Software vs. Firmware

By Jaxson

Main Difference

The main difference between Software and Firmware is that the Software is a non-tangible executable component of a computer and Firmware is a computer software that provides the low-level control for a device’s specific hardware

  • Software

    Computer software, or simply software, is a collection of data or computer instructions that tell the computer how to work. This is in contrast to physical hardware, from which the system is built and actually performs the work. In computer science and software engineering, computer software is all information processed by computer systems, programs and data. Computer software includes computer programs, libraries and related non-executable data, such as online documentation or digital media. Computer hardware and software require each other and neither can be realistically used on its own.

    At the lowest programming level, executable code consists of machine language instructions supported by an individual processor—typically a central processing unit (CPU) or a graphics processing unit (GPU). A machine language consists of groups of binary values signifying processor instructions that change the state of the computer from its preceding state. For example, an instruction may change the value stored in a particular storage location in the computer—an effect that is not directly observable to the user. An instruction may also invoke one of many input or output operations, for example displaying some text on a computer screen; causing state changes which should be visible to the user. The processor executes the instructions in the order they are provided, unless it is instructed to “jump” to a different instruction, or is interrupted by the operating system. As of 2015, most personal computers, smartphone devices and servers have processors with multiple execution units or multiple processors performing computation together, and computing has become a much more concurrent activity than in the past.

    The majority of software is written in high-level programming languages. They are easier and more efficient for programmers because they are closer to natural languages than machine languages. High-level languages are translated into machine language using a compiler or an interpreter or a combination of the two. Software may also be written in a low-level assembly language, which has strong correspondence to the computer’s machine language instructions and is translated into machine language using an assembler.

  • Firmware

    In computing, firmware is a specific class of computer software that provides the low-level control for a device’s specific hardware. Firmware can either provide a standardized operating environment for more complex device software (allowing more hardware-independence), or, for less complex devices, act as the device’s complete operating system, performing all control, monitoring and data manipulation functions. Typical examples of devices containing firmware are embedded systems, consumer appliances, computers, computer peripherals, and others. Almost all electronic devices beyond the simplest contain some firmware.

    Firmware is held in non-volatile memory devices such as ROM, EPROM, EEPROM, and Flash memory. Changing the firmware of a device was rarely or never done during its lifetime in the past but is nowadays a common procedure; some firmware memory devices are permanently installed and cannot be changed after manufacture. Common reasons for updating firmware include fixing bugs or adding features to the device. This requires ROM integrated circuits to be physically replaced, or EPROM or flash memory to be reprogrammed through a special procedure. Firmware such as the BIOS of a personal computer may contain only elementary basic functions of a device and may only provide services to higher-level software. Firmware such as the program of an embedded system may be the only program that will run on the system and provide all of its functions.

    Before the inclusion of integrated circuits, other firmware devices included a discrete semiconductor diode matrix. The Apollo guidance computer had firmware consisting of a specially manufactured core memory plane called “core rope memory”, wherein each core was treated as a transformer core within a matrix of discrete wires: each individual wire stored one data bit, with wires running through the core storing a ‘1’ and those bypassing the core storing a ‘0’.

  • Software (noun)

    Encoded computer instructions, usually modifiable (unless stored in some form of unalterable memory such as ROM).

    “application software|data-oriented software|kitchen table software|on-premises software|malware|schlockware|shareware|shovelware|spyware|system software”

  • Software (noun)

    The human beings involved in warfare, as opposed to hardware such as weapons and vehicles.

  • Firmware (noun)

    Something in between hardware and software. Like software, it is created from source code, but it is closely tied to the hardware it runs on.

  • Firmware (noun)

    Software intended for such embedded computer applications.


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