Systems programming, or system programming, is the activity of programming[1] computer system software. The primary distinguishing characteristic of systems programming when compared to application programming is that application programming aims to produce software which provides services to the user directly (e.g. word processor), whereas systems programming aims to produce software and software platforms which provide services to other software, are performance constrained, or both.

Systems programming requires a great degree of hardware awareness. Its goal is to achieve efficient use of available resources, either because the software itself is performance critical or because even small efficiency improvements directly transform into significant savings of time or money.