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Why you should use component based firmware

Posted: 04 Jan 2016     Print Version  Bookmark and Share

Keywords:Callbacks  software  embedded system  interrupt service routine  firmware 

If you're searching for a design approach that breaks a system design into building blocks rather than designing is as a single, monolithic whole, use component based firmware. The approach has been advancing upon embedded software engineers for a number of years now, and offers many advantages over traditional approaches. Here are the top five.

#1: Using components breaks the software up
A component is a unit of software that has a well-defined and contractually specified interface. A component could be a single module or consist of multiple modules. One of the primary advantages to using a component is that it provides a clear definition of a feature that needs to be implemented in software. Instead of being tempted to write a million lines of code in a single module, a developer can instead write a component that behaves as a stand-alone feature of the system and thus breaks the software up into self-contained and more manageable features.

#2: Components improve reusability
Very few engineers enjoy developing the same pieces of an application over and over and over again. An engineer would normally rather be working on innovative solutions and the cutting edge. In order to allow that focus, the system's basic fundamentals need to be developed so that they can be reused from one application to the next. Breaking firmware up into components provides a self-contained feature of a software system that can, if done properly, be reused in future projects.

#3: Components can build up into libraries
Developing components for use within an embedded system will result in some components that are generic enough to be reused frequently. The components that are developed can be classified and organised into libraries that are ready to be used when needed. One of the advantages of building a component library is that these existing software units can be leveraged to help decrease development time and potentially decrease project costs.

#4: Components make for an easy division of work
Properly dividing work among engineers can sometimes be difficult. Designing the system to use components provides an obvious avenue to allocating project tasks. Since a component is self-contained and has a well-defined interface, developers can be assigned components to develop. Each component and its unit tests can then live with a developer, with component integration into the larger system coming once enough components have been developed to start building the system.

#5: Developers can utilise component automation tools
Some components can be created using automated tools. Take for example NXP's Processor Expert, an automation tool for generating components for NXP microcontrollers. In most instances the component resides within a single module, with clearly defined inputs and outputs. Developers can create their own components and add them to a component library and then utilise them to quickly and efficiently develop an embedded system. Processor Expert even provides a simple to use interface that allows the configuration for a component to be changed from application to application.

The use of components is not just for developers of web or general software applications. Components have a very real and important role to play within the embedded software space. It may be time to examine whether components are being used within the design cycle and determine how the process can be improved.

What other advantages can you see for using component based firmware?

About the author
Jacob Beningo is a Certified Software Development Professional (CSDP) whose expertise is in embedded software. He works with companies to decrease costs and time to market while maintaining a quality and robust product.

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