• Dhanush kumar S

Tools in Embedded Systems

Updated: Sep 11, 2020

An embedded system is described as the integration of computer memory, processor, and input/output peripheral devices designed to accomplish a particular task in a given time. The Embedded system is a cornerstone of the electronics industry.


Embedded technology, collectively with networks and information #technologies is widely engaged in manufacturing devices such as mobile phones, digital watches to traffic light controllers, and in the discipline of avionics.


The #embedded systems are constructed and improvised with the help of certain tools. Embedded software or program which is loaded in the microcontroller takes care of all the executing operations. For developing this software, a number of tools are operated. This article explains the brief concepts of certain tools its advantages and applications.


Tools in Embedded systems:


The typical microcontrollers firmware cycle involves

  • Writing the code with the help of an editor.

  • Translating the code.

  • Debugging the code with the help of debugging tools.

  • Programming a Flash or OTP version of the microcontroller to built up a functional prototype of the system.



These services can be performed by various tools such as editors, #compilers, assemblers, and debugging tools.


Editor:

  • The first and foremost tool required in developing the software of embedded systems is the text editor.

  • It is the place for writing the code for embedded systems.

  • An important point to note is that the code cannot be processed or executed in this area.

  • The code which is written in the editor can also be referred to as the source code.

  • The code can be written in any of the programming languages. Most commonly used languages are C and c++

  • The sample editors include a Notepad, Notepad ++, TextPad.

Compiler


It is a tool that converts the source code or program from high-level #programming language to a low-level programming language. The function of a compiler is to convert source code into object code. The object code is in low-level language and so it can be easily read by the computer. A compiler performs operations such as parsing, code generation, and optimization, and semantic analysis. The compiler is of many kinds. It includes a cross-compiler, decompiler, and language converter.


Cross-compiler


If a compiler can able to run a code in a computer or operating system, that has been generated in a different #operatingsystem is known as a cross-compiler. A cross-compiler is necessary to compile the code for multiple platforms from one development host. The source-to-source compilers differ from cross compilers. The source-to-source translates the text code from one programming language to another. But the cross-compilers are meant for cross-platform #software development in the machine code. Example: IOS to Android.

Uses:-

  • The fundamental use of cross-compilers is to separate the build-in environment from the target environment.

  • To perform a compiling operation for multiple machines. An organization may wish to support different versions of an operating system and by using a cross-compiler, a single build-in environment can be created to compile all these targets.

  • It can also be used to perform the compiling operation on a server farm.

  • Cross-compilers are used in bootstrapping to a new platform.

Decompiler


The term decompiler is commonly applied to a program that translates the executable program into source code in a high-level language which, when compiled shows the same behavior as the original executable program. Therefore, it is the opposite of the compiler. Decompilers remain an important tool in the reverse engineering of the computer software


Examples: JAD decompiler is for JAVA programming language.


Uses

  • De-compilers are very much useful in error correction, computer #security, and interoperability.

  • It can also be used in the process of recovering the lost source data.

  • They are employed to re-create source code from binary executables.

  • It helps the beginners to understand the code and the concept behind it in a much easier way.

Language converter


A language converter is a compiler that converts the code between different high-level languages. It can also be called in different names such as source to source translator, transcompiler, a transpiler. These kinds of compilers convert between programming languages that operate at the same level of abstraction. Examples of certain assembly language translators include Intel CONV86, SCP TRANS86, Digital Research XLT86.


Uses:

  • It can perform a translation of code from Python to Javascript.

  • These compilers also help in the translating of legacy code to use the next version of the respective programming language.

  • It can also perform automatic code refactoring. It is nothing but, we can refactor the programs that are outside the control of the original implementer.


Assembler


An assembler is a unit that takes the basic computer instructions as input and converts them into a pattern of bits that can be used by the computer's processor to perform certain functions.


An Assembler functions based on its own assembly language that uses a mnemonic to represent an opcode. It can create object code by resolving symbolic names to memory locations.


There are two types of assemblers based on the number of passes through the source code are required.


One-pass assemblers:

It goes through the source code once. Any symbol defined before will require errata at the end of the object code.


Multi-pass assemblers:

In the first pass, it can create a table with all symbols and their values. In the later passes, the table can be used to generate code.


Debugging tools in Embedded System


Debugging is a process of finding and eliminating the number of errors in a computer program or in electronic hardware for its better performance. If a system is tightly packed, the process of debugging becomes difficult as the bug may get inherited to adjacent subsystems.


The debugging tools used in the embedded systems greatly differ in terms of their development time and debugging features.


There are three main debugging tools used in embedded systems. They are Simulators, Microcontroller starter kits, and emulators.


Simulators


The simulator represents a microcontroller by simulating the source code on a host computer. In each step of execution, it denotes the status of RAM and simulated ports of the target system. They also help in synchronizing delays and internal peripherals.


A simulator can perform the following operations,

  • It helps in synchronizing the delays and internal peripherals.

  • Simulators monitor every part of the information in the source code with symbolic arguments and labels.

  • In each step of execution, they provide the status of RAM and also the simulated ports of the target system.

  • It helps us to explore more about the processors and also various versions of the target system,

  • Simulators can also support conditional and unconditional breakpoints.

  • They can trace the output of the contents of the program counter.

Microcontroller Starter Kit


A complete microcontroller starter kit is required for developing an embedded based device. It allows for easy input/output functional verification.


The major advantage of starter kits over the simulators is, these kits work in real-time operating conditions. The cost of manufacturing the microcontroller starter kits is very low.


Hence they are widely employed in developing simpler microcontroller projects.


A microcontroller starter kit consists of 4 components. They are,

  • Hardware Printed Circuit Boards (PCB).

  • In-system Programmer (ISP).

  • Embedded tools like assembler, linker, and compiler.

  • Integrated Development Environment may also be required.


Emulators


An emulator resembles the function of one computer (guest) on another computer (host). It differs from a simulator, as the emulated output is identical to the real system.


This tool can either be software or hardware or both. This tool helps us to work in any kind of application, as it resembles the original work environment of the respective hardware or software.


Emulators have the ability to maintain closer contact with the authenticity of digital objects. The emulation process mainly concentrates on re-creating the original environment.


The benefits of emulators, when compared to other debugging tools are as follows,

  • Emulators possess more features when compared to other hardware.

  • The cost of manufacturing can be minimized over a period of time.

  • They also have improved graphics quality than others.

  • Emulators allow wide-scale collaboration as they have been developed and released under the General Public License through an open-source environment.

  • They also permit software exclusive to one system to be used on another.

Example: A PlayStation 2 exclusive video game can also be played on PC with the help of emulators.


Apart from all these, there are also certainly embedded software development solutions such as PyCharm, WebStorm, Qt Creator, and MPLAB X.


See also:

  1. Microprocessors in Embedded Systems

  2. Structure of Embedded Systems

  3. The Architecture of Embedded Systems

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