Systems firmware is what adds functionality to hardware devices. In Firmware Development, engineers work close to the hardware on which their software runs. Because of this, Firmware Engineers tend to have more intimate knowledge of digital circuit design, hardware clock signals, timing diagrams, and a bunch of other hardware technologies.
The demand for Firmware Engineers/Developers is rapidly increasing due to the several applications of Internet of Things and M2M computing. It is of no surprise that finding outstanding firmware developers (people who have strong skills in firmware and hardware) is a quite challenging task to do.
Things we ensure during Firmware Development
Collecting clients’ requirements
Before we begin to design an architecture for an embedded system or its firmware, we make sure we have all the necessary requirements. Adequately written requirements define what the product does for its users, individually. Testability is key. If a requirement is written correctly, a set of tests will then be conducted to verify that requirement is met.
Distinguishing architecture from design
Architecture describes persistent features; the architecture is hard to change and must be gotten right through careful research on the products intended and permissible uses.
The architecture does not include function or variable names. A firmware design document identifies these fine-grained details, such as the names and responsibilities of tasks within the specific subsystems or device drivers, and the details of the interfaces between subsystems. The design documents class, task, function/method, parameter, and variable names that must be agreed upon by all implementers.
Most systems feature a mix of non-real-time, soft-real-time, and hard-real-time requirements. Soft deadlines are usually the most challenging to define unambiguously, test, and implement. With deadlines identified, the first step in architecture is to push as many of the time-based requirements as possible out of the software and onto the hardware.
Design for test
Every embedded system needs to be tested. In general, it is also mandatory for testing to be performed at several stages. The most common stages of testing are:
- System tests verifying that the product as a whole meet or exceeds the stated requirements. System tests are best developed outside of the engineering department, though they may fit into a test harness developed by engineers.
- Integration tests verifying that a subset of the subsystems identified in the architecture diagrams interacts as expected and produce reasonable outcomes. Integration tests are best developed by a testing group or person with software engineering skills.
- Unit tests verifying that individual software components identified at the intermediate design level perform as their implementers expect. That is, they test at the level of the public API the component presents to other components. Unit tests are best developed by the same people who write the code under test.
Plan for changes
We must first understand the type of changes that need to be made before we can plan for them. Then architect the firmware to make making those changes easier to carry out. If the software is architected well, feature diversity can be managed through a single software build with compile-time and/or run-time behavioural switches in the firmware. Similarly, new features can be added easily to a good architecture without breaking the existing product’s functionality.
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