This page is meant to teach new RoboCup Software members the basics of what they’ll need to contribute. It will introduce the Robot Operating System (ROS), the command-line, GitHub, git, Python, C++, and the general shape of our stack. Upon completion of this tutorial, you’ll have the knowledge and trust of your teammates to implement new features on your own.

No prior experience is assumed. However, a bit of stubbornness is required. RoboCup SW has seen many members without any prior CS experience become valued contributors, and many talented CS majors quit within a few weeks.

Note: you must have Ubuntu 20.04 installed in some capacity to use our stack. Most new members do this with a VM, which is the quickest way. Google “how to install Ubuntu VM on <your current OS>” and follow a tutorial online. If you decide to stick with RoboCup long-term, it might be worth your time to invest in a used laptop that only has Ubuntu 20.04 and your RoboCup files installed.

The tutorial is structured as follows.

There are some gaps intentionally left in the tutorial. This is to force you to problem-solve on your own, simulating what it feels like to write a new feature. If the tutorial was simply a bulleted list of commands to type, it would not prove that you’re ready to work on something meaningful on your own.

When you run into issues, your order of question-asking should be:

  1. Google

    • Keywords, not full sentences

    • Error messages, if they come up

  2. Google

    • Seriously

  3. FAQ page in our docs (common errors and debug info)

  4. Fellow new members

  5. Software lead

  6. Anyone the SW lead takes advice from

This is not because older members don’t want to help you, but because if older members helped every new member with every question, they wouldn’t have time to make our robots better (nor would you learn as much). So try to resolve your issue yourself, and expect to be asked “what have you tried already?” when you ask for help.

0. Command-Line Basics

If you’ve never heard of or used the command-line before, Command Line Basics is wonderful for beginners.


The rest of this tutorial assumes you have working knowledge of the command-line: how to run an executable, change directories, move files, run commands, etc. So if you’re uncomfortable with any of that, go through the exercises in the site above.

Some tips about learning how to use commands:
  • man [command] will pull up a manpage, which is an explanation of the command and all of its options. This usually only works on standard Unix commands. For instance, you can find words in any file in a directory using grep: try man grep to see its full potential.

  • [command or executable] --help will almost always return a prompt that tells you what the command does, and how you can modify it with options. Many custom command-line tools will have a –help output, if they don’t have a man page.

  • Of course, you can also simply Google a command you don’t understand, or look up something like “how to search for a filename with command line”.

1. Installation

See “Installation”. That page will assume you have the Command-Line Basics from above, as well as a working knowledge of Git (which you can get either online (Git Guide) or from the “Contributing” page).

Once you’ve installed, play around with the simulator a little bit. Be familiar with how to move the ball (click), take a shot (right click and drag), move a robot (click and drag), and issue the basic referee commands: stop, halt, and force start. (Buttons in the top left)

2. GitHub Basics

Now that you have everything installed and understand the basics of the command-line and git, let’s get started using GitHub.


git is a command line version-control tool. GitHub is a website to host shared files, and is well-integrated with git, but is not the same thing.

First, use git to checkout the branch that contains starter code for this project, and then pull its latest version:

git checkout ros2
git pull

Next, create a new branch under this naming scheme:

git checkout -b "<your-name>/robocup-sw-tutorial"

For instance, the author’s branch would be named kevin-fu/robocup-sw-tutorial.

Launch soccer (our UI) and the ER-force simulator, same way as you did in the installation guide. Press the green check mark. You should see four wallers and one goalie move into position. Click anywhere on the field to place the ball in that location. You should see all five robots move between the ball and the goal.

Open the file soccer/src/soccer/strategy/agent/position/waller.cpp. Find the line of code that calculates the wall_spacing and double its value.

Re-build the project (make again) and run the simulator again. You should see the wallers more spread out. Note that this is probably a less effective wall! This change is just for educational purposes.

Take a screenshot of your new wall.*

Now that you’ve made a change to the repo, run git status. You should see that whatever files you changed show up in red, which indicates that they are unstaged. Stage the files you changed with git add (Google this if unsure how, or see the previous section on git), then commit them:

git commit -m '<commit msg>'


<commit msg> should be a present-tense description of what you’ve changed. In this case, “double wall spacing” is fine.

Without the -m flag, git commit will open a nano (or whatever your default text editor is set to) and ask you to type in a commit msg. -m is a bit faster.

When you commit, you should see our pre-commit hooks run. These are automated programs that make your code comply with standardized style guidelines. If one of the checks fails, simply re-add your files and re-commit. (If you don’t see this, make sure you have everything installed correctly per the installation guide.)

Now that you’ve committed, run git push to push your changes to the remote server. This is how GitHub sees your changes. If you run into any errors at this step, read the error logs carefully (they often tell you what to do), and Google if needed.

Finally, go to our GitHub page, click the “Pull Requests” tab, and create a new draft pull request for your branch. When it asks you to fill in the PR description, you can delete the template and write something simple like “Completes RC SW tutorials.” Add that screenshot of your four-waller setup as a comment below your brand new PR. Nice work!

3. ROS CLI Basics

This section is our variation of the ROS 2 Beginner CLI Tools

tutorials. We

do things slightly differently (and don’t use all of the ROS 2 features described in those tutorials), so this is intended to keep you from having to read all of those docs.

However, those docs are obviously still the source of truth on ROS. Before we get started, read all of the short “Background” sections for these pages:

  • Understanding ROS 2 nodes

  • Understanding ROS 2 topics

  • Understanding ROS 2 services

  • Understanding ROS 2 parameters

  • Understanding ROS 2 actions

The background sections put together are only a couple hundred words, and contain very neat animated diagrams that we can’t recreate here.

Now that you have some background on what ROS is and how it works, let’s explore how we use ROS in our stack. (ROS is used in place of ROS 2 in the rest of these docs, just know that we are referencing ROS 2 every time.)

First, open up our stack, same as you did in the installation guide. (Remember to source ROS2!) Then run

ros2 topic list

to see the list of topics. Let’s look at what robot 0 is thinking. Run

ros2 topic echo /gameplay/robot_intent/robot_0

to see what’s being published to that topic. You should see that robot 0 is being given a motion_command to go to a certain position at a certain angle. Feel free to try echoing other topics to see what they’re publishing.

Now run ros2 topic info on the same topic to see what message type that topic is publishing, and how many publishers and subscribers are listening to it. For this topic, the message type is a subset of rj_msgs/, which means we wrote our own custom .msg file that this topic uses.

Your task for this section is to find the file that defines the message type used by /gameplay/robot_intent/robot_0. This will take you a long time if you search for it manually and almost no time if you use a tool like find. Once you have the right file, figure out the full filepath and add it to your GitHub PR as a comment. Congrats! You now have a grasp of ROS CLI tools.

4. rqt Basics

The observant among you may have noticed that the last section only covered ROS topics, even though it asked you to read about ROS nodes, services, parameters, and actions as well. This was to set up the need to use rqt, a graphical interface for the many tools ROS includes.

To use it, open a new terminal, source ROS (like you do before running our stack), and run rqt. (This should have been installed with the rest of the stack when you ran ./util/ubuntu-setup; if not, see Install Groovy.) You should see a blank GUI pop up.


To replicate what we did in the last section, go to the top, click Plugins > Topics > Topic Monitor. This allows you to see both a list of all topics, and see the most recent message published to any topic (by clicking the checkbox).

Now find and launch the Node Graph. You should see a large, complex node diagram pop up. If you don’t see something large and complex, make sure you have both our AI and the ER-Force simulator running.

Zoom in on the Node Graph. You should notice and most of the nodes are actually just duplicated across robot numbers. (For instance, notice there is a /planning/trajectory/robot_* topic for each robot.) Find the two arrows that are labelled with robot 0’s robot intent and figure out which nodes publish and subscribe to that topic. Post your answer as a GitHub comment on your PR. (Hint: There are two nodes that subscribe to this topic.)

We can also use rqt to dynamically change the behavior of our robots. Pull up the Dynamic Reconfigure menu and click the control params. Run your runner play from earlier. In the middle of the play, double the max velocity. You should see the runner (and every other robot on our team) move much more quickly.

Take a screen recording of this whole process and send it to your software lead via Slack. Feel free to play around with any other params you see!

5. ROS and C++

Much like the last section, this section is our version of an official ROS tutorial. This time we’ll reprise Writing a simple publisher and subscriber (C++). Before continuing, read the “Background” section of that tutorial, and brush up on any of the readings from section 4 that you need to. Ignore “Prerequisites”–our workspace is already set up for you, and we’ll walk through instructions for building your code here.

This section is by far the most difficult of the tutorial.

Read the rest of this section before starting.


In this section, you’ll be creating a SoccerMom node that gets the team color and picks a fruit to match. Our robots have to stay motivated somehow!

You can find the team color by subscribing to the relevant topic (this should become obvious after looking at the list of topics). To “pick a fruit”, publish a standard String Msg to a new topic /team_fruit.

  • When our team color is yellow, publish “banana” to /team_fruit.

  • When our team color is blue, publish “blueberries” to /team_fruit.

Creating a New Node

Often in C++ you’ll see the use of a header file, which ends in .hpp, and a source file, which ends in .cpp. Header files contain all the function declarations and docstrings explaining their use. Source files contain the function definitions–that is, the code that actually makes the functions work. This allows for many files to share access to the same methods or classes without copy-pasting their entire implementation by importing the right header files.

(For more information, check out Headers and Includes resource.)

Let’s take a look at a real example in our codebase to make this more understandable. Find the radio.cpp and radio.hpp files in our codebase. In the last section, you used rqt to launch the Node Graph. One of the nodes that subscribe and publish to various topics is /radio, and these files are the source of that node.

Comparing the similarities and differences between the subscribers and publishers in these files vs. the ROS tutorial will help you learn what you can take directly from the ROS tutorial, and where you need to deviate from it.

As a brief overview to help you get started…

  • Notice the #includes at the top of both files. #includes are like import statements from Java or Python (with slight differences that are not terribly important for our purposes right now). Using ROS forces you to include certain things; again, check out the ROS tutorial.

  • The header file defines Radio to be subclass of rclcpp::Node (see public rclcpp::Node). This means the Radio has access to all the methods of rclcpp::Node (notice that Node is under namespace rclcpp!).

  • The header file also categorizes all variables and methods of the Radio class into public, protected, and private. These are known as “access specifiers”. This article on Access Specifiers sums them up nicely.

  • Both files are enclosed under a namespace. Namespaces are an organizational tool in C++ which helps organize large codebases. For instance, the radio.hpp file defines namespace radio, so when other files use the SimRadio object, they reference radio::SimRadio. Give your SoccerMom node a tutorial namespace.

  • The existing codebase makes heavy use of lambda expressions. For instance, in radio.cpp:

             control::topics::manipulator_setpoint_topic(i), rclcpp::QoS(1),
             [this, i](rj_msgs::msg::ManipulatorSetpoint::SharedPtr manipulator) {
                manipulators_cached_.at(i) = *manipulator;

Here, a lambda expression is used instead of the callback function that you’ll see in the ROS tutorial. A lambda expression is just a concise way of defining a function without giving it a name. This is only suitable when you know you don’t want to reuse a function (since without a name, you can’t reference that function anywhere else). and requires less lines of code when compared to having another function.

Read more about Lambda Expressions if you would like.

  • The existing codebase also makes heavy use of pointers. You will see this in the use of the arrow operator, ->. For example:


The arrow operator is used to access a method or element of an object, when given a pointer to that object. Above, robot_status_topics_ is a list of pointers to ROS publisher objects. Calling ->publish(robot_status) on one element in that list publishes a robot status using that specific publisher. You will learn more about pointers when you take CS 2110, but if you want to get a headstart, see C++ Member Operators.

  • Finally, the docstrings in the radio header file state that the Radio class abstract superclass of the network_radio and sim_radio nodes. (If you are unfamiliar with the concept of abstraction, C++ Abstract Classes is more information.) The concrete subclasses are NetworkRadio and SimRadio.

You might be wondering: okay, this is great, but how do I compile and run my new node?

Well, both NetworkRadio and SimRadio have an associated <name>_main.cpp file (e.g. sim_radio_node_main) which contains the main function for its respective node. This structure is intended to make writing the CMake files for the directory easier. We use CMake to compile our C++ programs on a variety of different hardware architectures.

As a result, to compile and use your new node, you’ll need to add your new source files to the right CMake files.

Building Your Node

CMakeLists.txt files are used to make standard build files for the directory. It locates files, libraries, and executables to support complex directory hierarchies. Locate the CMakeLists.txt file in robocup-software/soccer/src/soccer.

Let’s start looking at all the magic CMake text that builds our cpp code:

  • Notice the source files under ROBOCUP_LIB_SRC. You will find the radio files that you explored earlier, along with all the other source files we use (motion control, UI, etc.).

  • Many of the nodes have an environment variable set for their <node>_main.cpp. For instance, SimRadio has the line set(SIM_RADIO_NODE_SRC radio/sim_radio_node_main.cpp). This defines SIM_RADIO_NODE_SRC to be the filepath radio/sim_radio_node_main.cpp. You will need a similar line for your new node, with adjustments to the names.

  • There is a corresponding target_sources line that SimRadio needs to actually start: target_sources(sim_radio_node PRIVATE ${SIM_RADIO_NODE_SRC})

The rest is up to you. Keep using SimRadio as an example. Search through and find the parts of the CMake file where SimRadio is used, then follow that format for your own node.

It’s okay if you don’t understand everything that’s going on. (Honestly, CMake files are one of those things we re-learn when adding new nodes and forget almost immediately after.) Just match the existing patterns.

Launching Your Node

You’re almost there! The final file to get your node up and running is the .launch file.

Launch files in ROS are a convenient way of starting up multiple nodes, setting initial parameters, and other requirements. Find the robocup-software/launch directory and open the file that seems most relevant to your new node. (HINT: Your node should be located in robocup-software/soccer.)

Like the CMake section, this part is a lot of copying what already exists and changing it to match your new node’s names. If you want to read more about ROS launch files, the Launch Files Tutorial is a great place to start.


Whew! What a section. If you’ve made it this far, you should have everything you need to create the SoccerMom node.

This section will probably take you a while. Remember, when you run into issues, your order of question-asking should be:

  1. Google

  2. FAQ page in our docs

  3. Fellow new members

  4. Software lead

  5. Anyone the SW lead takes advice from


Since you have made changes to the C++ part of our codebase, you must build it again to test your node. This may take a while, so be patient and proactive with your changes. If you forgot how to build the codebase, go to the Getting Started page.

To test, change our team color using the UI by going to the top menu bar and clicking Field > Team Color. You should see the team color change in the top right corner of our UI. Screenshot proof that your /team_fruit topic is publishing the right fruit for both options, and post as a comment to your PR.

Similar to the Python section, there’s a lot of file-finding in this part. Use the option in your IDE or text editor that allows you to see a full folder at once. For instance, in VS Code, there is an option to open a full folder, which displays all the subfolders and files in the left toolbar.

If you’ve read this whole section and are feeling a little intimidated, that’s normal. The paragraphs above form a nice guide and checklist for you to follow. Just try your best, one step at a time, and eventually you’ll have a working piece of software to be proud of.

6. Action Clients and building a position


This last section introduces more concepts of ROS and our strategy.

First, read this page and do some research if you need to get an understanding of ROS actions. Our strategy stack is centered around an Action Server and six Action Clients, each of which represent a robot on the field.

Also, take a second to understand the difference between strategy and planning in our stack. Strategy is responsible for high level decisions, such as robot movement, kicking procedure, robot communication, and referee interaction. Planning is responsible for taking the instructions from strategy and turning them into trajectories and commands a robot can execute, which are relayed to our physical robots by the radio.

The Action Server is housed by the Planner node, which is the node responsible for turning requests for robot actions into trajectories for the robot to follow.

The Action Clients are created by the AgentActionClient node which contain some other useful subscriptions to get information about the field and referee.

At any given time, an AgentActionClient is playing a single position. It creates a Position instance and checks for its task, which it then relays to the planner using ROS actions. Take a look through agent_action_client.cpp to get a better understanding of this process.

Strategy decisions are delegated to the Positions. This makes sense with respect to soccer—players play differently based on their position.

There are three major positions: Offense, Defense, and Goalie. You may see some others, but these are only for special game cases.

Take some time to read through Offense, Defense, and Goalie, paying special attention to how they each implement state_to_task and update_state. This is called a finite state machine, and it is a crucial concept to get the hang of. Here’s a simple article to get you started: Finite State Machines


This is the most open-ended part of the tutorial, but you got this! Remember, if you get stuck, ask Google first. Then, check with your peers. We’re a very collaborative team. If you’re still stuck, your software lead is happy to give you some hints and troubleshoot bugs.

Your task is to create a new position, like Offense, Defense, or Goalie. Your new position will be called Runner. Note that this class is not a ROS node like the last class you made, but it will be a subclass of position.hpp.

Some useful C++ resources:

Your runner will be a robot that takes laps around the field. It should run in a rectangle that you choose. If you’re feeling creative, the shape it runs in can be any polygon with 4 or more sides.

A runner’s process looks like this:

  1. Run along first side of shape

  2. Continue until done

  3. Run along second side of shape

  4. Continue until done

  5. Run along third side of shape

  6. Continue until done

etc, starting over when it finishes the shape.

Hopefully, you’re seeing how this list lends nicely to a state machine, where states are sides and you know to switch states based on when the robot has reached a vertex (the end of its path).

You will need to look through the other positions to figure out the details of creating this position, but here are some more hints.

  • The motion command for driving in a straight line is "path_target".

  • You will probably need to override some methods relating to passing, but you can leave their implementations empty. They don’t need to do anything in your position, as your robot will not pass the ball

  • The simulator tells you the coordinates of your cursor—these are the same coordinates you can use in your motion commands.


Testing a new position is a bit complicated. The files you need to change are coach_node.hpp, coach_node.cpp, and agent_action_client.cpp.

Open these files, search for Offense, and add your Runner class in all the necessary places.

You only want one Runner robot, so just set the robot with ID 1 to always be a Runner.

This part is admittedly more work than it should be, and isn’t the focus of your tutorial. As such, your software lead is happy to help you through it if need be. Also, this part of the strategy stack is currently being changed, and coach_node is likely to be removed, which is why the tutorial skips teaching you about it.

Wrapping up

Make sure that you are periodically commiting your changes. This makes it easy for you to revert things if you need to!

Once robot 1 is successfully running in a rectangle (or other shape), you’re finished! Congratulations!

7. Conclusion

Finally, tag your software lead for review on your pull request. For your final comment, leave feedback on anything that confused you in this tutorial. When reviewing your PR, your software lead will either request changes, meaning they have some feedback for you to adjust your PR, or approve it, meaning your changes are ready to merge.

However, this time, upon approval, CLOSE your pull request. Do not merge it. Since this is only a tutorial project, there’s no need to add it to the codebase.

Congratulations! This was a long journey, but if you’ve made it this far, you have proved yourself worthy of your teammates’ trust, and are ready to work on real features. We hope this was a helpful first step in your long robotics career.

8. Resources (again)

Here are all the external links from this document, copied again for your easy reference