ESP32: Using the Internal Flash File System

ESP32 File System

The ESP32 contains a lightweight filesystem specially design for microcontrollers called Serial Peripheral Interface Flash File System. This File System, also known as SPIFFS for its initials, is implemented on top of a Flash chip connected directly to the SPI bus.

SPIFFS supports basic operations on files, like opening, close, read and write, and a very rudimentary implementation of directories. You will find that several project uses this File System in order to serve pages (and files) in a Web Server.


First of all we need to install a few dependencies. The most important is the File System uploader tool, which can be used from the Arduino IDE, Visual Studio Code, or command line. The steps for performing this installation can be found at project repository on GitHub.

If you are using Visual Studio Code, as I do, install the following extension: ESP8266FS. From the command line:

code --install-extension vscode-esp8266fs

Do not forget to install Arduino-ESP32 Core

Project configuration

When using the Arduino IDE, just selecting the board in the Board Manager will do the job. But when using Visual Studio Code, we have to set some values on .vscode/arduino.json.

    "sketch": "main.ino",
    "board": "esp32:esp32:featheresp32",
    "configuration": "FlashFreq=80m,UploadSpeed=921600,DebugLevel=none,PartitionScheme=default,FlashSize=4MB,FlashMode=keep",
    "port": "/dev/tty.SLAB_USBtoUART",
    "output": "output"

With this configuration 1M of Flash will be used for SPIFFS and the rest (3M out of 4M) for your code.

Testing the plugin configuration

In Arduino IDE using the Data Uploader is straightforward. But on Visual Studio Code the plugin should be configured carefully in order to work. The following is my Visual Studio Code configuration (settings.json) which is quite verbose for testing purposes.

    "esp8266fs.espota.debug": true,
    "esp8266fs.esptool.executable": "/Users/kimi/Documents/Arduino/hardware/espressif/esp32/tools/",
    "esp8266fs.esptool.verbosity": "vvv",
    "esp8266fs.logLevel": "debug",
    "esp8266fs.mkspiffs.executable": "/Users/kimi/Documents/Arduino/hardware/espressif/esp32/tools/mkspiffs/mkspiffs",
    "esp8266fs.preferencesPath": "/Users/kimi/Library/Arduino15",
    "esp8266fs.arduinoUserPath": "/Users/kimi/Documents/Arduino",
    "esp8266fs.spiffsImage": "./spiffs.image",
    "": "SPI",
    "": "true",
    "": "false",
ESP32 has not been installed correctly

Testing the Data Upload can be done by List SPIFFS command. cmd + shift P and select ESP8266FS: List SPIFFS. If you get an error saying

ESP32 has not been installed correctly – see

Take into consideration that the Path of the ESP32 Tool is generated by splitting the Board key on .vscode/arduino.json in order to get three parameters: Package, Architecture and Board (ref:…/esp8266fs.js#L467).

As my board is an Adafruit HUZZAH32, and my board config is

   "board": "esp32:esp32:featheresp32",

the three key parameters will be:

   "package": "esp32",
   "architecture": "esp32",
   "board": "featheresp32",

This parameters will be used by the ESP8266FS plugin to create the path where ESP tools are installed. In my setup it will result in /Users/kimi/Documents/Arduino/hardware/esp32/esp32. But, based on the ESP32 Arduino core tutorial, my hardware definition is installed on /Users/kimi/Documents/Arduino/hardware/espressif/esp32.

My workaround to this issue was to create a symbolic link so the esp32 directory was points to espressif.

ln -s espressif esp32
Couldn’t find match for argument

Another common error is Couldn’t find match for argument when running mkspiffs, which is a tool found in the ESP32 Arduino Core SDK that handles the creation, upload and download (among other responsibilities) of images.

This issue is already reported on GitHub at The workaround as explain there, is to disable the configuration esp8266fs.mkspiffs.allFiles.

Packing information into an Image

In your project directory, next to your main Arduino file, create a directory called data. All files stored in that folder will be transfer to your ESP32 microcontroller when uploading the File System.

All our data files are not transferred one by one to the ESP32, but inside an Image. In order to create that image we should pack those files using mkspiffs. The ESP8266FS extension has a command for doing that, but be can also use the command line tool.

The benefits of using the command line tool are clear, the operation can be automated inside a script.

/<Path To Arduino>/hardware/espressif/esp32/tools/mkspiffs/mkspiffs --create /<Your Arduino Project Directory>/data --size 0x30000 --page 256 --block 4096 /<Your Arduino Project Directory>/spiffs.image

Uploading files

Remember that uploading files from your Computer will replace the files present in your ESP32.

You will also find a handy command in the Visual Studio Code extension for uploading your currently created image. But if you want to do that using the command line, the following execution will do the trick.

/<Path To Arduino>/hardware/espressif/esp32/tools/esptool/esptool -vvv -ca 0x3D0000 -cd  -cp /dev/tty.SLAB_USBtoUART -cb 921600 -cf /<Your Arduino Project Directory>/spiffs.image

Where /dev/tty.SLAB_USBtoUART is the USB Serial port where I have my ESP32 connected. The result of running this command may look like

--- Uploading SPIFFS file with ---
Python Executable: "python"
SPIFFS Uploading Image... (/Users/kimi/Works/
  [SPIFFS] Python   : python
  [SPIFFS] EspTool  : /Users/kimi/Documents/Arduino/hardware/espressif/esp32/tools/
  [SPIFFS] address  : 0x290000
  [SPIFFS] port     : /dev/tty.SLAB_USBtoUART
  [SPIFFS] speed    : 921600
  [SPIFFS] before   : default_reset
  [SPIFFS] after    : hard_reset
  [SPIFFS] flashMode: keep
  [SPIFFS] flashFreq: 80m
  [SPIFFS] flashSize: 4MB
Running: python /Users/kimi/Documents/Arduino/hardware/espressif/esp32/tools/ --chip esp32 --baud 921600 --port /dev/tty.SLAB_USBtoUART --before default_reset --after hard_reset write_flash --flash_mode keep --flash_freq 80m --flash_size 4MB 0x290000 /Users/kimi/Works/ v2.8
Serial port /dev/tty.SLAB_USBtoUART
Chip is ESP32D0WDQ6 (revision 1)
Features: WiFi, BT, Dual Core, Coding Scheme None
Crystal is 40MHz
MAC: 24:0a:c4:0c:94:78
Uploading stub...
Running stub...
Stub running...
Changing baud rate to 921600
Configuring flash size...
Compressed 196608 bytes to 537...
Writing at 0x00290000... (100 %)
Wrote 196608 bytes (537 compressed) at 0x00290000 in 0.0 seconds (effective 136297.5 kbit/s)...
Hash of data verified.
Hard resetting via RTS pin...
ESP8266 SPIFFS interface finished.

Verifying what it’s inside an image

If you want to check which files are included in an image file, you can list them by running

<Path To Arduino>/hardware/espressif/esp32/tools/mkspiffs/mkspiffs --list --page 256 --block 4096 <Path to>/spiffs.image

Downloading an image form the ESP32 to your Computer

May be one of the most important steps when writing an image to the ESP32 is verifying that it was correctly done. For doing this you have to find how many bytes where written the uploading the image to the ESP32. This information can be found on the output of the write_flash operation. And as important as how many it is, where. This information it is also present in the same debug output.

In my previous example this two values where 196608 bytes and starting address 0x290000. So the command to execute in order to read that segment of Flash is:

<Path To Arduino>/hardware/espressif/esp32/tools/ --chip esp32 --baud 921600 --port /dev/tty.SLAB_USBtoUART read_flash  0x290000 196608 downloaded.image


iFi, BT, Dual Core, Coding Scheme None
Crystal is 40MHz
MAC: 24:0a:c4:0c:94:78
Uploading stub...
Running stub...
Stub running...
Changing baud rate to 921600
196608 (100 %)
196608 (100 %)
Read 196608 bytes at 0x290000 in 2.5 seconds (641.6 kbit/s)...
Hard resetting via RTS pin...

Using the command explained in Verifying what’s inside the image we can see which files are inside the image

<Path To Arduino>/hardware/esp32/esp32/tools/mkspiffs/mkspiffs --list --page 256 --block 4096 downloaded.image


159 /config_test.json

Next steps…

In the following post I will show how to read a JSON file and obtain a configuration parameter that will be use to configure the WiFi network to which our ESP32 will be connected.

Stay tuned!

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