Top 5 VS Code Extensions for IoT Developers

In just a few years, Visual Studio Code has conquered the hearts of a wide variety of developers. It took off very quickly in the web development communities, but it has now also become the IDE of choice for Java, Python, or C/C++ developers as well, whether they run Linux, MacOS, or Windows. In fact, in Stack Overflow’s most recent developer survey, VS Code is ranked at over 50% market share among the 90,000+ developers who responded.

Whether you’re just getting into IoT or whether you’ve been working on IoT solutions for some time already, you’ve probably realized that “full-stack developer” is a term that also often applies to IoT. You may very well be spending most of your days working on developing and testing the firmware of your connected embedded device in C. Still, once in a while, you may want to tune some Python scripts used for you build system, or use a command-line tool to check that your IoT backend services are up and running.

Rather than having to switch from one development environment or command line terminal to the other, I wouldn’t be surprised if, just like me, you’d be interested in doing most of your work without ever leaving your IDE.

In this article, we look at some essential VS Code extensions that will help you become a more productive IoT developer.

VS Code extension for Arduino

It’s been a very long time since I last opened the Arduino IDE on my computer. It is a great tool, especially for helping newcomers get started with the Arduino ecosystem, but it is lacking some key features for anyone interested in doing more than just blinking an LED or running basic programs. And now that more and more platforms are compatible with Arduino, from RISC-V developer kits such as HiFive1, to ESP32 or STM32 Nucleo family, there are even more reasons for looking for a better IDE for Arduino development.

The VS Code extension for Arduino is built on top of the official Arduino IDE—which you need to install once but will probably never open ever again—and provides you with all the features you’d expect to find in the classic IDE (e.g. browsing code samples or monitor your serial port).

The VS Code extension for Arduino in action.
The VS Code extension for Arduino in action.

What makes the extension particularly powerful in my opinion, is the fact it builds on top of the VS Code C/C++ tools to provide you with full-blown Intellisense and code navigation for your code, which proves to be very useful

I vividly remember the first time I put my hands on and soldered an Arduino-compatible board, circa 2010, at the TechShop Menlo Park. It’s been incredible to see the Arduino ecosystem grow over the years. Equally incredible is to think that until very recently, debugging a so-called sketch was reserved for the most adventurous programmers. If there was only one reason for you to try out the VS Code extension for Arduino, it has to be the fact it makes debugging Arduino programs so much easier (no more ‘Serial.println’ traces, yay!).

Behind the scenes, the extension leverages common debug interfaces such as CMSIS-DAP, JLink, and ST-Link. If your device already has an onboard debugging chip implementing one of these interfaces, you’re all set! If not, you will simply need to look at using an external connector that’s compatible with your chip.


PlatformIO IDE

Like I mentioned in the previous section, there are more and more platforms that tap into the Arduino paradigm, but there is, of course, more to embedded development than the Arduino ecosystem.

PlatformIO.org logo

PlatformIO originated as an open-source command-line tool to support IoT and embedded developers by providing a uniform mechanism for toolchain provisioning, library management, debugging, etc. It quickly evolved to integrate tightly with VS Code, and the PlatformIO IDE extension for VS Code is now one of the most popular ones on the Visual Studio Marketplace.

PlatformIO supports 30+ platforms (ex. Atmel AVR, Atmel SAM, ESP-32 and 8266, Kendryte K210, Freescale Kinetis, etc. ), 20+ frameworks (Arduino, ESP-IDF, Arm Mbed, Zephyr, …) and over 750 different boards! For each of these platforms, the extension will help you write your code (code completion, code navigation), manage your dependencies, build and debug, and interact with your device using the serial port monitor.

Another interesting feature is the ability to convert an existing Arduino project to the PlatformIO format, essentially making it much easier to share with your coworkers (and the world!), since it can then leverage PlatformIO’s advanced library management features. For example, it can automatically pull your 3rd party libraries solely based on the header files you’re including in your code.  


Azure IoT Tools

The Azure IoT Tools extension for VS Code is essentially an extension bundle that installs in one single click the Azure IoT Hub Toolkit, the IoT Edge extension, and the Device Workbench.

Azure IoT

As you look at connecting your devices to the cloud, Azure IoT Hub provides you with all you need to manage your devices, collect their telemetry and route it to consuming services, and more. Using the Azure IoT Hub extension, you can easily provision an IoT Hub instance in your Azure subscription, provision your devices, monitor the data they are sending, etc. all without having to leave your IDE!

If you are interested in using a container-based architecture for making your IoT gateways smart, chances are IoT Edge can help you! Thanks to the dedicated extension, you can easily build your custom IoT Edge modules, and deploy them to your edge devices connected to IoT Hub, either real ones or simulated ones running on your development machine.

Finally, the Device Workbench can help you get started very quickly with actual devices. It provides a set of tools to help with building your own IoT plug-and-play device, or simply to try out Azure IoT with an actual device, using one of the many examples bundled with the workbench.

What do I like the most with the Azure IoT Tools extension? Every few weeks, you get tons of awesome updates and new features, as the extension is actively developed.

By the way, if you don’t have an Azure subscription and want to get started with IoT on Azure, you can create a free trial account here!


Remote Development extension pack

IoT Development is much more than writing code for embedded devices. Frequently, you will find yourself in a situation where you want to interact with a folder that lives in a container on a remote edge gateway, or on a cloud server. You sure can use SSH and/or SCP to sync your local and remote development environments, but this can be pretty painful and error-prone.

The Remote Development extension pack allows you to open any folder in a container or on a remote machine and to then just use VS Code’s as if you were manipulating local resources.


REST Client

If you are like me, your go-to tool for testing REST APIs is probably Postman. It is indeed a great tool for creating and testing REST, SOAP, or GraphQL requests and it even allows you to save queries in the cloud and to share them with your colleagues. However, I recently found myself in a situation where I wanted to share some sample queries with people during a training session, and I didn’t want them to have to copy-paste unnecessarily from the training instructions to Postman; instead, I wanted the queries to be part of the actual training material!

The REST Client extension turns any file with an .http or .rest extension into an executable notebook, where you can very easily execute all the queries contained in it.

As you build an end-to-end IoT solution, it is more than likely that you will rely on 3rd party services along the way, and that you will interact with them using some form of REST API. For example, you may rely on a weather service as part of your predictive maintenance computations. Below is an example of how I shared with my students a few queries showing how to use the Azure Maps API to compute routes or render map tiles.

And now for the same queries (except for the subscription key which has been replaced by a real one 🙂) executed in real-time thanks to the REST Client extension:

How about you? Are there other VS Code extensions that you’ve found useful for your IoT projects? If so, I would love to hear about them in the comments.

You can also always find me on Twitter to continue the conversation.

Time for new challenges!

After almost five years with the Eclipse Foundation, I have decided to resign from my current position and will now be looking for new challenges. The Eclipse Foundation—and the Eclipse community at large—are pretty much family to me, so this has been a tough decision.

I am really proud of what the Eclipse IoT community has achieved since the creation of the Eclipse M2M IoT Working Group at the end of 2011. We have become the center of gravity for open source IoT technology, and we have an incredibly active community of 45+ leading IoT companies working on 40+ open source projects. We’ve moved from being a simple collection of useful open source IoT projects, to a community that actively collaborates on reference architectures, produces tons of great content, and that is now leading the charge in bringing IoT to edge and cloud environments.

I have learned a lot from all the people I have met through all these years and I feel very lucky that I had the opportunity to serve such an amazing community.

Whether you know me directly or through this blog, you know that I am passionate about all things open source and IoT, of course, but that I also care deeply about creating vibrant ecosystems around bleeding edge technology. I will be looking for new career opportunities where I can leverage my years of experience growing and managing the Eclipse IoT ecosystem in order to help companies grow their developer or partner communities.

I will be effectively leaving the Foundation at the end of January 2019, so I will be looking forward to meeting some of you at KubeCon China next week and KubeCon North America in December. As always, you can reach out to me anytime via the contact form on this blog, or follow me on Twitter and LinkedIn.

The Open IoT Challenge 5.0 is live!

Last week, we launched the fifth edition of our Open IoT Challenge. It is really exciting to be back, and I am really looking forward to seeing what people will be building! The Open IoT Challenge encourages IoT enthusiasts and developers to build innovative applications for the Internet of Things using open standards and open source technology.

Every year, I try to share with aspiring applicants some ideas that I think would be worth exploring in the context of the challenge.

Here’s my list for this year:

  • I am always interested in seeing people explore Industrial IoT use cases. We have plenty of Eclipse IoT projects that are relevant in that space, from implementations of industrial protocols like Sparkplug (Eclipse Tahu project) or PPMP (Eclipse Unide) to edge-gateway solutions like Eclipse Kura or Eclipse 4diac.
  • Blockchain/distributed ledger and IoT anyone? From IoT data monetization to security I think that, beyond all the hype, it is worth exploring how blockchain and DLT can play a role in IoT. Last year, the team from Trusting IoT took the second place in the Open IoT Challenge. They have published an incredible amount of blog posts that are a great read for anyone interested in exploring that space.
  • The line between edge devices (sensors and gateways) and the cloud is becoming increasingly blurry, and people are looking at fog computing (sometimes referred to as edge computing) as a way to help orchestrate highly distributed IoT architectures. I would really like to see some teams use Eclipse ioFog or Eclipse fog05 in their projects.

Like in previous years, if you are not sure whether your idea is “Open IoT Challenge worthy”, just ping me. I will be happy to give you some feedback before you actually submit your proposal!

As a reminder, the 10 best proposals will be awarded gift certificates that they can use to buy some of the hardware needed for building their project! I am looking forward to reviewing your proposals and seeing all the cool projects you will be building over the next few months.

Open source, IoT, AI, …and other random stuff