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Low Power Ticker

Implementing the low power ticker enables Mbed OS to perform power efficient timing operations that only request millisecond accuracy. You can use this API to schedule events, record elapsed time and drive the tickless OS scheduler.


Defined behavior

  • Has a reported frequency between 8KHz and 64KHz.
  • Has a counter that is at least 12 bits wide.
  • Continues operating in deep sleep mode.
  • The function ticker_init is safe to call repeatedly.
  • The function ticker_init allows the ticker to keep counting and disables the ticker interrupt.
  • Ticker frequency is nonzero and the counter is at least 8 bits.
  • The ticker rolls over at (1 << bits) and continues counting starting from 0.
  • The ticker counts at the specified frequency plus or minus 10%.
  • The ticker increments by 1 each tick.
  • The ticker interrupt fires only when the ticker time increments to or past the value that ticker_set_interrupt sets.
  • It is safe to call ticker_set_interrupt repeatedly before the handler is called.
  • The function ticker_fire_interrupt causes ticker_irq_handler to be called immediately from interrupt context.
  • The ticker operations ticker_read, ticker_clear_interrupt, ticker_set_interrupt and ticker_fire_interrupt take less than 20us to complete.

Undefined behavior

  • Calling any function other than ticker_init before the initialization of the ticker.
  • Whether ticker_irq_handler is called a second time if the time wraps and matches the value that ticker_set_interrupt again sets.
  • Calling ticker_set_interrupt with a value that has more than the supported number of bits.
  • Calling any function other than lp_ticker_init after calling lp_ticker_free.


Be careful around these common trouble areas when implementing this API:

  • The ticker cannot drift when rescheduled repeatedly
  • The ticker keeps counting when it rolls over
  • The ticker interrupt fires when the compare value is set to 0 and and overflow occurs

Handling synchronization delay

Some low power tickers require multiple low power clock cycles for the compare value that ticker_set_interrupt sets to take effect. Further complicating this issue, a new compare value typically cannot be set until the first has taken effect. Because of this, when you make back-to-back calls to ticker_set_interrupt without a delay, the second call blocks and violates the above requirement that ticker_set_interrupt completes in 20us.

To meet this timing requirement, targets that have this synchronization delay must set LPTICKER_DELAY_TICKS to the number of low power clock cycles it takes for a call to ticker_set_interrupt to take effect. When the targets set this value, the timer code prevents lp_ticker_set_interrupt from being called twice within that number of clock cycles. It does this by using the microsecond time to schedule the write to happen at a future date.


Hardware low power ticker capabilities.

Implementing the low power ticker API

You can find the API and specification for the low power ticker API in the following header file:

To enable low power ticker support in Mbed OS, add the LPTICKER label in the device_has option of the target's section in the targets.json file.


The Mbed OS HAL provides a set of conformance tests for the low power ticker. You can use these tests to validate the correctness of your implementation. To run the low power ticker HAL tests, use the following command:

mbed test -t <toolchain> -m <target> -n tests-mbed_hal-common_ticker*,tests-mbed_hal-lp_ticker*

You can read more about the test cases:

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