What is Firmware?

You may be familiar with the term “firmware” as something your phone needs to update every so often. While firmware is certainly crucial to modern mobile technology, it has actually been around for maybe the last fifty years or more.  Originally cited in an article from Datamation, Ascher Opler discussed writable control store (small and specialized high speed memory type), which contained writable microcode with the capability of defining and implementing a set of instructions for a computer. He describes how these codes could be reloaded in such a way that they could modify or specialize certain instructions to be later executed by the central processing unit.

In this way, firmware was originally conceived as a kind of intermediary between physical CPU hardware and the normal ways that software instruct certain program executions. Firmware was basically a lower-level microcode designed for implementing the basic level of machine instruction.

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The few decades following their original conception, “firmware” evolved as a term which we now understand as something uniquely linked to the hardware upon which it has been installed. Indeed, it no longer sits between hardware and software, as it once did. Obviously, as the years go by these things all get a little more complex and now there are companies like Hikvision which uses firmware for their device in addition to or instead of some software applications.


For a long time, personal computers were probably the only devices we used which relied on firmware.  Actually, the firmware on every government computer or your personal laptop probably relies as much on firmware as it does on its operating system. Knowing this, you should also be quite aware that it continues to be more and more important for computers to get regular firmware updates.  These updates make sure that the micro codes which tell your computer how to function are consistent with the latest information for the software you are trying to use. Essentially, updates ensure all components remain compatible with each other.


Over the past few years, our familiarity with firmware has mostly shifted to mobile phones and other devices.  But you can find firmware in a wide variety of consumer products. This list includes things like portable music players, cybersecurity cameras, and even fitness trackers.


Yes, even cars have firmware these days.  With all the gadgets and digital inputs, it makes perfect sense: from crash prevention to anti-lock brakes to navigation, firmware helps you get you are going.

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