Narender Yadav / July 3, 2018
In the software development world, very often people hear, learn and even use terms and phrases interchangeably, not knowing exactly what they mean. Like DevOps and Agile or multi-cloud and hybrid cloud. Although knowing these terms is important, what’s more important is what they really mean. An example that we particularly find galling is that of systems programming and application programming. So, what is systems programming? How is it different from application programming? And why is systems programming so hard? Let’s find out!
Before diving into what systems programming is, it’s important to understand what system software is. System software is any software that provides a platform for applications to be built; one that can be easily modified (or uninstalled) without affecting the functioning of other software. These comprise operating system (OS) programs and services including settings, device drivers, file libraries, and other configuration items that provide services to applications.
Systems programming is the process of programming system software. One of the main requirements for systems programming is a high degree of hardware awareness. Since the core job of systems programming is to ensure high speed and performance of apps, if the most central part of your application – the system software – is slow, then the whole application that runs on it will offer sluggish performance -a deal breaker in today’s fast-paced world.
System software is the layer flanked by the hardware on one side and the application software on the other; it is the layer that controls the hardware and provides services to applications. The primary differentiating factor between systems programming and application programming is that application programming involves developing software with which the user directly interacts, whereas systems programming aims to develop software which make hardware services available to the applications.
Application programming seldom involves writing code that directly interacts with the OS; instead, it relies on features that have been built into the programming language runtimes and system libraries by systems programming. Therefore, systems programming includes developing OSes, drivers, compilers, runtime services, system libraries, file systems, database managers, networking, utilities to configure and perform maintenance, and command shells that end users use to run applications.
Today’s OSes do not allow application software to manage system resources directly; instead, they provide interfaces (APIs) for managing resources. System programs, on the other hand, can access system resources directly. They can also be written to extend the functionality of the OS and provide functions that applications can use.
In a modern world where mobile and web apps are taking the world by storm, systems programming plays a crucial role in ensuring high speed and appropriate performance. By installing, customizing, and maintaining the OS and related hardware, databases, libraries, and configuration files, systems programming makes efficient use of available resources to improve app performance and allows small efficiency improvements to directly transform into app success. It’s like we said, it’s a hard job -but someone’s got to do it!