Firmware is a type of computer software. It provides the low level control needed for a particular piece of hardware to work correctly.
It can communicate directly with the hardware without needing to go through an operating system or device drivers.
Firmware is found in many hardware devices such as TV remotes, cameras, routers, scanners, computers etc.
The firmware software is stored in a special dedicated memory chip embedded inside the hardware. This is added at the time of manufacturing.
What role does firmware play in a modern computer system?
In a modern computer, firmware is stored in a ROM chip (hardware).
We call this firmware the BIOS (basic input/output system), or the bootloader.
When you power up the computer, it’s job is to provide enough hardware functionality to locate the OS on the hard disk and begin loading it into memory.
Once enough of the OS is loaded, it can take control of the computer and continue to load the remainder of itself.
In most computers the firmware/BIOS is no longer needed now until the next boot-up.
Finally, any application software that you open is run on top of the OS, using device drivers as necessary.
Be cautious when asked to update firmware
On many computer systems the firmware stored on a ROM chip cannot be changed.
However, on other common hardware devices (e.g. dash-cam, router etc) you may be asked to download and install a firmware update from time to time.
When updating firmware you must make sure the process is uninterrupted.
Any issues part way through a firmware installation could cause it to corrupt and the device may become permanently unusable.