Creating an action

Goal: Define an action in a ROS 2 package.

Tutorial level: Intermediate

Time: 5 minutes


You learned about actions previously in the Understanding actions tutorial. Like the other communication types and their respective interfaces (topics/msg and services/srv), you can also custom-define actions in your packages. This tutorial shows you how to define and build an action that you can use with the action server and action client you will write in the next tutorial.


You should have ROS 2 and colcon installed.

You should know how to set up a workspace and create packages.

Remember to source your ROS 2 installation first.


1 Creating an interface package

mkdir -p ~/ros2_ws/src # you can reuse an existing workspace with this naming convention
cd ~/ros2_ws/src
ros2 pkg create --license Apache-2.0 custom_action_interfaces

2 Defining an action

Actions are defined in .action files of the form:

# Request
# Result
# Feedback

An action definition is made up of three message definitions separated by ---.

  • A request message is sent from an action client to an action server initiating a new goal.

  • A result message is sent from an action server to an action client when a goal is done.

  • Feedback messages are periodically sent from an action server to an action client with updates about a goal.

An instance of an action is typically referred to as a goal.

Say we want to define a new action “Fibonacci” for computing the Fibonacci sequence.

Create an action directory in our ROS 2 package custom_action_interfaces:

cd custom_action_interfaces
mkdir action

Within the action directory, create a file called Fibonacci.action with the following contents:

int32 order
int32[] sequence
int32[] partial_sequence

The goal request is the order of the Fibonacci sequence we want to compute, the result is the final sequence, and the feedback is the partial_sequence computed so far.

3 Building an action

Before we can use the new Fibonacci action type in our code, we must pass the definition to the rosidl code generation pipeline.

This is accomplished by adding the following lines to our CMakeLists.txt before the ament_package() line:

find_package(rosidl_default_generators REQUIRED)


We should also add the required dependencies to our package.xml:



We should now be able to build the package containing the Fibonacci action definition:

# Change to the root of the workspace
cd ~/ros2_ws
# Build
colcon build

We’re done!

By convention, action types will be prefixed by their package name and the word action. So when we want to refer to our new action, it will have the full name custom_action_interfaces/action/Fibonacci.

We can check that our action built successfully with the command line tool. First source our workspace:

source install/local_setup.bash

Now check that our action definition exists:

ros2 interface show custom_action_interfaces/action/Fibonacci

You should see the Fibonacci action definition printed to the screen.


In this tutorial, you learned the structure of an action definition. You also learned how to correctly build a new action interface using CMakeLists.txt and package.xml, and how to verify a successful build.

Next steps

Next, let’s utilize your newly defined action interface by creating an action service and client (in Python or C++).