Microcontroller Development tools
Microcontroller programs must fit in the available on-chip program memory, since it would be costly to provide a system with external, expandable, memory. Compilers and assemblers are used to convert high-level language and assembler language codes into a compact machine code for storage in the microcontroller's memory. Depending on the device, the program memory may be permanent, read-only memory that can only be programmed at the factory, or program memory may be field-alterable flash or erasable read-only memory.
Microcontrollers were originally programmed only in assembly language, but various high-level programming languages are now also in common use to target microcontrollers. These languages are either designed specially for the purpose, or versions of general purpose languages such as the C programming language. Compilers for general purpose languages will typically have some restrictions as well as enhancements to better support the unique characteristics of microcontrollers. Some microcontrollers have environments to aid developing certain types of applications. Microcontroller vendors often make tools freely available to make it easier to adopt their hardware.
Many microcontrollers are so quirky that they effectively require their own non-standard dialects of C, such as SDCC for the 8051, which prevent using standard tools (such as code libraries or static analysis tools) even for code unrelated to hardware features. Interpreters are often used to hide such low level quirks.
Interpreter firmware is also available for some microcontrollers. For example, BASIC on the early microcontrollers Intel 8052; BASIC and FORTH on the Zilog Z8 as well as some modern devices. Typically these interpreters support interactive programming.
Simulators are available for some microcontrollers, such as in Microchip's MPLAB environment and the Revolution Education PICAXE range. These allow a developer to analyze what the behavior of the microcontroller and their program should be if they were using the actual part. A simulator will show the internal processor state and also that of the outputs, as well as allowing input signals to be generated. While on the one hand most simulators will be limited from being unable to simulate much other hardware in a system, they can exercise conditions that may otherwise be hard to reproduce at will in the physical implementation, and can be the quickest way to debug and analyze problems.
Recent microcontrollers are often integrated with on-chip debug circuitry that when accessed by an in-circuit emulator via JTAG, allow debugging of the firmware with a debugger.
Web based circuit simulator
How simulator works
Advantages of simulators