It’s likely you’ve heard the terms firmware and software used interchangeably. Even though firmware and software in current technology have a lot in common, they still differ in some ways. This article will explain the phrases firmware and software, and how they relate to the world of computers and embedded systems. Also, you will be able to compare firmware and software more easily because you will be able to understand the differences between them.

What is Firmware? 

The term firmware refers to the low-level software required for hardware and software to interact. It served as a bridge between actual microprocessors and the operating system and other software that users use. It is a kind of software that runs on hardware and includes certain instruction sets that enable the hardware to communicate with higher-level software, such as the operating system. Firmware is a necessary component for all devices to function. Firmware usually lacks a user interface that may be accessible from operating systems or other higher-level programs.1,2   

What is Software?

Any computer system is primarily made up of hardware and software. Hardware refers to the tangible components such as processors, memory, storage, keyboards, touchscreens, etc. For the hardware to function properly, you need software. Basically, software is any program that is run by a computer as instructions for the hardware to follow. Both the operating system on your laptop and the apps on your smartphone or tablet are examples of software.1,2   

Firmware vs. Software: Key Distinctions

Although the distinction between the two is no longer as important as it once was, there are still some key things to consider. 2,3,4,5

Firmware is typically a sort of software that controls hardware.It is a program that may be standalone (like on an operating system) or application-specific. It cannot directly command the hardware.
As it often only contains device-specific code, firmware is highly constrained.A wide variety of programs and applications are included in software.
The average size of firmware is always small, falling between a few KB and a maximum of one GB.Software can be anywhere between a few KB and tens of GB in size.
Extensible Firmware Interface (EFI) and Basic Input/Output System (BIOS) are a few examples of firmware types.Software comes in many different forms, such as system software, shareware, and application software.
Low-level programming languages are used exclusively for writing firmware.Both high-level and low-level programming languages are used to create software.
Firmware is quickly created and rarely updated.Software is created over a prolonged period of time, going through numerous revisions and iterations.
Firmware is concealed on a device since it is not intended for user interaction.Software is built with user interaction in mind.

The ideas of firmware and software have now been briefly introduced. As you learned what software is, what firmware is, and how software and firmware differ, you may also be aware that while firmware may still hold a specific meaning, it’s rarely used in other contexts. The distinction between software and firmware has become increasingly hazy over time, particularly as firmware has become more updatable. For everything except the most sophisticated types of communication, simply using the phrase software is acceptable.

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  1. Software vs Firmware: What’s the Difference? | (n.d.). Retrieved November 14, 2022, from 
  2. Firmware vs. Software: Similarities and Differences – Geekflare. (n.d.). Retrieved November 14, 2022, from 
  3. WHAT ARE THE DISTINCTIONS BETWEEN SOFTWARE AND FIRMWARE? | Simplexity Product Development. (n.d.). Retrieved November 14, 2022, from 
  4. Difference Between Firmware and Software – Pediaa.Com. (n.d.). Retrieved November 14, 2022, from 
  5. Hardware vs Software vs Firmware: What’s the Difference? (n.d.). Retrieved November 14, 2022, from