The primary advantage of this feature is that it allows manufacturers of electronic devices to integrate programming and testing into a single production phase, and save money, rather than requiring a separate programming stage prior to assembling the system. This may allow manufacturers to program the chips in their own system's production line instead of buying preprogrammed chips from a manufacturer or distributor, making it feasible to apply code or design changes in the middle of a production run.
Typically, chips supporting ISP have internal circuitry to generate any necessary programming voltage from the system's normal supply voltage, and communicate with the programmer via a serial protocol. Most programmable logic devices use a variant of the JTAG protocol for ISP, in order to facilitate easier integration with automated testing procedures. Other devices usually use proprietary protocols or protocols defined by older standards. In systems complex enough to require moderately large glue logic, designers may implement a JTAG-controlled programming subsystem for non-JTAG devices such as flash memory and microcontrollers, allowing the entire programming and test procedure to be accomplished under the control of a single protocol.
An example of devices using ISP is the AVR line of micro-controllers by Atmel such as the ATmega series.