Embedded Systems Programming: 15 Basic Tips and Tricks for Efficient Development

7 minutes

Welcome to our guide to efficient programming of embedded computer systems, also known as embedded systems! If you are developing electronic devices such as smartwatches, wireless headphones, or industrial sensors, programming an embedded system is absolutely essential for you.

The right firmware can turn hardware into a unique and intelligent product. Fortunately, there are plenty of tips and tricks to help you achieve maximum efficiency and performance in embedded code. In this article, we have prepared an overview of the most important ones for you.

Choosing the Right Platform is Fundamental

Let's start with the choice of the embedded platform itself. The market offers a huge number of variants of microcontrollers, modules, and development kits. Without experience, it's easy to get lost in this jungle.

Our recommendation? Seek advice from experts. At ASN Plus, we collaborate with leading chip manufacturers such as STMicroelectronics, Silicon Labs, Microchip, Espressif, or Nordic Semiconductor. We will help you choose the most suitable hardware for your project.

It is crucial to consider the requirements for computational power, memory size, consumption, necessary peripherals, and interfaces. Smartwatches need a different chip than an industrial IoT sensor. Together we will find the optimal solution.

Optimize Code for Specific Hardware

One of the most important things in firmware writing is code optimization for a specific platform. Generally, the closer to the hardware, the better the performance.

For critical parts of the program, it is advisable to use low-level languages - most commonly C/C++, or assembler if necessary. Higher languages such as Python or C# bring too much overhead.

Functions that are called very often should be converted to inline functions directly in the code. This reduces the call overhead. Similarly, it is worthwhile to avoid unnecessary checks inside loops.

Use chip accelerators like DMA controllers for data copying without CPU load. Hardware acceleration usually has a much higher performance than software solutions.

Minimize Memory Requirements

In embedded systems, memory is a limited resource. Therefore, it is necessary to optimize its usage. Choose static allocation over dynamic allocation.

Minimize the size of variables and data structures. Use data types exactly corresponding to the range of values. Avoid memory fragmentation.

As required, compress data that is stored in memory. This will save space for your program.

Secure Your System

Security is absolutely critical in modern devices. Firmware plays an important role in system protection.

All user inputs must be verified. Never trust what comes from the outside. Encrypt sensitive data such as passwords or keys.

Separate the code into critical and non-critical parts. Use a watchdog timer to detect system freezes and restart the system.

Test on Emulators, Debug on Real Hardware

Simulators and emulators allow you to test firmware even before you have the final hardware available. This speeds up development and finds errors in the early stages.

For final debugging on the target platform, tools such as serial print debugging or JTAG and SWD interfaces are suitable. This allows you to monitor the program directly on the chip.

Reserve Enough Time for Testing

Testing is an integral part of firmware development. Well-designed tests reveal errors and ensure code quality.

Test all parts of the program during testing - functions, methods, classes. Test common cases as well as edge cases.

Focus on security testing including input verification, buffer overflow, and other attack techniques.

Don't forget about performance testing to identify bottlenecks. And last but not least, conduct long-term stability tests.

Documentation Speeds Up Development

Quality documentation of firmware saves a lot of time during development and later maintenance.

Add comments to individual functions and modules explaining their purpose and use.

Create an architectural design describing the overall system structure and data flow between blocks.

Compile user documentation explaining the functionality, configuration, and control of the firmware from the end user's perspective.

Embedded systems programming

Choose Proven Open-Source Libraries

Using existing open-source libraries speeds up development and reduces errors. Just integrate the library into the project.

Popular are libraries for working with displays, GUI, files, connectivity, or security.

When choosing libraries, look for actively developed projects with a large community. They have the best chance of long-term support.

Collaborate with an Embedded Systems Expert

Developing firmware for embedded systems requires specific knowledge and experience. If you are just starting out, it makes sense to consult with an expert.

At ASN Plus, we offer consultations with our developers who have dozens of successfully completed projects for Czech and foreign clients under their belt.

We will advise you on architecture design, hardware selection, and software optimization. We have experience with platforms from leading chip manufacturers and with connecting embedded systems with smartphones, cloud services, and artificial intelligence.

In Conclusion

Efficient design and programming of embedded systems require a wide range of knowledge and skills. In this article, we have presented 15 tips to help you achieve maximum performance in embedded electronics.

If you are looking for a partner for firmware development or embedded electronics, do not hesitate to contact us. At ASN Plus, we offer years of experience with hardware and software for the most demanding embedded projects. We look forward to collaborating!