Difference Between Similar Terms and Objects

Difference Between Software and Firmware

Software vs Firmware

Firmware is basically a type of software, therefore making comparisons as if they are distinctly different would be wrong. Instead of doing so, let’s focus on how firmware differs from other software. Although software is an umbrella term that refers to anything data stored in hardware, in general practice, it usually refers to programs that you run on a device like a computer or PDA. Firmware still falls into this category as it is programmed information that is responsible for the operation of certain hardware.

Usually, software tends to be big applications to be quite useful, ranging from a few hundred kilobytes to a few gigabytes in size. In comparison, firmwares are very small and would usually be just a few kilobytes in size. Despite their small size, replacing the firmware of a specific hardware can be pretty tricky if not outright difficult. Some devices have user replaceable firmwares while other doesn’t. Installing, removing, or changing software is a very straightforward task and the process is very similar regardless of the platform that you use.

Software is often stored in memory that is easily accessible and even replaceable by the user. But in the case of firmware, the memory that stores it is often embedded to the device itself and is not replaceable by the user. This is intentionally done as firmware is critical for the device to run and tampering or removing it can cause serious consequences. The storage media used for firmware is often very robust to make sure that it outlasts the device itself. Traditionally, EEPROM chips hold the firmware of a device but flash memory is increasingly becoming popular in devices with user replaceable firmware.

Lastly, software is often upgraded and the information that it stores is often changed with each execution of the application. In contrast, firmware does not really change much unless you modify the settings very often. There is also very little need to change the firmware of a device and users are advised against doing so unless they do encounter problems.

Summary:

1. Software generally refers to high level programs while firmware is used to microcode embedded in most hardware

2. Software can be very big while firmware are usually very small

3. Software can be replaced without much hassle while replacing firmware is often difficult

4. Software is often stored in user accessible memory while firmware is located in an inaccessible storage embedded in the hardware

5. Software is changed constantly while firmware is very rarely changed


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1 Comment

  1. You can only differentiate firmware to software precisely if you’ve worked as firmware/software engineer.

    A firmware is any software that is used by an embedded computer system – where cpu, bus, IO/Memory controllers, and all other parts of a microcomputer are embedded to a chip or silicon like Apple/Samsung/Intel System-On-Chip(SOC). So the size can be in Mega or Giga bytes also. Most Smartphone has internal/external memory with 32-64GB. Firmware can be installable also like an Apple/Android Apps because they are software apps that will run on embedded computer system. And remember that your OS kernel is also called as firmware. Today, most server firmwares are more complex ranging to GB size that will be run in ARM-based multi-core SOC chip or parallel SOCs.

    So, any software that will run to an embedded computer system is called firmware. Size must not be a basis of our comparisons. it’s where the software will be run.

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