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A guide to Linux for embedded applications

This article was last updated 2 years ago.

An embedded device is a hardware and software system that performs a dedicated function within a larger computer system. It is typically resource-constrained and comprises a processing engine.  The software of an embedded Linux system runs on top of the Linux kernel, the fundamental core of the OS with complete control over everything occurring in the system.

It follows an embedded Linux system simply denotes an embedded system running on the Linux kernel. What makes Linux for embedded applications special? Let’s find out!

The kernel for embedded applications

The Linux kernel is a member of the family of Unix-like OS kernels, with AT&T Bell Labs devising the first version of Unix back in 1969. Being proprietary, Unix, the first portable OS, stimulated the development of free and open-source alternatives like Linux and, among the many others, FreeBSD, NetBSD, and OpenBSD.

At system startup, the Linux kernel loads into RAM and stays in memory throughout the session duration. 

Despite Linus never shipping a version of Linux for embedded applications, developers often need a configuration to support their custom hardware, as the kernel build configuration found in a device usually varies from the one in a server or workstation. 

Linux for embedded applications

Linux is the premier choice by developers of embedded applications for several reasons: from being open-source to scalability, developer support, and tooling, myriad arguments justify why Linux is a great candidate for embedded systems.

Linux runs on many hardware platforms because developers ported the kernel to several CPU architectures. Instead of being restricted to a specialist programming language in an industrial setting and compared to native microcontrollers programming, with Linux also comes extensive support for languages.

Linux implements a rich stack of networking protocols, it is highly scalable, open-source with extensive community support, and you can deploy it with no royalties. The list of reasons behind the rapid growth of embedded Linux is virtually endless.

Ubuntu Core is Linux 2.0 for embedded applications

Ubuntu Core is Ubuntu for IoT and embedded environments, delivering the resiliency and security that developers around the world expect from Ubuntu. It is an OS with a minimal footprint and a modular and simple architecture, built on snaps, the universal Linux packaging format. 

Security is a big part of the story of Ubuntu Core, in that it automatically confines applications and integrates strict AppArmor and Seccomp rules for all snaps. Canonical, the commercial entity behind Ubuntu, redesigned the entire system from the first boot to create the most secure embedded Linux so that developers can ship embedded devices cost-effectively without implementing complex security features themselves, from full-disk encryption to a read-only root filesystem.

Updates on Ubuntu Core devices can be delivered via Canonical’ software distribution machinery, extensively tested in production. 

Managing software and updates across a huge number of devices can be challenging, especially if subsets of hardware require different applications to run on them. Delivering automatic updates and handling software across machines is one of the key features of the IoT App Store for Linux. This custom, enterprise store allows you to cherry-pick the optimal combination of applications you want your devices to use, including software published in the global Snap Store and custom software developed internally for a specific use case.

Overall then, the combination of the secure OS, snap packages and Store, gives developers a  platform for secure, open-source embedded software development and deployment.

Yocto or Ubuntu Core for your embedded Linux project?

Are you evaluating Ubuntu Linux for your next embedded project?

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Further reading

Want to go back to the basics? Find out what is embedded Linux.

Why is Linux the OS of choice for embedded systems? Check out the official guide to Linux for embedded applications in whitepaper or webinar form.

Learn how Ubuntu Core, snaps and Snapcraft create a platform for secure, open-source embedded Linux development and deployment.

Interested in a detailed comparison of Yocto and Ubuntu Core? Watch the Yocto or Ubuntu Core for your embedded Linux project? Webinar.

Do you have a question, feedback, or news worth sharing? Join the conversation on IoT Discourse to discuss everything related to the Internet of Things and tightly connected, embedded devices.

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