Update your firmware

Boring but necessary. Eat your vegetables

file: hh1update-firmware.htm

This page gives a general overview of updating firmware. Why you need to do it. How to do it.

It is mostly about updating the firmware in "accessories", like IpCams... but from time to time computers need firmware updates, too.

I would particularly encourage you to do a firmware update any time you buy an internet connected device second hand. At worst, is it elderly, and you might as well struggle with a device that has had the manufacturers "fixes".

Don't waste time "trying it first". Do you really want to spend an hour making settings, etc, and then discover that there's something buggy in your device that would be fixed by a firmware update?

At worst, a second hand device will have had malware inserted into it. This will not always be obvious. As long as you are careful to get your firmware update from a reliable source... preferably the manufacturer, and preferably buy stuff made my manufacturers with a reputation to protect. Yes, such devices cost a little bit more. How much could a security breach cost you, in time, hassle, and of course money?

Even if you've looked, and your device seems to have the latest firmware, "update". Do you know that the firmware hasn't been tweaked to show the latest version number, AND pass personal information from your LAN to a Bad Person?

Whew! Some say I worry too much.

Some say I worry too much. And I say that you can read of people who've had major hassle and expense due to data breaches.

In any case, doing a firmware update should be No Big Deal.

Yes, it can go wrong. You have to do it right. (That's what this page gets to, soon.) But it goes wrong rarely... and if it does, write it off as the (minor) cost of being safe.

What is firmware

You've heard of hardware and software. Firmware is in between them. It is the instructions (software) for how something (digital camera, router, etc, etc.) should operate, but it is stored in the device differently than, say, the file behind the document you are reading. It is stored in a non-volatile form. Turn the device off, and then on again, and the instructions are still there.

Happily, today (it wasn't always the case) the instructions can be changed. Manufacturers sometimes genuinely enhance their products, give you extra features. Often times, though, the reason for an update is to fix something that isn't working right. At least they are going to the trouble. And sometimes it isn't their fault that something no longer works. Modern electronics have to "play nicely" with other systems. And sometimes a change in the "other system" is to blame for something that worked fine before not working now.

How do we update firmware?

The more you know about computers, the more you will be impressed by the fact that devices can update themselves.

Generally speaking, though it won't always be transparent, you will fetch something containing the new instructions (i.e. "the update".) You'll put it in a place convenient to the device which is being updated. And launch the update process. And wait! Be very patient. Be very reluctant to turn the poser off, etc, to interrupt a device that may still be doing the update you launched. Sometimes it will seem to take "forever". Sometimes there won't be much indication that anything is happening. But during the update process, the device you are updating is in a parlous state: It is running... but changing the rules for how it runs. As I said... a neat trick. If you interrupt it at the wrong moment, it may be left without the instructions it used yesterday, and not yet fully equipped with the instructions it needs for now and the future... and with it's "train of thought" fatally lost.

Why you don't disturb the device while it is doing a firmware update: If you do, you can find yourself halfway across a river, with the bridge behind you burned, and no bridge ahead of you. sound scary? It is. But necessary. I've done many updates; I respected the "do not disturb it" rule, and come out the other side okay every time so far.

How do we update firmware: Another exposition on the same theme...

Computers, smartphones, and the like...

You computer may from time to time ask to update its firmware.

Updating firmware is similar to, but more perilous than the routine software updates that we all endure endlessly.

For all of the reasons above, be very careful to pay great attention to what you are told, as you proceed with the process. "Under the surface", the process will be similar to what I am about to describe... but what's happening may not be obvious.

Other devices

This essay is more for the owner of an IpCam, a router, a printer, etc.

It is about devices which can be connected to with a computer, and "talked to" either through an ad hoc "settings" program (application), or even merely via the same web browser that you are using to read this.

Usually with such devices you need to go off to the device's manufacturer's site, download a file with the firmware update in it.

Save that on the computer's hard drive. You may or may not need to unzip zipped files. If in doubt, don't. If when you try to do the update, your device says the file is unsuitable, then create a temporary folder, unzip what is in the zip archive to it, and try again.

So! You've got the update waiting on your hard drive,

Fire up the device. Connect to it, the update program, or your web browser, as relevant. Navigate to where it talks about firmware upgrades. (Often in a "maintenance" menu, itself sometimes hiding on an "advanced" menu.)

Say "Go! Do the upgrade!". READ any instructions you get. If you are uncomfortable, get help from someone with more experience... you can.. though it doesn't happen often... kill your device with mistakes.

Early in the process, you will be instructed to "navigate to" the file you saved earlier. This just moving around your hard disk to get to the folder it is in, and, perhaps, selecting the file.

Then take a deep breath and press the "next" button.

And wait.

It may not seem much is happening, and it may take a long time... 15 minutes for, say, a point and shoot camera? Probably less, but don't be alarmed before 15 minutes, and not very alarmed then.

The device should... eventually... come back to you, all smiles. You may need to restart it. Resist the temptation to do that in desperation. It will usually say "Restart me".

For anything less than a computer, I would give the device an hour of undisturbed peace before I gave up and did a power off/ power on. ("Power cycle") For a computer, I'd give it two hours, or overnight if I'd started the job in the evening.

I'd watch for prompts, of course. But absent instructions to do something, I'd do nothing.

Can I remember a device taking an hour? No. It sometime feels like an hour, but, then, I'm impatient.

The reason I'd wait so long is that we don't have to do these things very often. Turning their power off too soon, or forcing a reset at the wrong time could have catastrophic results. It isn't worth the risk, even if a device is being annoyingly slow, or has an update process that ought to be updated to make it report clearly when the job is done, and you can start enjoying the fruits of what you've done!

I hope that was useful?

The general idea of these pages is it make it easier for you to do something fun... or at least useful. I hope this one achieved that? Your thoughts and anecdotes would be welcome. Please mention the page's filename (-hh1update-firmware.htm) in your email.

If you found this of interest, please mention in forums, give it a Facebook "like" or "share"? I've almost given up writing these pages, because it seems they are seldom read, and of course not every reader will use them... so... is there any point? If you want more of this stuff, help!?

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