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Version: 4.0.2

Blackboard and ports

As we explained earlier, custom TreeNodes can be used to execute an arbitrarily simple or complex piece of software. Their goal is to provide an interface with a higher level of abstraction.

For this reason, they are not conceptually different from functions.

Similar to functions, we often want to:

  • pass arguments/parameters to a Node (inputs)
  • get some kind of information out from a Node (outputs).
  • The outputs of a Node can be the inputs of another node.

BehaviorTree.CPP provides a basic mechanism of dataflow through ports, that is simple to use but also flexible and type-safe.

In this tutorial, we will create the following tree:


Main Concepts
  • A "Blackboard" is a simple key/value storage shared by all the nodes of the Tree.
  • An "entry" of the Blackboard is a key/value pair.
  • An Input port can read an entry in the Blackboard, whilst an Output port can write into an entry.

Inputs ports

A valid input can be either:

  • a static string that the Node will read and parse, or
  • a "pointer" to an entry of the Blackboard, identified by a key.

Let's suppose that we want to create an ActionNode called SaySomething, that should print a given string on std::cout.

To pass this string, we will use an input port called message.

Consider these alternative XML syntaxes:

<SaySomething name="fist"   message="hello world" />
<SaySomething name="second" message="{greetings}" />
  • In the first node, the port receives the string "hello world";
  • The second node, instead, is asked to find the value in the blackboard, using the entry "greetings".

The value of the entry "greetings" can (and probably will) change at run-time.

The ActionNode SaySomething can be implemented as follows:

// SyncActionNode (synchronous action) with an input port.
class SaySomething : public SyncActionNode
// If your Node has ports, you must use this constructor signature
SaySomething(const std::string& name, const NodeConfig& config)
: SyncActionNode(name, config)
{ }

// It is mandatory to define this STATIC method.
static PortsList providedPorts()
// This action has a single input port called "message"
return { InputPort<std::string>("message") };

// Override the virtual function tick()
NodeStatus tick() override
Expected<std::string> msg = getInput<std::string>("message");
// Check if expected is valid. If not, throw its error
if (!msg)
throw BT::RuntimeError("missing required input [message]: ",
msg.error() );
// use the method value() to extract the valid message.
std::cout << "Robot says: " << msg.value() << std::endl;
return NodeStatus::SUCCESS;

When a custom TreeNode has input and/or output ports, these ports must be declared in the static method:

static MyCustomNode::PortsList providedPorts();

The input from the port message can be read using the template method TreeNode::getInput<T>(key).

This method may fail for multiple reasons. It is up to the user to check the validity of the returned value and to decide what to do:

  • Return NodeStatus::FAILURE?
  • Throw an exception?
  • Use a different default value?

It is always recommended to call the method getInput() inside the tick(), and not in the constructor of the class.

The C++ code should expect the actual value of the input to change at run-time, and for this reason, it should be updated periodically.

Output ports

An input port pointing to the entry of the blackboard will be valid only if another node has already written "something" inside that same entry.

ThinkWhatToSay is an example of Node that uses an output port to write a string into an entry.

class ThinkWhatToSay : public SyncActionNode
ThinkWhatToSay(const std::string& name, const NodeConfig& config)
: SyncActionNode(name, config)
{ }

static PortsList providedPorts()
return { OutputPort<std::string>("text") };

// This Action writes a value into the port "text"
NodeStatus tick() override
// the output may change at each tick(). Here we keep it simple.
setOutput("text", "The answer is 42" );
return NodeStatus::SUCCESS;

Alternatively, most of the time for debugging purposes, it is possible to write a static value into an entry using the built-in Actions called Script.

<Script code=" the_answer:='The answer is 42' " />

We will talk more about the Action Script in the tutorial about the new scripting language inside BT.CPP


If you are migrating from BT.CPP 3.X, Script is a drop-in replacement for SetBlackboard, which is now discouraged.

A complete example

In this example, a Sequence of 3 Actions is executed:

  • Action 1 reads the input message from a static string.

  • Action 2 writes something into the entry of the blackboard called the_answer.

  • Action 3 read the input message from an entry in the blackboard called the_answer.

<root BTCPP_format="4" >
<BehaviorTree ID="MainTree">
<Sequence name="root_sequence">
<SaySomething message="hello" />
<ThinkWhatToSay text="{the_answer}"/>
<SaySomething message="{the_answer}" />

The C++ code to register and execute the tree:

#include "behaviortree_cpp/bt_factory.h"

// file that contains the custom nodes definitions
#include "dummy_nodes.h"
using namespace DummyNodes;

int main()
BehaviorTreeFactory factory;

auto tree = factory.createTreeFromFile("./my_tree.xml");
return 0;

/* Expected output:
Robot says: hello
Robot says: The answer is 42

We "connect" output ports to input ports using the same key (the_answer); in other words, they "point" to the same entry of the blackboard.

These ports can be connected to each other because their type is the same, i.e. std::string. if you try to connect ports with different types, the method factory.createTreeFromFile will throw an exception.