Embedded Software vs Firmware

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Having some similar features, it’s not surprising that there’s confusion in embedded software vs firmware matter and especially asking “Is embedded software the same as the firmware?’’ and “Is firmware embedded software?’’ In this article, we’re going to discuss the difference between embedded software and firmware and their similarities, by providing examples for a better understanding.

What is Firmware

To tell the difference between firmware and embedded software, we’ll first discuss them separately. Firmware is the ‘’firm’’ type of software that’s embedded directly into the hardware of a device, and its basic function is to help the device’s hardware to work properly. In other words, any hardware won’t work without firmware.

It could be said that firmware is a connector between the operating system (drivers) of a device and its hardware ensuring that both of them function properly. Firmware is usually small and compact because they’re placed on non-volatile memory chips.

So, what confuses us is why it’s called firmware when it’s a type of software. The reason for that it’s that it cannot be altered or deleted once it’s embedded, only replaced. It’s placed on the ROM (Read-Only-Memory) chip. However, there are some instances when firmware can be updated. We’ll mention it later.

Source: GlobalMarketEstimatesTimeBusinessNewsMarketWatch

Keeping in mind all the above-mentioned features, firmware can only work in a simple binary language, i.e. in a machine language, even though it can be written in a high-level language. Those written in a high language are placed in flash memory chips and can be updated.

Firmware Examples

What does it mean that a device cannot work without firmware? The firmware sends your “commands’’ to the hardware so that your device can perform them. For example, when you press the button to turn on your device or change lights via your phone application for smart lights, the defibrillator works thanks to firmware as some industrial machinery.

What is an Embedded Software

In this constant firmware-embedded software matter, we need to say something about embedded software. Embedded software is a term with a wider range. When we say “embedded software,’’ we talk about operating systems, middleware, applications, and even firmware at once.

In other words, embedded software is a code that controls our device functions, and, as firmware, it’s also embedded into hardware, but also in some non-computing devices, such as GPS, factory robots, smartwatches, some calculators, and similar.

Every device has its own specific embedded software. It’s embedded software that controls a processor and other embedded peripherals in a device. Since it’s a stand-alone software, it speaks directly to the hardware, and it enables some automotive operations.

Another important thing to know is that since embedded software is specifically designed for every hardware, its functions depend on memory storage and the hardware’s CPU. This also means that any change of hardware requires a change of software code. Embedded software engineers use such programming languages as Java, JavaScript, C, C++, and Python.

Source: GMinInsightsMarketSearchFuture

According to a report by Grand View Research, the global embedded software market size was valued at USD 11.12 billion in 2020 and is expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 6.4% from 2021 to 2028. The report also highlights that the growing demand for embedded software in the automotive, healthcare, and telecommunications sectors is expected to drive market growth.

Examples of Embedded Software

Let’s see some practical examples of embedded software. The thermostat measures temperature thanks to its specifically designed embedded software. The settings that were imputed into a thermostat are taken as a command for that software to work.

Similar to this, your coffee machine also has embedded software which enables it to “remember’’ your favourite coffee. Also, smartwatches track your vital statistics thanks to their embedded software. Any device with motion tracking has its embedded software.

Embedded Software vs Firmware

When we talk about embedded systems vs. firmware, it means that firmware is a part of an embedded system, together with embedded software. They both help embedded systems to function, along with some other ‘’wares’’ and parts.

Firmware is a part of embedded software. Firmware, together with middleware, operating system, and applications, make embedded software a whole. Firmware can’t function on its own because it can’t be updated as an operating system and application.

Keeping all this in mind, it’s not surprising that there is so much confusion in the embedded software vs firmware matter. Firmware is not a stand-alone software, unlike embedded software. It’s more like a layer of an operating system. Moreover, embedded software includes the end application, unlike firmware. Additionally, there’s only one embedded software in a hardware device, unlike firmware.

Difference Between Firmware and Hardware

Hardware refers to the physical components of a device, such as a circuit board, processor, memory, and other electronic parts. Firmware, on the other hand, is software that is embedded into the hardware of a device and controls how it operates. It can be used for custom software development, too.

The key difference between firmware and hardware is that hardware is the physical component of a device, while firmware is the program code that is executed by the device’s hardware.

Difference Between Firmware And Embedded Software Explained

Firmware is a type of software that is closely tied to a specific piece of hardware and provides low-level control of that specific hardware. It is often stored in non-volatile memory on the hardware itself, such as in a ROM or flash memory chip. Firmware is typically used for tasks such as booting up a device, configuring its hardware, or providing a basic interface for interacting with the device.

Embedded software, on the other hand, is a broader term that can refer to any software that is designed to run on embedded systems, which are small, specialized computing devices that are designed for specific tasks. This software can include firmware, but it can also include higher-level applications and other software components that run on top of an operating system or other software platform.

So, while firmware is a type of embedded software, not all embedded software is firmware. The key difference between the two is that firmware is specifically designed to provide low-level control of hardware, while embedded software can encompass a much broader range of software components and functionality.

However, high-level firmware exists. Such kind of firmware requires using higher-level programming languages such as C, C++, or Java instead of low-level assembly language. High-level firmware allows developers to write code more quickly and with fewer errors, and it can be easier to maintain and update. High-level firmware is commonly used in embedded systems that require more complex functionality and processing power, such as consumer electronics, automotive, and medical devices.


We hope that this article helped you to learn the similarities and differences between firmware and embedded software and that you won’t be confused with embedded vs. firmware anymore. The main difference is in their purpose, but both help devices to work functionally. Firmware is not the same as embedded software, but rather a part of it. It’s a rather smaller type of software embedded in hardware collaborating with other parts of embedded software.