Simple question about “flash” used as verb

Thread Starter


Joined Oct 12, 2019
Hey everyone, I just need some clarification on a term I have seen used in the context of programming a standalone microcontroller. If someone uses “flash” as a verb, such as giving instructions on how to “flash the chip,” am I correct in understanding that this is referring to the act of downloading a program to the memory so that it can run the program in a circuit? Thanks


Joined Mar 31, 2012
Yes. It originated when Flash memory (a type of re-writable nonvolatile memory that has largely replaced older forms of read-only memory) became popular.


Joined Mar 30, 2015
am I correct in understanding that this is referring to the act of downloading a program to the memory
We normally think of programming the device vs downloading.

Flash was a reference to how quickly flash memory programmed compared to the competing technologies at the time. I'll see if I can find the Intel reference.


Joined Feb 24, 2006
Alternative terms originated due to the types of memory that were being employed during the early days of the computer and semiconductor industries. One early type of Read Only Memory involved "fuses", actually microscopic strips of metal on silicon. The act of "blowing" the fuse to change a "1" into a "0", was referred to as "burning" the program into memory.

In the early 1970's we used a type of Read Only Memory where tiny wires were passed through "E" cores to create patterns of 1's and 0's. These were called Wire Wound ROMs, and the process was referred to as "wiring" the program. We had NC machines that wired the ROM boards originally, but we also had very skilled technicians who could "patch" the ROMs after they had been manufactured.

Early in the process of using Erasable Programmable Read Only Memories, erasing them used a particular wavelength of ultra-violet light (253.7 nm), and since UV light causes sunburns, erasing and programming them were also referred to as "burning" them.

Flash is just among the most recent incarnations of non-volatile, Read Only Memory.


Joined Mar 31, 2012
And, humans being human -- i.e., sloppy with the language -- don't infer too much by what verb someone happens to use. They may use "burn" when they are actually flashing and vice versa. A lot of it is driven by the terms they either used first or most often. They are all synonyms for writing data into a non-volatile memory that is expected to be used primarily as a ROM. We generally don't use these terms when speaking of memory that is intended to be written to regularly, such as flash memory used for variable or file storage -- there we usually simply use the verb "write". So we flash programs to flash memory, but write data to flash memory. The bottom line is that you need to always be willing to extract meaning from the context in which words are used in addition to, and often more significantly than, the words themselves.


Joined Aug 27, 2009
Lot's of history making various forms of Flash Memory. An easy way to go broke.
Flash memory (both NOR and NAND types) was invented by Dr. Fujio Masuoka while working for Toshiba circa 1980.[1][2] According to Toshiba, the name "flash" was suggested by Dr. Masuoka's colleague, Mr. Shoji Ariizumi, because the erasure process of the memory contents reminded him of the flash of a camera. Dr. Masuoka presented the invention at the IEEE 1984 International Electron Devices Meeting (IEDM) held in San Francisco, California.
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