September 28, 2021

Embedded System Software Development: Everything You Need to Know

Version Control
IP Lifecycle Management

Embedded system software developers have a difficult job. For one, the work itself is challenging — embedded systems must withstand numerous updates to their environment to function properly. Plus, when something goes wrong in development, those higher up the chain tend to look at developers rather than the tools the team is using.

You can’t solve new problems with old tools, and they are often at the root of a team’s mistakes or delayed releases. With the right toolchain, teams can overcome challenges in embedded software development and maximize productivity.

Table of Contents

What Is an Embedded System?

An embedded system is a hardware system designed to solve a specific problem, along with the software that controls the system. It could be anything from small IoT devices, medical equipment, robots, and cars, all the way to the International Space Station.

What Is Embedded System Software?

Embedded system software — also referred to as firmware — is software designed to handle and operate the hardware on which it runs.

An Overview of the Process: Embedded System Software Development

Software development for embedded systems is tied closely to the hardware it runs on and usually involves very specific routines, drivers, and procedures. For embedded system development, teams need to do the following:

  1. Review requirements for the project.
  2. Build and reuse components when possible.
  3. Validate, validate, validate.
  4. Test.
  5. Launch the product – sending hardware and software files to the manufacturer.

Tools For Embedded Systems Software Development

Embedded systems software development requires standard software development tools as well as some tools that are specific to this kind of development. To manage tight timelines and multiple iterations, teams utilize some of the following tools:

  • Version Control Software (VCS) to track changes in code between versions and allow multiple developers to work on a single project. Version control is especially important in highly regulated industries that must be able to show older versions of software for audits.
  • Compilers to transform the code into a machine language code — one that a machine can understand.
  • An Automation Tool to automate the parts of software development related to building, testing, and deploying using a CI/CD process.
  • Static Code Analysis tool to identify defects, vulnerabilities, and compliance issues as code is being written. In addition, static code analysis can help improve code quality and developer productivity.
  • Hardware Simulators from vendors like Synopsys or Cadence that run cycle-accurate simulations of the underlying hardware platforms. Often, behavioral models of the hardware or hardware emulation platforms are also used.

Challenges of Software Development for Embedded Systems

The key challenge for embedded software development is that it is very closely tied to the underlying hardware. This can cause disruptions in the development process in a number of ways.

Parallel Development

Changes or updates to the hardware have a significant impact on the software since the two are designed to work seamlessly together, so parallel development is often utilized. Given that the software and drivers need at least a reasonable model or implementation of the hardware to test and execute, software development typically lags behind the hardware development.

Collaboration Between Teams

It is critical that any hardware changes be clearly understood and visible to the software development team. The software functionality is very closely tied to the underlying hardware. So, if the hardware response time, programmability, or register bit placement changes, the software can easily malfunction.

For critical changes to not get lost in email or chat, teams need to be able to communicate within their toolset. This means building an architecture to support everyone. That way, they always know the state of the design, the actual version of the design they tested their software on, and any changes that might impact the functionality of the software.


Dynamic or fast-changing underlying hardware changes need to be incorporated by the software team. And when teams are moving fast, it’s easy to make a mistake. Furthermore, compatibility between hardware components and software drivers or interfaces can be challenging; patching or fixing bugs in the field requires an understanding of exactly what was deployed.

That’s why traceability in the embedded development process is so important. It ensures quality, mitigates security risk, and ensures that compliance requirements are met.

Overcoming Challenges in Embedded Software Development

In order for embedded software development teams to accelerate development, they need to ensure their toolchain isn’t slowing them down. Maximizing traceability and IP reuse, automating the release process, streamlining workspace management, and providing a single source of truth — these are all changes that help teams move faster.

Embedded Software Development Tools by Perforce

What would a day of lost productivity cost you? What would it cost your business?

Optimize your toolchain and accelerate time-to-market with enterprise software. Perforce offers a range of DevOps solutions for embedded system software developers, including:

  • Helix ALM — to go from requirements to release. It offers end-to-end traceability across the entire development lifecycle.
  • Helix Core version control software — to handle countless iterations as you build, validate, and test.
  • Methodics IPLM — to collaborate on design and reuse IP with full traceability and security.
  • Helix QAC and Klocwork — to identify defects, vulnerabilities, and compliance issues as you code.

Learn More About Perforce Tools For Embedded Software Development

Perforce empowers the world's leading companies to innovate faster, accelerate digital transformation, and achieve DevOps success. Click below to contact our product experts and learn how Perforce tools can help your organization.

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