What is the difference between firmware and embedded software?


You may be aware that a computer or most smart electronic devices use applications to complete various tasks. However, you may not know that there is more than one type of software. i.e. embedded software and firmware. Both types are subclasses of computer code. This article digs deep into the two types of codes, their work and devices where you can find them. Here are the differences.

What is Firmware

This is a software layer on which the operating system and other computer applications run. It is usually written to work with specific hardware. The firmware makes the hardware accessible to the system that is installed on the device. Therefore, it is generally put on devices before other applications are loaded on it. You will find the firmware on your everyday computing devices such as laptops, PCs and smartphones.

Without the firmware, the operating system may not use the hardware components, as it cannot communicate with them. The firmware is thus made for the applications and not to interact with users, as in the case of the operating system.

The firmware does not come with the end application. Therefore, you cannot use the device right away. Other applications have to be added to the device. Therefore, it is not firmware that runs the particular task or the application for which you buy the device. In a device, firmware is stored in flash memory placed inside or outside the microcontroller. A typical firmware is a system that comes with a computer motherboard before the operating system is installed.

While the firmware is not easy to change like the operating systems, it can still be changed and updated to be compatible with newer versions of programmes. This saves the user from replacing the hardware parts and bringing ones that may work with a particular operating system. A typical example of firmware at work is the BIOS on your computer. It allows you to set the hardware as you need to use with your operating system. However, you cannot use the BIOS to accomplish any of the tasks for which you bought your PC.

Embedded System

This is a code made to run on custom-built hardware and designed to perform a single duty repeatedly. When it comes to computing, there are two types of devices; special and general purpose. The general purpose ones run generic software and are able to perform various tasks. Here is an example, the laptops. Laptops can make calls, write documents and browse the web. You can also manipulate the code to change the behaviour of the device.

Special purpose devices are made to perform a particular task and cannot do any other. Here is an example, Bluetooth headphones. These headphones only connect to Bluetooth devices to deliver sound and music to your ears. You cannot add new apps to the device to perform other tasks. It is also not possible to alter the behaviour of the device using a code. Therefore, they run embedded software.

Due to the specific operation of such devices, the embedded software development has just one goal; to enable the device to complete the task in question. The code stack that runs the application is usually simple as it runs one task and does not require integration with others.


Embedded systems differ from firmware in various areas. First, it is a stand-alone application that can run the entire system. It may or may not have an operating system onto which it runs. Besides, unlike firmware that can be found on any computing device, it is built for special-purpose devices. Therefore, you will not find it in your everyday multitasking computers.

Besides, it is the only code that runs on the device in question. This means that such a device cannot do more than a single task. It may be stored in the device’s flash memory, which could be outside or inside the microcontroller. Embedded software development ensures that the code works with the hardware components to ensure compatibility without requiring an interface to allow interaction between the two.