Firmware is a type of program that written for a hardware device's nonvolatile memory. It provides instruction on how that device should operate. Unlike normal software, firmware cannot be changed or deleted by an end-user without a special program.
Firmware is added at the time of manufacturing, and used to run user programs on the device and can be thought of as the software that allows hardware to run. Hardware makers use embedded firmware to control the functions of various hardware devices and systems.
Devices like optical drives, a network card, a router, a camera, or a scanner all have firmware that is programmed into a special memory contained in the hardware itself.
Ascher Opler coined the term "firmware" in a 1967 Datamation article. As originally used, firmware contrasted with hardware (the CPU itself) and software (normal instructions executing on a CPU). It was not composed of CPU machine instructions but of lower-level microcode involved in the implementation of machine instructions. It existed on the boundary between hardware and software; thus the name "firmware".
The updated firmware would probably include a new set of computer code for your device to fix bugs, roll out new features and improve security. Some internet-capable devices regularly check for new firmware and automatically download and install it, while other device manufacturers require the user to visit the manufacturer's website to download firmware updates and install them manually.
Types of firmware
The first thing comes to the system after the computer is powered on is BIOS. It can interact with the hardware and check for any unknown errors.
Then it signals another program called bootloader which does the job of waking up the operating system sleeping inside the hard drive and put it in the random access memory.
So, BIOS is primarily responsible for handling your computer’s hardware components and ensure that they function properly.
EFI stands for Extensible Firmware Interface, is a specification for a new generation of system firmware that provides the first instructions used by the CPU to startup hardware and passes the control to the bootloader. EFI, sometimes also referred to as Unified Extensible Firmware Interface (UEFI) has certain advantages over BIOS. For instance, it helps ensure that your PC boots using only software that is trusted by the PC manufacturer, i.e., it supports a feature called ‘Secure Boot’ to improve security.
- Firmware is used at more than one level in complex products.
- Most portable music players support firmware upgrades. Some companies use firmware updates to add new playable file formats.
- Most mobile phones have a Firmware Over The Air firmware upgrade capability.
- Firmware updates include the GUI or even battery life.
- Most automobiles have employed an onboard computer and various sensors to detect mechanical problems.
- Modern vehicles also employ computer-controlled anti-lock braking systems (ABS) and computer-operated transmission control units (TCUs). The driver can also get in-dash information while driving in this manner, such as real-time fuel economy and tire pressure readings. Local dealers can update most vehicle firmware.
Today, embedded firmware exists in everything from smartphones to internet of things (IoT) devices. The firmware that is embedded in flash memory chips can be updated easier than firmware written to ROM or EPROM. Manufacturers of CD, DVD, and network router often release regular firmware updates to keep their hardware compatible with new features, while the firmware in a smart light bulb may not need frequent updates.