What is hdl-registers?

hdl-registers is a register interface code generator for FPGA/ASIC projects that is fast, feature-rich, robust and easy to use. Traditionally, register information is duplicated in HDL code, software code and documentation. Furthermore, this information is usually written by hand at great discomfort to the developer. hdl-registers aims to solve this situation, which is unacceptable in a modern development environment.

Philosophy

The project started in late 2018. While there have always been other tools available, the authors had a very clear list of requirements that was not, and is not, fulfilled by any other project.

  1. Very fast. So that HDL register code generation can be done automatically before each simulation or build, not as a separate step.

  2. No hard-coded numbers done by hand. Everything should be calculated or inferred: Register addresses, field bit indexes, integer/enumeration field widths, enumeration element encodings, etc.

  3. Bloat-free. Meaning, well-scoped and focused on the important features.

  4. Clean, intuitive, well-documented and easy-to-use API.

  5. Well-tested and reliable code.

Especially points 1. and 2. set this project apart from others.

Performance

In order for unit testing and a test-driven approach to create value, the feedback loop of running simulations has to be very quick. Hence the HDL register code generation, which is a precursor to simulation, must also be very fast.

Consider the following scenario: You are about to run a simulation in your FPGA repository and want to make sure that all your register definitions are up to date. This scenario is very common, on a productive day it happens a hundred times. The table below compares how long that would take in a medium-sized FPGA project. It measures the time to parse and generate VHDL artifacts for 20 register lists with 20 registers and 50 fields each.

$ python3 tools/benchmark.py
--------------------------------------------------------------------------
                       Tool | Execution time | Relative (lower is better)
----------------------------+----------------+----------------------------
  hdl-registers (5.1.1-dev) |        17.5 ms | 1x (baseline)
           cheby (1.6.dev0) |        1.83  s | 104x
            corsair (1.0.4) |         2.6  s | 148x
            PeakRDL (1.1.0) |         7.2  s | 410x
               rggen (0.31) |        9.74  s | 555x
            vhdmmio (0.0.3) |        17.3  s | 987x

Clearly, only one of these tools is fast enough to run in real time without impacting productivity.

Disclaimer: We have tried to be as fair as possible in this comparison, see the script for details. We do not mean to bash anyone. We encourage and applaud all open-source contributions. See Similar tools below for links to the other projects. The PeakRDL tool has no official VHDL generator, so we used the SystemVerilog generator for comparison.

Scope

This project handles the registers for individual modules on a register bus.

Usually an FPGA/ASIC project consists of multiple modules/IP/banks that have to be allocated base addresses and connected on a register bus. This task is outside the scope of this project and is left to the user.

The authors believe that the greatest benefit of a register code generator is for the module-level information. The top-level architecture is very often unique to every project, and it is hard to make an automated tool that solves every situation in a clean and elegant way that actually adds value.

With this said, there are some very convenient tools in the sister project hdl-modules to achieve these things.

Similar tools

If you want a register code generator, but hdl-registers is not really right for you, feel free to check out one of the other available tools listed below.