embedded firmware

Embedded firmware is the flash memory chip that stores specialized software running in a chip in an embedded device to control its functions.

Firmware in embedded systems fills the same purpose as a ROM but can be updated more easily for better adaptability to conditions or interconnecting with additional equipment.

Hardware makers use embedded firmware to control the functions of various hardware devices and systems much like a computer’s operating system controls the function of software applications. Embedded firmware exists in everything from appliances so simple you might not imagine they had computer control, like toasters, to complex tracking systems in missiles. The toaster would likely never need updating but the tracking system sometimes does. As the complexity of a device increases, it often makes sense to use firmware in case of design errors that an update might correct.

Embedded firmware is used to control the limited, set functions of hardware devices and systems of greater complexity but still gives more appliance-like usage instead of a series of terminal commands. Embedded firmware functions are activated by external controls or external actions of the hardware. Embedded firmware and ROM-based embedded software often have communication links to other devices for functionality or to address the need for the device to be adjusted, calibrated or diagnosed or to output log files. It is also through these connections that someone might attempt embedded device hacking.

Embedded software varies in complexity as much the devices it is used to control. Although embedded software and embedded firmware are sometimes used synonymously, they are not exactly the same thing. For example, embedded software may run on ROM chips. Also, embedded software is often the only computer code running on a piece of hardware while firmware can also refer to the chip that houses a computer’s EFI or BIOS, which hands over control to an OS that in turn launches and controls programs.

This was last updated in February 2015

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