Co-simulation with Verilog

Introduction

One of the most exciting possibilities of MyHDLis to use it as a hardware verification language (HVL). A HVL is a language used to write test benches and verification environments, and to control simulations.

Nowadays, it is generally acknowledged that HVLs should be equipped with modern software techniques, such as object orientation. The reason is that verification it the most complex and time-consuming task of the design process. Consequently, every useful technique is welcome. Moreover, test benches are not required to be implementable. Therefore, unlike with synthesizable code, there are no constraints on creativity.

Technically, verification of a design implemented in another language requires co-simulation. MyHDL is enabled for co-simulation with any HDL simulator that has a procedural language interface (PLI). The MyHDLside is designed to be independent of a particular simulator, On the other hand, for each HDL simulator a specific PLI module will have to be written in C. Currently, the MyHDL release contains a PLI module for two Verilog simulators: Icarus and Cver.

The HDL side

To introduce co-simulation, we will continue to use the Gray encoder example from the previous chapters. Suppose that we want to synthesize it and write it in Verilog for that purpose. Clearly we would like to reuse our unit test verification environment.

To start, let’s recall how the Gray encoder in MyHDL looks like:

from myhdl import block, always_comb

@block
def bin2gray(B, G):
    """ Gray encoder.

    B -- binary input 
    G -- Gray encoded output
    """

    @always_comb
    def logic():
        G.next = (B>>1) ^ B

    return logic

To show the co-simulation flow, we don’t need the Verilog implementation yet, but only the interface. Our Gray encoder in Verilog would have the following interface:

module bin2gray(B, G);

   parameter width = 8;
   input [width-1:0]  B;
   output [width-1:0] G;
   ....

To write a test bench, one creates a new module that instantiates the design under test (DUT). The test bench declares nets and regs (or signals in VHDL) that are attached to the DUT, and to stimulus generators and response checkers. In an all-HDL flow, the generators and checkers are written in the HDL itself, but we will want to write them in MyHDL. To make the connection, we need to declare which regs & nets are driven and read by the MyHDLsimulator. For our example, this is done as follows:

module dut_bin2gray;

   reg [`width-1:0] B;
   wire [`width-1:0] G;

   initial begin
      $from_myhdl(B);
      $to_myhdl(G);
   end

   bin2gray dut (.B(B), .G(G));
   defparam dut.width = `width;

endmodule

The $from_myhdl task call declares which regs are driven by MyHDL, and the $to_myhdl task call which regs & nets are read by it. These tasks take an arbitrary number of arguments. They are defined in a PLI module written in C and made available in a simulator-dependent manner. In Icarus Verilog, the tasks are defined in a myhdl.vpi module that is compiled from C source code.

The MyHDL side

MyHDL supports co-simulation by a Cosimulation object. A Cosimulation object must know how to run a HDL simulation. Therefore, the first argument to its constructor is a command string to execute a simulation.

The way to generate and run an simulation executable is simulator dependent. For example, in Icarus Verilog, a simulation executable for our example can be obtained obtained by running the iverilog compiler as follows:

% iverilog -o bin2gray -Dwidth=4 bin2gray.v dut_bin2gray.v

This generates a bin2gray executable for a parameter width of 4, by compiling the contributing Verilog files.

The simulation itself is run by the vvp command:

% vvp -m ./myhdl.vpi bin2gray

This runs the bin2gray simulation, and specifies to use the myhdl.vpi PLI module present in the current directory. (This is just a command line usage example; actually simulating with the myhdl.vpi module is only meaningful from a Cosimulation object.)

We can use a Cosimulation object to provide a HDL version of a design to the MyHDL simulator. Instead of a generator function, we write a function that returns a Cosimulation object. For our example and the Icarus Verilog simulator, this is done as follows:

import os

from myhdl import Cosimulation

cmd = "iverilog -o bin2gray.o -Dwidth=%s " + \
      "../../test/verilog/bin2gray.v " + \
      "../../test/verilog/dut_bin2gray.v "

def bin2gray(B, G):
    width = len(B)
    os.system(cmd % width)
    return Cosimulation("vvp -m ../myhdl.vpi bin2gray.o", B=B, G=G)

After the executable command argument, the Cosimulation constructor takes an arbitrary number of keyword arguments. Those arguments make the link between MyHDL Signals and HDL nets, regs, or signals, by named association. The keyword is the name of an argument in a $to_myhdl or $from_myhdl call; the argument is a MyHDL Signal.

With all this in place, we can now use the existing unit test to verify the Verilog implementation. Note that we kept the same name and parameters for the the bin2gray function: all we need to do is to provide this alternative definition to the existing unit test.

Let’s try it on the Verilog design:

module bin2gray(B, G);

   parameter width = 8;
   input [width-1:0]  B;
   output [width-1:0] G;

   assign G = (B >> 1) ^ B;

endmodule // bin2gray

When we run our unit tests, we get:

% python test_gray.py
testSingleBitChange (test_gray_properties.TestGrayCodeProperties)
Check that only one bit changes in successive codewords. ... ok
testUniqueCodeWords (test_gray_properties.TestGrayCodeProperties)
Check that all codewords occur exactly once. ... ok
testOriginalGrayCode (test_gray_original.TestOriginalGrayCode)
Check that the code is an original Gray code. ... ok

----------------------------------------------------------------------
Ran 3 tests in 0.706s

OK

Restrictions

In the ideal case, it should be possible to simulate any HDL description seamlessly with MyHDL. Moreover the communicating signals at each side should act transparently as a single one, enabling fully race free operation.

For various reasons, it may not be possible or desirable to achieve full generality. As anyone that has developed applications with the Verilog PLI can testify, the restrictions in a particular simulator, and the differences over various simulators, can be quite frustrating. Moreover, full generality may require a disproportionate amount of development work compared to a slightly less general solution that may be sufficient for the target application.

Consequently, I have tried to achieve a solution which is simple enough so that one can reasonably expect that any PLI-enabled simulator can support it, and that is relatively easy to verify and maintain. At the same time, the solution is sufficiently general to cover the target application space.

The result is a compromise that places certain restrictions on the HDL code. In this section, these restrictions are presented.

Only passive HDL can be co-simulated

The most important restriction of the MyHDL co-simulation solution is that only “passive” HDL can be co-simulated. This means that the HDL code should not contain any statements with time delays. In other words, the MyHDL simulator should be the master of time; in particular, any clock signal should be generated at the MyHDL side.

At first this may seem like an important restriction, but if one considers the target application for co-simulation, it probably isn’t.

MyHDL supports co-simulation so that test benches for HDL designs can be written in Python. Let’s consider the nature of the target HDL designs. For high-level, behavioral models that are not intended for implementation, it should come as no surprise that I would recommend to write them in MyHDL directly; that is one of the goals of the MyHDL effort. Likewise, gate level designs with annotated timing are not the target application: static timing analysis is a much better verification method for such designs.

Rather, the targeted HDL designs are naturally models that are intended for implementation, most likely through synthesis. As time delays are meaningless in synthesizable code, the restriction is compatible with the target application.

Race sensitivity issues

In a typical RTL code, some events cause other events to occur in the same time step. For example, when a clock signal triggers some signals may change in the same time step. For race-free operation, an HDL must differentiate between such events within a time step. This is done by the concept of “delta” cycles. In a fully general, race free co-simulation, the co-simulators would communicate at the level of delta cycles. However, in MyHDL co-simulation, this is not entirely the case.

Delta cycles from the MyHDL simulator toward the HDL co-simulator are preserved. However, in the opposite direction, they are not. The signals changes are only returned to the MyHDL simulator after all delta cycles have been performed in the HDL co-simulator.

What does this mean? Let’s start with the good news. As explained in the previous section, the concept behind MyHDL co-simulation implies that clocks are generated at the MyHDL side. When using a MyHDL clock and its corresponding HDL signal directly as a clock, co-simulation is race free. In other words, the case that most closely reflects the MyHDL co-simulation approach, is race free.

The situation is different when you want to use a signal driven by the HDL (and the corresponding MyHDL signal) as a clock. Communication triggered by such a clock is not race free. The solution is to treat such an interface as a chip interface instead of an RTL interface. For example, when data is triggered at positive clock edges, it can safely be sampled at negative clock edges. Alternatively, the MyHDL data signals can be declared with a delay value, so that they are guaranteed to change after the clock edge.

Implementation notes

This section requires some knowledge of PLI terminology.

Enabling a simulator for co-simulation requires a PLI module written in C. In Verilog, the PLI is part of the “standard”. However, different simulators implement different versions and portions of the standard. Worse yet, the behavior of certain PLI callbacks is not defined on some essential points. As a result, one should plan to write or at least customize a specific PLI module for any simulator. The release contains a PLI module for the open source Icarus and Cver simulators.

This section documents the current approach and status of the PLI module implementation and some reflections on future implementations.

Icarus Verilog

Delta cycle implementation

To make co-simulation work, a specific type of PLI callback is needed. The callback should be run when all pending events have been processed, while allowing the creation of new events in the current time step (e.g. by the MyHDL simulator). In some Verilog simulators, the cbReadWriteSync callback does exactly that. However, in others, including Icarus, it does not. The callback’s behavior is not fully standardized; some simulators run the callback before non- blocking assignment events have been processed.

Consequently, I had to look for a workaround. One half of the solution is to use the cbReadOnlySync callback. This callback runs after all pending events have been processed. However, it does not permit to create new events in the current time step. The second half of the solution is to map MyHDL delta cycles onto real Verilog time steps. Note that fortunately I had some freedom here because of the restriction that only passive HDL code can be co-simulated.

I chose to make the time granularity in the Verilog simulator a 1000 times finer than in the MyHDL simulator. For each MyHDL time step, 1000 Verilog time steps are available for MyHDL delta cycles. In practice, only a few delta cycles per time step should be needed. Exceeding this limit almost certainly indicates a design error; the limit is checked at run-time. The factor 1000 also makes it easy to distinguish “real” time from delta cycle time when printing out the Verilog time.

Passive Verilog check

As explained before, co-simulated Verilog should not contain delay statements. Ideally, there should be a run-time check to flag non-compliant code. However, there is currently no such check in the Icarus module.

The check can be written using the cbNextSimTime VPI callback in Verilog. However, Icarus 0.7 doesn’t support this callback. In the meantime, support for it has been added to the Icarus development branch. When Icarus 0.8 is released, a check will be added.

In the mean time, just don’t do this. It may appear to “work” but it really won’t as events will be missed over the co-simulation interface.

Cver

MyHDL co-simulation is supported with the open source Verilog simulator Cver. The PLI module is based on the one for Icarus and basically has the same functionality. Only some cosmetic modifications were required.

Other Verilog simulators

The Icarus module is written with VPI calls, which are provided by the most recent generation of the Verilog PLI. Some simulators may only support TF/ACC calls, requiring a complete redesign of the interface module.

If the simulator supports VPI, the Icarus module should be reusable to a large extent. However, it may be possible to improve on it. The workaround to support delta cycles described in Section Delta cycle implementation may not be necessary. In some simulators, the cbReadWriteSync callback occurs after all events (including non-blocking assignments) have been processed. In that case, the functionality can be supported without a finer time granularity in the Verilog simulator.

There are also Verilog standardization efforts underway to resolve the ambiguity of the cbReadWriteSync callback. The solution will be to introduce new, well defined callbacks. From reading some proposals, I conclude that the cbEndOfSimTime callback would provide the required functionality.

The MyHDL project currently has no access to commercial Verilog simulators, so progress in co-simulation support depends on external interest and participation. Users have reported that they are using MyHDL co-simulation with the simulators from Aldec and Modelsim.

Interrupted system calls

The PLI module uses read and write system calls to communicate between the co-simulators. The implementation assumes that these calls are restarted automatically by the operating system when interrupted. This is apparently what happens on the Linux box on which MyHDL is developed.

It is known how non-restarted interrupted system calls should be handled, but currently such code cannot be tested on the MyHDL development platform. Also, it is not clear whether this is still a relevant issue with modern operating systems. Therefore, this issue has not been addressed at this moment. However, assertions have been included that should trigger when this situation occurs.

Whenever an assertion fires in the PLI module, please report it. The same holds for Python exceptions that cannot be easily explained.

What about VHDL?

It would be nice to have an interface to VHDL simulators such as the Modelsim VHDL simulator. Let us summarize the requirements to accomplish that:

  • We need a procedural interface to the internals of the simulator.
  • The procedural interface should be a widely used industry standard so that we can reuse the work in several simulators.
  • MyHDL is an open-source project and therefore there should be also be an open-source simulator that implements the procedural interface.

vpi for Verilog matches these requirements. It is a widely used standard and is supported by the open-source Verilog simulators Icarus and cver.

However, for VHDL the situation is different. While there exists a standard called vhpi, it much less popular than vpi. Also, to our knowledge there is only one credible open source VHDL simulator (GHDL) and it is unclear whether it has vhpi capabilities that are powerful enough for MyHDL’s purposes.

Consequently, the development of co-simulation for VHDL is currently on hold. For some applications, there is an alternative: see Conversion of test benches.