INTechHouse BLOG 31.07.2023 14 min.
Top programming languages for embedded systems
INTechHouse BLOG 31.07.2023 14 min.

Top programming languages for embedded systems

Adam Szychulec

Within the extensive realm of contemporary technology, embedded systems have risen as crucial components. These systems play a central role in various devices, from everyday appliances such as washing machines and refrigerators to more sophisticated technologies, including aircraft control systems and robotic equipment. A vital element of these systems is their programming, commonly referred to as embedded language programming.

Embedded language programming comprises a spectrum of programming languages explicitly designed or ideally suited to administer and govern the functioning of embedded systems. These languages are customised to offer the critical attributes of control, efficiency, and reliability, all of which are essential in the context of embedded systems. Since these systems’ hardware performs specific functions, selecting the appropriate embedded programming language is paramount. This decision significantly impacts multiple facets of the embedded system, including its overall design, power usage, response time, and other critical dimensions.

What is Embedded Programming Language?

When we talk about an embedded system programming language, we refer to the specific language used to write software that is “embedded” into hardware devices. Such a language, unlike more common and general-purpose programming languages, is designed specifically to manage and control the operations of a specific hardware device, making it more efficient and better suited for the tasks at hand.

Embedded system programming languages facilitate interaction with low-level hardware, provide access to memory, and allow real-time responses. These unique features make them particularly well-suited to specific, specialized tasks that can’t be efficiently achieved using more general programming languages.

The Unique Characteristics of Embedded Software Languages

Embedded software languages differ from standard programming languages in several key ways. Firstly, they often allow developers to interact directly with the hardware. This means that programmers can write software that directly controls hardware components, giving them a level of control that can’t be achieved with general-purpose languages.

Secondly, these languages often allow manual management of memory. This is crucial in an embedded environment, where memory resources may be limited. Manual memory management allows developers to control precisely how and when memory is allocated and deallocated, ensuring that resources are used efficiently.

Finally, embedded software languages typically have real-time capabilities. This means that they can respond to events as they occur in real-time, which is essential for many embedded systems where delays cannot be tolerated.

The Role of Languages in Embedded Systems

The role of programming languages in embedded systems is pivotal. A programming language serves as the link between the software functionality and the hardware components of the system. The chosen language can significantly influence resource utilisation efficiency, the integration of various system components, and the system’s performance as a whole.

An appropriate language allows programmers to control hardware resources more effectively, program microcontrollers more efficiently, and, in some cases, even make real-time system responses possible. It also determines how different system components can communicate with each other, thus playing a vital role in the overall system integration.

The Best Languages for Embedded Systems

Criteria for Evaluating the Best Embedded Language

With many embedded systems languages to choose from, developers must carefully evaluate each one to ensure it aligns with their specific project needs and constraints. Choosing the best language for embedded systems is not straightforward, as it largely depends on the system’s specific requirements. However, there are certain criteria that one can consider. This includes factors like the language’s ease of use, the speed at which the language can execute commands, the amount of community support and resources available, as well as the quality of the debugging and development tools.

Moreover, the chosen language should allow for low-level hardware control and manual memory management due to the resource-constrained nature of embedded systems. Other factors affecting the choice include the existing codebase, the development team’s expertise, and the specific hardware being used.

Top Embedded Programming Languages List

As for the embedded programming languages list, it is long and varied, each with its strengths and weaknesses. Some of the commonly used ones include:

  1. C: Known for its efficiency and control, C is often the first choice for many developers when it comes to embedded systems.
  2. C++: A derivative of C, C++ adds object-oriented capabilities, although it’s generally less common due to its larger memory footprint.
  3. Python: While not as efficient as C or C++, Python’s ease of use makes it a popular choice for certain less resource-constrained systems.
  4. Java: Its “Write Once, Run Anywhere” philosophy has found a place in certain embedded systems, especially in the world of IoT.
  5. Assembly: Used for tasks that require direct hardware manipulation or when maximum efficiency is needed.
  6. Rust: A modern language that focuses on safety and performance, Rust is increasingly being adopted in the embedded world.

Source: Ubuntupit, Github.io

Is C++ Used in Embedded Systems?

C++, as a descendant of the C language, is often a topic of interest when discussing embedded systems. So, is C++ used in embedded systems? The answer is yes, albeit not as commonly as C. The language’s support for object-oriented programming can lead to more organised and maintainable code, but these features come at a cost – increased memory footprint and runtime overhead. This trade-off makes C++ less common than C in embedded systems, but it is nevertheless a choice for developers in certain types of systems.

The Most Popular Programming Language for Embedded Systems

The most popular programming language for embedded systems is, without a doubt, Python.

In recent years, Python has been steadily rising as one of the most favored programming languages for embedded systems development, and for good reason. Known for its simplicity, readability, and versatility, Python has become a go-to language for developers working on resource-constrained devices.

One of the key factors contributing to Python’s popularity in the embedded systems realm is its ease of use. Its concise and straightforward syntax enables developers to write code quickly and efficiently. This advantage is particularly valuable in the context of embedded systems, where resources are often limited, and optimizing code is essential.

Many individuals new to the field often ask, “what language is used in embedded systems?” and the answer is that it varies greatly based on the project, with popular choices including C, C++, and Python.

Most Used Programming Languages (among developers worldwide as of 2023)

Source: Statista

However, it’s not the only language used. Depending on the system requirements, C, C++ and Rust are also being used.

How Different Programming Languages Play a Role in Embedded Systems

There is a wide range of embedded systems programming languages, each bringing unique advantages. For instance, Assembly, one of the oldest programming languages, still finds application in today’s world of embedded systems. This is because Assembly, being a low-level language, offers the most direct control over the hardware. This makes it perfect for tasks requiring extreme optimisation or very precise hardware control.

Conversely, Python, a high-level language known for its simplicity, finds usage in embedded systems where development time and flexibility are more important than runtime efficiency. This language has found a niche in less performance-critical applications or where hardware resources are not as constrained.

Which Language is Best for Embedded System?

When it comes to identifying the best programming languages for embedded systems, there are many factors to consider. These factors are often system-specific and can include requirements like real-time operation, power consumption, memory usage, and even the particular hardware being used.

Other considerations include development time, code maintainability, the learning curve of the language, and the available development tools. The existing skill set of the development team is also an important factor. While C might provide the most control and efficiency, Python or Java might be better if the team is more familiar with those languages.

Which Programming Language is Best for Embedded Systems?

The question of “which programming language is used in embedded systems” can’t be answered definitively.

There is a consensus among experts that the best-embedded language depends heavily on the specifics of the project and the constraints of the system. While the dominance of C and C++ is undeniable due to their efficiency and control, other languages like Python and Rust are starting to make their mark due to their ease of use and modern features.

Comparing Embedded Systems Programming Languages

When comparing embedded systems programming languages, several factors come into play. These factors include efficiency, memory usage, the ability to handle real-time operations, and access to low-level hardware controls. For example, C provides an excellent balance between high-level abstraction and low-level control, making it one of the embedded systems’ most widely used languages.

On the other hand, Python offers rapid development and readability but lacks the efficiency and control provided by C. Similarly, Assembly offers maximum control and efficiency but at the cost of development time and code readability.

Still have questions about the programming language choice, that’s okay. Sometimes it’s so hard to choose the best suitable. But we know the key secret: how to help!

Contact Us

Factors Affecting the Choice of Language in Embedded Systems

The choice of language in embedded systems is influenced by several factors. System requirements, resource availability, and the expected lifecycle of the product are all essential considerations. So is the development team’s expertise and comfort with the language and the maturity and support available in the language’s ecosystem.

In some cases, a project might even use multiple languages. For example, time-critical parts of the system might be written in C for efficiency, while higher-level functions and user interfaces might be written in Python or Java.

INTechHouse's Journey with Top Embedded System Programming Languages

Once upon a time, at INTechHouse, a renowned technology firm known for its expertise in hardware solutions, a challenging project landed on their doorstep. The client’s request was ambitious: the implementation of an unmanned flying platform for advanced environmental observation and research. The team knew they had to bring their A-game to accomplish this complex endeavor.

The INTechHouse team immediately assembled their best engineers and began brainstorming the perfect solution. They envisioned a sophisticated system equipped with cutting-edge functionalities. The challenge lay in combining hardware and software seamlessly.

For the hardware, the team decided to utilize 6-layer PCBs to accommodate the diverse set of components required for the flying platform. Now, the focus shifted to choosing the ideal software programming languages to bring this platform to life.

After careful analysis and consideration, the INTechHouse team narrowed down their choices to the top embedded system programming languages: C++ and Python. They opted for C++ due to its robustness, efficiency, and ability to handle low-level hardware interactions. Python was chosen for its simplicity, ease of use, and rapid development capabilities.

You can read more about this case here.

Conclusion

The choice of programming language plays a pivotal role in developing embedded systems. While languages like C and C++ continue to dominate the field, others like Python, Rust, and Java are also carving out a space for themselves. Remembering that the best language for embedded systems varies based on specific project needs, system resources, and constraints is essential. Therefore, evaluating and selecting the language most aligned with your project’s requirements and your development team’s expertise is crucial.


Contact us today!

Ready to power your embedded systems projects with the best programming languages? Discover the top choices for efficient and secure development. Explore how these languages can elevate your embedded systems to new heights—read the article now! If you need help with the right choice, don’t hesitate to ask.

Let’s talk