Embedded software is a kind of computer software that is designed specifically for a particular hardware and it cannot typically be considered as computers. They have memory and time constraints. One typical feature of this software is that as it is written to control machines or devices either not all or none of its functions are initiated or controlled through a human interface. It is the machine interface that controls or initiates all or most of its functions.
The embedded software is found in a number of electronic items like phones, cars, security systems, various appliances, toys, set-top boxes, modems, and the list goes on and on. These ‘built-in’ embedded software can range from being very simple running on just an 8-bit microcontroller to ultra-sophisticated like those in applications like process control devices, missiles, security systems etc.
What Is Software Development?
Software development is a process, which involves conceiving, specifying followed by designing, programming, documenting, testing, and finally bug fixing. This entire sequence is followed for creating and maintaining frameworks, applications, or any other software components.
What Is Embedded Software Engineering?
The formulation of embedded systems involves the integration of software engineering with the non-computer devices. Thus, embedded software development is a process wherein the software is developed to control various machines or devices, which are different from traditional computers. It requires the knowledge of various microprocessors, programming tools, and operating systems. The embedded software developers need to be tailor-made keeping in mind the hardware that it will run on and control.
Embedded systems are used extensively across various industries like automotive technology, consumer electronics, science, medicine, manufacturing etc. All these industries have their specific needs and the embedded software needs to be developed keeping in mind not only the industry but also the hardware on which it will be used.
Difference between Embedded Software Engineers and IT Software Developers
Embedded software development engineers are different from IT software developers in the following ways.
Knowledge of Hardware: A software developer works on applications and is not concerned about the hardware it will run on. An embedded software developer, on the other hand, needs complete knowledge of the hardware the code will run on. This is because the code he/she is writing has to control the hardware they would be running on. Thus, the developer needs to interact closely with the hardware so as to write an appropriate code that runs perfectly on that hardware controlling it in the best possible manner.
It’s Not about the Lines of Code: For software developers, everything lies in the number of lines of code, whereas for embedded software development engineers, the complexity is never about the lines of code. It is about making the physical hardware device work with the software. He might have written only 40 lines of code, but would have spent an entire day configuring an interrupt handler to perfectly respond to the button push.
Algorithm vs. Controlling: The basic principle on which a software program works is algorithm and data. There will be storing, processing, moving, presenting or deletion of data. The embedded software is focused on managing and controlling the hardware. The data and algorithm are no doubt present in the embedded software, but the focus is to make it work in such a way that the hardware works efficiently and is in complete control.
Debugging Is Different in Both: The software developers make use of debugging breakpoints and other debug options that their IDE provides. Debugging an embedded software is a different ball game altogether. Here the developer needs to make use of Logic Analyzers, Oscilloscopes, and multimeter if the system hangs than using breakpoints.
While the consumers are mostly familiar with application software, not many are aware of embedded software. Embedded software is less visible, but often more complex in nature as it needs to be designed keeping the hardware in mind. Unlike application programs, embedded software has specific hardware needs and there are also limitations on the addition of third-party software or hardware.
The world of embedded software developers is much more complex than that of IT software developers. The efforts are on to simplify embedded software development and bring it at par with the normal application software development in terms of ease of development.