_GROUP_0 to count time. We declare a variable config to store timer configuration: count up, do not start immediately, enable alarm and auto reload. Then we call timer_init() and pass the address of config as the third parameter.

  2. In the next step, we set initial counter value to 0 and set alarm value equal to the frequency of the timer using timer_set_counter_value() and timer_set_alarm_value(), respectively. Note that the macro TIMER_BASE_CLK will get us the input clock source to the timer.

  3. We then enable timer interrupt and add an interrupt handler using timer_enable_intr() and timer_isr_callback_add(). Finally we start the timer by calling timer_start().

  4. We define a binary semaphore s_timer_sem. In the timer interrupt callback, it will give the semaphore by calling xSemaphoreGiveFromISR(). This is a freeRTOS API.

  5. In the main loop, it will attempt to take the s_timer_sem. Note that for freeRTOS, when a task is trying to take a semaphore and it is not available, it will go to Blocked state waiting for the semaphore. Once the semaphore is given by the ISR, the calling task is woken and continue execution. In this case, it will toggle the LED pin LED_PIN using GPIO APIs gpio_set_level(). You can check out our previous tutorial to learn GPIO APIs.

Build, flash and run the program

To build the program, run build

To flash the program, run -p [PORT] flash

After flashing, you should see the blue LED on the WROVER-KIT blinks every 1 second.

Wrapping Up

In this article, you have learnt about ESP32 hardware timers and how to control them using the timer driver in ESP-IDF. If you want to learn more, check out ESP32 Timer API reference here. If you have any comments, leave it in the comment section. Thanks for reading.

3 thoughts on “ESP32 Timers with ESP-IDF”

  1. what I needed to change to get the led working for my board

    #define LED_PIN 13 // just the GPIO number

    gpio_reset_pin( LED_PIN ); // needed to make the command below work
    gpio_set_direction(LED_PIN, GPIO_MODE_OUTPUT);

  2. Is there anyway to update this module? This module uses the deprecated
    “driver/timer.h” library from ESP-IDF API version 4. Version 5 uses the “driver/gptimer.h” library which has a completely different methods and alarm structure. I don’t know enough yet to post a solution, but if I do, I will post it here.

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