It seems that the more I work with the ZipCPU, the more options it accumulates.

Fig 1. A CPU with lots of options

I simplified the CPU options somewhat to present Fig. 1, but you can see all the CPU options and their settings in the ZipCPU GitHub repository.

First it was the prefetch: I built a basic prefetch, then one that can issue two bus requests at once, then one with a fullly integrated I-cache. In each case, I wanted more performance but didn’t want to give up the ability of building the ZipCPU in an extremely low logic configuration.

Then it was the multiplies: not every board I worked with had the embedded DSP elements required for hardware accelerated multiplies. Indeed, some that had embedded DSP elements couldn’t handle a 32x32 bit multiply within a single clock (Spartan 6). This forced me into two separate multiplication implementations. Then, the fact that the iCE40 has no DSPs lead to an additional multiplication implementation just to handle that environment.

Fig 2. The pipeline structure of the ZipCPU

The initial memory subsystem, while working, was cripplingly slow. A faster memory subsystem was written to replace it, and then a proper data cache was written to replace that. On top of that, the ZipCPU can optionally support a lock instruction for atomic access, a compressed instruction set, a set of CPU-local peripherals, and more.

If those weren’t enough changes, the instruction decoder needs to support all of the various instruction set extensions. Lock instructions need to be honored by the memory module, unless no lock instruction is implemented. Multiplication instructions need to be honored if enabled, while creating illegal instruction exceptions if not. Some of the options need special decoding, such as the simulation instructions or the early branching instructions.

This leaves me with an ongoing and growing problem: how do you formally verify a core that has so many options associated with it?

Let’s look at this problem from both the standpoint of the SymbiYosys script file, as well as a supporting Makefile.

SymbiYosys Tasks

While the ZipCPU is highly configurable, it doesn’t make sense to test every permutation of the various configurations. Therefore, let’s look over some of the more common configuration settings used by the ZipCPU. More than that, we’ll give each of these configurations names. These names will us remember the configuration set, as well as helping to make our SymbiYosys configuration simpler in a moment.

  • dcache

    This new option describes a configuration that uses the brand new (formally verified, Xilinx Series-7 proven) data cache. If you want performance from the ZipCPU, this is no-holds barred attempt at high speed and full features.

    This is the configuration I am testing within my OpenArty project, in case you want to see it in action. (You may need to check out the autoarty branch where it exists today.)

  • piped

    Prior to the data cache, this configuration was the no-holds barred high speed, full featured ZipCPU version. It describes a fully pipelined implementation containing an instruction cache, multiplies, divides, compressed instruction set, and early branching capability. (The early branching capability allows you to branch from the decode stage, without waiting for the later stages. It applies only to unconditional branches.)

  • nopipe

    This is the same thing, only we shut down everything we don’t need: no pipeline CPU (forcing a minimum of 3 clocks per instruction), no multiplies, no divide instructions, but still supports the compressed instruction set.

  • lowlogic

    Much to my surprise, the no-pipelined option wasn’t as small as I needed to get for some implementations, so this version drops the compressed instruction set support.

  • ice40

    Didn’t we get rid of enough stuff yet?

    Apparently not.

    The iCE40 doesn’t support distributed RAM. All reads from the register file need to go directly into a register first, and only on the next clock can we do anything with them.

Using SymbiYosys, we can declare different “tasks” to verify each of these configurations. The following code declares five such “tasks”, one on each line.

dcache		full_proof      dcache
piped		full_proof      no_dcache
nopipe		nopipe          no_dcache
lowlogic	nopipe		no_dcache
ice40		nopipe          no_dcache	nobkram

Notice the format of this section. It starts with a [tasks] line. Every line thereafter begins with the name of a task. In our case, these represent the various configurations we just outlined above. The second half of the line is more interesting. This consists of a series of labels which will also be accepted as task names later. That way, we can specify ice40 and get all of the nopipe (non-pipelined) options, together with the no_dcache option and the more critical nobkram option.

Fig 3. One command per line
taskname: yosys-cmd

How might we use this? There are two basic approaches. First, we can begin any line following in our SymbiYosys script with a task name followed by a colon. Once done, everything following is only executed if that given task name is the active task. This applies to the aliased names as well, such as full_proof or no_dcache.

mode prove
depth 18
dcache:   depth  9
piped:    depth 14
nopipe:   depth 11
lowlogic: depth 10
ice40:    depth 11

So far, this is kind of interesting but not all that useful.

Let’s consider some other things yosys offers.

Using yosys, you can set a macro. You might recognize macros by their Verilog usage:

// Define a macro, NO_DISTRIBUTED_RAM
  // Code that only gets executed if `NO_DISTRIBUTED_RAM` is defined
  // Code that only gets executed if `NO_DISTRIBUTED_RAM` is not defined

One problem with this sort of declaration is that it isn’t clear whether the macro defined in one file will remain active in another.

Alternatively, we could use a yosys command to set this macro but only for some configurations.

nobkram: read -define -DNO_DISTRIBUTED_RAM
read -define -DZIPCPU
# ... files the ZipCPU depends upon have been skipped here
# for brevity
read -formal zipcpu.v

This defines the macro NO_DISTRIBUTED_RAM across all input files, but only if nobkram is the active task. Likewise, ZIPCPU is defined for all tasks. This latter definition is how I handle telling submodules if they are being verified as separate modules or as submodules instead.

Another very useful yosys command is the chparam command. You can use this to change the value of any parameter within your logic. As examples, the ZipCPU has several high level parameters. Perhaps you may have noticed some of them in Fig 1. above. For example, IMPLEMENT_FPU is a single bit parameter that controls whether the (still not yet existent) floating point unit (FPU) is included. As a more relevant example, OPT_LGDCACHE controls the size of the data cache, and whether the data cache, is included at all. If this value is set to zero, no data cache will be included in the build, whereas if it is non-zero it sets the size of the cache.

Fig 4. Associating multiple lines with a given script

For this, we’ll use the second approach for specifying task-configurations, as shown in Fig. 4 on the right. In this case, we can start a set of task-specific commands using the task name and a colon on a line by itself.

chparam -set IMPLEMENT_FPU    0 zipcpu

chparam -set OPT_LGDCACHE    10 zipcpu

chparam -set OPT_LGDCACHE     0 zipcpu

This process is continued until either another task name, or until a line containing two -s by themselves. Hence, the definition of the full_proof ZipCPU configuration shown below, as well as the minimal nopipe-lined option and the even more minimal lowlogic option. When done, the -- line specifies that all the tasks join together again for the lines following.

chparam -set IMPLEMENT_MPY    1 zipcpu
chparam -set IMPLEMENT_DIVIDE 1 zipcpu
chparam -set EARLY_BRANCHING  1 zipcpu
chparam -set OPT_CIS          1 zipcpu
chparam -set OPT_PIPELINED    1 zipcpu

chparam -set IMPLEMENT_MPY    0 zipcpu
chparam -set IMPLEMENT_DIVIDE 0 zipcpu
chparam -set EARLY_BRANCHING  0 zipcpu
chparam -set OPT_CIS          1 zipcpu
chparam -set OPT_PIPELINED    0 zipcpu

chparam -set OPT_CIS 0 zipcpu

prep -top zipcpu

Now, just the one command

% sby -f zipcpu.sby

will attempt to formally verify the entire ZipCPU in all of these various configurations. For each configuration, SymbiYosys will create a directory, such as zipcpu_dcache, zipcpu_full, or zipcpu_lowlogic. Within this directory, you’ll find the logfile.txt containing the standard output from the run. You can use this to find out whether your design passed that proof, or if not what assertion or cover statement failed. You’ll also find an engine_0 directory with any trace files within it. (Why engine_0? Because I tend to only ever use one formally verification engine. Otherwise you might have other engines as well.)

Using Make to drive SymbiYosys

There’s one other thing SymbiYosys provides that is very valuable from a scripting standpoint. Upon completion, SymbiYosys will create an empty file in the newly created results directory indicating the results of the run. Example files include ERROR, FAIL, PASS, and UNKNOWN. This file makes it easy to create a Makefile. to support several SymbiYosys runs, and we only need use the PASS file to do it.

Let’s pick an example component to verify, such as the ZipTimer that we discussed earlier. The timer itself has no real configuration options, so to verify it we could just place the following two lines into our Makefile.

	sby -f ziptimer.sby

SymbiYosys, however, will make a directory called ziptimer upon every run. Once this directory exists, make will no longer run our proof. However, if we tell make that ziptimer is just a name of something to do and not a file, we can create the functionality we want.

.PHONY: ziptimer
	sby -f ziptimer.sby

This Makefile will now command a SymbiYosys, proof everytime we try to make the ziptimer target.

But what if the ZipTimer hasn’t changed? Why should we re-verify it if the code within it hasn’t changed, and if it passed the last time?

Here is where make starts to shine. Since ziptimer/PASS is a file, created upon successful completion of the formally verification pass, we can tell make that this file is created from the files the ZipTimer. depends upon.

.PHONY: ziptimer
ziptimer: ziptimer/PASS
ziptimer/PASS: ../../rtl/peripherals/ziptimer.v
	sby -f ziptimer.sby

Now, anytime the ziptimer.v file changes, make will attempt to formally verify it again. Further, should the proof fail, the PASS file will not get created, and so the next time we call make it will attempt to create this file again until our proof passes.

What if we wanted to verify a lot of things? Rather than running make many times, once per target, we might instead start our Makefile with a list of proofs, containing both the components as well as larger proofs.

TESTS :  ziptimer
TESTS += zipcpu
all: $(TESTS)

Now, if all is the default make target, as defined by being the first target within our Makefile, then all of the tests named in $(TESTS) will get built, er … verified.

Let’s clean this up a little more with some definitions. Since I like to keep my formal verification scripts separate from my Verilog files, it might help to use a name for that path to simplify it. Here, we use RTL. Once defined, this value will get substituted anytime we reference $(RTL). Likewise we’ll shorten the name of our target ziptimer to $(TMR).

RTL := ../../rtl

TMR := ziptimer

We can also define the names of our formal wishbone property sets.

MASTER := $(RTL)/ex/fwb_master.v
SLAVE  := $(RTL)/ex/fwb_slave.v

Putting all this together, the script now says that …

  1. $(TMR) is a “phony” target that doesn’t build a file.
  1. To build $(TMR) we need to first build $(TMR)/PASS. Why the extra step? Just so that we can run make ziptimer later, rather than make ziptimer/PASS or worse make ziptimer_timerconfiguration/PASS for every timer configuration we might have.
  1. Finally, we can call SymbiYosys to formally verify our timer. This proof is dependent upon not only the code for the timer itself, but also a list of formal wishbone properties. These are called dependency files, or sometimes just dependencies for short, because the validity of our proof depends upon these files. By listing these dependencies to the right of the :, make will only formally verify our timer if either the $(TMR)/PASS file is missing, or if one of the dependency files is newer than the $(TMR)/PASS file.
$(TMR)/PASS: $(TMR).sby $(RTL)/peripherals/$(TMR).v $(SLAVE)
	sby -f $(TMR).sby

This is exactly what we want from a Makefile! Running make will run all of our formal verification proofs, but once all the logic is verified, running make will just return a message telling us it has nothing to do.

$ make
make: Nothing to be done for 'all'.

But how shall we handle the multiple configurations we discussed earlier?

Why not set up one proof per configuration?

Let’s examine the proof of the ZipCPU core itself. Remember how we had so many configurations above? What if the PASS file associated with each configuration was a make target?

CPU := zipcpu
# ...

# Proofs to build
$(CPU): $(CPU)_dcache/PASS $(CPU)_piped/PASS
$(CPU): $(CPU)_nopipe/PASS $(CPU)_lowlogic/PASS $(CPU)_ice40/PASS
# Files the proofs depend upon
CPUDEPS:= $(RTL)/core/$(CPU).v $(RTL)/core/cpuops.v $(RTL)/core/idecode.v \
	$(RTL)/core/pipemem.v $(RTL)/core/memops.v			  \
	$(RTL)/ex/wbdblpriarb.v $(RTL)/ex/fwb_counter.v $(RTL)/cpudefs.v  \
	f_idecode.v abs_div.v abs_prefetch.v abs_mpy.v $(MASTER) $(SLAVE) \
# Now one line for each proof, to build the respective <sbydir>/PASS files
$(CPU)_dcache/PASS: $(CPUDEPS)
	sby -f $(CPU).sby dcache

$(CPU)_piped/PASS: $(CPUDEPS)
	sby -f $(CPU).sby piped

$(CPU)_nopipe/PASS: $(CPUDEPS)
	sby -f $(CPU).sby nopipe

# You should get the idea by this point

Once accomplished, one simple command,

% make

will run all of the proofs we have described within our Makefile. This includes calling SymbiYosys to verify every one of the ZipCPU’s various configurations.

Once completed, or even before, you can run

% make -n

to see what proofs have yet to be completed, or equivalently which proofs have failed–assuming in the latter case that make has completed.

Of course, the problem with using make -n to determine which proofs have failed is what happens after only one proof fails. After the first proof fails, make will give you no information about whether or not the remaining proofs might pass. Alternatively, if you don’t want make to stop on the first failed proof, you can instead run,

% make -k

Want to use all of your host processors multiple cores? You could specify make -k -j <ncpus> to use all <ncpus> of them. However, this might leave some of your build cores overloaded during induction. For this reason, I’ve considered running make -n -j <ncpus/2> instead.

What’s all this good for? Well, for me this means I can verify my brand new data cache, instruction cache, instruction decoder, several arbiters, … and the ZipCPU itself from one make command. If the make command fails, I can go back and examine the respective logfile.txts to see why. Likewise, if I want to know what proofs need to be re-accomplished, I can just type make -n to see what make would try to build if you ran it again.

With a little more work, I could split the list of Verilog files, $(CPUDEPS), into a more finer grained list, so that all of the CPU configurations don’t need to be re-verified every time one file, used only by some configurations, changes.


When I first started using this approach of testing multiple configurations automatically using make, I immediately found several errors within code that I had assumed was working. The first bug was in the memory component, where it wasn’t properly handling a misaligned address exception (an option that wasn’t checked by default). The second bug was within the I-cache, that I am hoping to blog about soon. Since I had only verified the safety properties within it, that is the assert()s given the assumptions, I hadn’t noticed that certain assumptions rendered the proof vacuous. Now, using these multiple configurations, I can both prove the assertions and run cover to be even more certain that the various ZipCPU components work.

So even though I’ve only started using this approach in the most recent release of the ZipCPU, because of the bugs I’ve found with it using this new approach, I now like it so much that I’m likely to slowly modify all of the Makefiles within my various projects to use this approach as I have opportunity. Even if the core in question isn’t configurable, I’m going to make certain I do this in order to guarantee that the cover() checks run automatically.