Every IoT device needs an operating system of some kind, and developers are well-versed in the challenges of getting the right OS for the right use case. After all, a smart watch can’t offer the same kind of processing power as a laptop. The Zephyr operating system is one of the many options IoT developers use to meet the low-power requirements of IoT wearables, smart security devices, and other IoT devices.

So let’s dive deep into Zephyr and see how it compares to similar options.


What is Zephyr RTOS?

Zephyr is a real-time operating system, or RTOS, rather than a traditional OS. Since 65 percent of IoT projects rely on an RTOS, Zephyr is well-suited to the world of smart devices. An RTOS has certain advantages over a more processing-heavy OS like Windows, Linux, or Mac. For example, unlike your home computer, which might take a minute to boot up, an RTOS can boot up in a fraction of a second and can perform tasks much faster than the OS of a typical computer. Unlike an OS, an RTOS only performs one task at a time. That means Zephyr can focus all its limited processing power on finishing a task as fast as possible.

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What role does Zephyr RTOS play in IoT?

Zephyr RTOS comes from the Linux Foundation as a fully supported open-source project. Since the Linux Foundation provides regular patching and focuses on providing security and interoperability across a wide range of devices and IoT systems, Zephyr has a special place in IoT.

After all, most organizations are aware that IoT devices can increase the risk of a cyberattack. The reason is simple: every IoT device presents a potential entry point for hackers to get into more essential systems and access sensitive data. Unfortunately, many open-source RTOS options lack rigorous security and regular patching, meaning a developer needs to add an additional security layer to the IoT device or system.

Zephyr RTOS is different. A dedicated safety and security committee at the Linux Foundation makes sure the code base is auditable, rigorously tested, and regularly updated. Plus, as of 2019, Zephyr RTOS achieved the Open Source Security Foundation (OpenSSF) Gold Badge from the Core Infrastructure Initiative Best Practices Program, an award based on the project’s commitment to security.

Cross-architecture support is another major feature of Zephyr RTOS that makes it important for IoT. IoT devices don’t yet have a standardized architecture, meaning not all IoT hardware is compatible with every RTOS that comes out. Zephyr achieves a surprising level of interoperability among hundreds of different hardware, software, and communication protocol options. This means it’s easy to switch to Zephyr RTOS for your current IoT ecosystem.

What are the advantages of using Zephyr RTOS in IoT?

So what sets Zephyr RTOS apart from other options for IoT? Besides providing security and interoperability, Zephyr provides four other benefits that make it a top choice for developers.

  • Lightweight. Even compared to a typical RTOS, Zephyr requires little processing power. Considering that one high priority of IoT is low energy consumption, this is a major benefit.
  • Compatible with the latest protocols. Developers can easily integrate Zephyr into modern standards and protocols like the Thread protocol or Bluetooth Low Energy.
  • Familiar architecture. Zephyr RTOS is based on the Ubuntu operating system, which is also the basis of Linux. That makes Zephyr easy to work with for developers who are accustomed to Linux.
  • Strong documentation and development ecosystem. Zephyr is more than just an RTOS. It’s also a community that provides training and consulting, development tools, code libraries, and more. These factors make Zephyr easy to deploy and easy to maintain.

Of course, there are other great open-source RTOS options, like Azure RTOS from Microsoft, FreeRTOS from Amazon, and many others. Still, Zephyr remains one of the best-supported and secured open source options available.

Zephyr and Nabto

Our Nabto Edge platform complements a lot of what makes Zephyr an advantage in the first place. For example, just as Zephyr prioritizes security, Nabto’s P2P connectivity platform brings all data safely from the IoT device to the client device (say, a smartphone) through end-to-end encryption. Since Nabto bypasses the cloud layer, there’s no opportunity for a malicious actor to intercept data.

Keep in mind that Zephyr is just an RTOS, meaning it doesn’t have the feature set or processing capabilities of a full OS. This means that adding remote connectivity to your device to control it from a smartphone or computer can be a complicated process. The Nabto Edge platform simplifies adding remote connectivity with ready-to-deploy apps and open-source device SDKs, so you can switch to Zephyr RTOS with Nabto with ease.

Wrapping up

Zephyr is easy to develop, use, and deploy. It has plenty of features and support for the IoT community. As such, Zephyr RTOS is a powerful option for smart devices.

Read our other resources

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