clash-prelude- CAES Language for Synchronous Hardware - Prelude library

Copyright© Christiaan Baaij, 2014
LicenseCreative Commons 4.0 (CC BY-NC 4.0) (
Safe HaskellNone







CλaSH (pronounced ‘clash’) is a functional hardware description language that borrows both its syntax and semantics from the functional programming language Haskell. The merits of using a functional language to describe hardware comes from the fact that combinational circuits can be directly modeled as mathematical functions and that functional languages lend themselves very well at describing and (de-)composing mathematical functions. The CλaSH compiler transforms these high-level descriptions to low-level synthesizable VHDL.

Although we say that CλaSH borrows the semantics of Haskell, that statement should be taken with a grain of salt. What we mean to say is that the CλaSH compiler views a circuit description as structural description. This means, in an academic handwavy way, that every function denotes a component and every function application denotes an instantiation of said component. Now, this has consequences on how we view recursive functions: structurally, a recursive function would denote an infinitely deep / structured component, something that cannot be turned into an actual circuit (See also Unsupported Haskell features). Of course there are variants of recursion that could be completely unfolded at compile-time with a finite amount of steps and hence could be converted to a realisable circuit. Sadly, this last feature is missing in the current version of the compiler.

On the other hand, Haskell's by-default non-strict evaluation works very well for the simulation of the feedback loops, which are ubiquitous in digital circuits. That is, when we take our structural view to circuit descriptions, value-recursion corresponds directly to a feedback loop:

counter = s
    s = register 0 (s + 1)

Over time, you will get a better feeling for the consequences of taking a structural view on circuit descriptions. What is always important to remember is that every applied functions results in an instantiated component, and also that the compiler will never infer / invent more logic than what is specified in the circuit description.

With that out of the way, let us continue with installing CλaSH and building our first circuit.


The CλaSH compiler and Prelude library for circuit design only work with the GHC Haskell compiler version 7.8.* and up.

  1. Install GHC (version 7.8.* or higher)
    • Download and install GHC for your platform. Unix user can use ./configure prefix=<LOCATION> to set the installation location.
    • Make sure that the bin directory of GHC is in your PATH.
  2. Install Cabal
    • Windows and OS X Mavericks:
      • Download the binary for cabal-install
      • Put the binary in a location mentioned in your PATH
    • Other Unix systems:
      • Download the sources for cabal-install
      • Unpack (tar xf) the archive and cd to the directory
      • Run sh
      • Follow the instructions to add cabal to your PATH
    • Run cabal update
  3. Install CλaSH
    • Run cabal install clash-ghc
  4. Verify that everything is working by:
    • Downloading the Fir.hs example
    • Run clash --interactive FIR.hs
    • Execute, in the interpreter, the :vhdl command.
    • Exit the interpreter using :q
    • Examine the VHDL code in the vhdl directory

Working with this tutorial

This tutorial can be followed best whilst having the CλaSH interpreter running at the same time. If you followed the installation instructions, you already know how to start the CλaSH compiler in interpretive mode:

clash --interactive

For those familiar with Haskell/GHC, this is indeed just GHCi, with one added command (:vhdl). You can load files into the interpreter using the :l <FILENAME> command. Now, depending on your choice in editor, the following edit-load-run cycle probably work best for you:

  • Commandline (e.g. emacs, vim):
    • You can run system commands using :!, for example :! touch <FILENAME>
    • Set the editor mode to your favourite editor using: :set editor <EDITOR>
    • You can load files using :l as noted above.
    • You can go into editor mode using: :e
    • Leave the editor mode by quitting the editor (e.g. :wq in vim)
  • GUI (e.g. SublimeText, Notepad++):
    • Just create new files in your editor.
    • Load the files using :l as noted above.
    • Once a file has been edited and saved, type :r to reload the files in the interpreter

You are of course free to deviate from these suggestions as you see fit :-) It is just recommended that you have the CλaSH interpreter open during this tutorial.

Your first circuit

The very first circuit that we will build is the "classic" multiply-and-accumulate (MAC) circuit. This circuit is as simple as it sounds, it multiplies its inputs and accumulates them. Before we describe any logic, we must first create the file we will be working on and input some preliminaries:

  • Create the file:
  • Write on the first line the module header:
    module MAC where

    Module names must always start with a Capital letter. Also make sure that the file name corresponds to the module name.

  • Add the import statement for the CλaSH prelude library:
    import CLaSH.Prelude

    This imports all the necessary functions and datatypes for circuit description.

We can now finally start describing the logic of our circuit, starting with just the multiplication and addition:

ma acc (x,y) = acc + x * y

If you followed the instructions of running the interpreter side-by-side, you can already test this function:

>>> ma 4 (8,9)
>>> ma 2 (3,4)

We can also examine the inferred type of ma in the interpreter:

>>> :t ma
ma :: Num a => a -> (a, a) -> a

Talking about types also brings us to one of the most important parts of this tutorial: types and synchronous sequential logic. Especially how we can always determine, through the types of a specification, if it describes combinational logic or (synchronous) sequential logic. We do this by examining the type of one of the sequential primitives, the register function:

register :: a -> Signal a -> Signal a
regiser i s = ...

Where we see that the second argument and the result are not just of the polymorphic a type, but of the type: Signal a. All (synchronous) sequential circuits work on values of type Signal a. Combinational circuits always work on values of, well, not of type Signal a. A Signal is an (infinite) list of samples, where the samples correspond to the values of the Signal at discrete, consecutive, ticks of the clock. All (sequential) components in the circuit are synchronized to this global clock. For the rest of this tutorial, and probably at any moment where you will be working with CλaSH, you should probably not actively think about Signals as infinite lists of samples, but just as values that are manipulated by sequential circuits. To make this even easier, it actually not possible to manipulate the underlying representation directly: you can only modify Signal values through a set of primitives such as the register function above.

Now, let us get back to the functionality of the register function: it is a simple latch that only changes state at the tick of the global clock, and it has an initial value a which is its output at time 0. We can further examine the register function by taking a look at the first 4 samples of the register functions applied to a constant signal with the value 8:

>>> sampleN 4 (register 0 (signal 8))

Where we see that the initial value of the signal is the specified 0 value, followed by 8's.

Sequential circuit

The register function is our primary sequential building block to capture state. It is used internally by one of the CLaSH.Prelude function that we will use to describe our MAC circuit. Note that the following paragraphs will only show one of many ways to specify a sequential circuit, at the section we will show a couple more.

A principled way to describe a sequential circuit is to use one of the classic machine models, within the CλaSH prelude library offer standard function to support the Mealy machine. To improve sharing, we will combine the transition function and output function into one. This gives rise to the following Mealy specification of the MAC circuit:

macT acc (x,y) = (acc',o)
    acc' = ma acc (x,y)
    o    = acc

Note that the where clause and explicit tuple are just for demonstrative purposes, without loss of sharing we could've also written:

macT acc inp = (ma acc inp,acc)

Going back to the original specification we note the following:

  • acc is the current state of the circuit.
  • '(x,y)' is its input.
  • acc' is the updated, or next, state.
  • o is the output.

When we examine the type of macT we see that is still completely combinational:

>>> :t macT
macT :: Num t => t -> (t, t) -> (t, t)

The CLaSH.Prelude library contains a function that creates a sequential circuit from a combinational circuit that has the same Mealy machine type / shape of macT:

(<^>) :: (Pack i, Pack o)
      => (s -> i -> (s,o))
      -> s
      -> (SignalP i -> SignalP o)
f <^> initS = ...

The complete sequential MAC circuit can now be specified as:

mac = macT <^> 0

Where the LHS of <^> is our macT function, and the RHS is the initial state, in this case 0. We can see it is functioning correctly in our interpreter:

>>> take 4 $ simulateP mac [(1::Int,1),(2,2),(3,3),(4,4)] :: [Int]

Where we simulate our sequential circuit over a list of input samples and take the first 4 output samples. We have now completed our first sequential circuit and have made an initial confirmation that it is working as expected.

The observant reader already saw that the <^> operator does not create a function that works on Signals, but on on SignalPs. Indeed, when we look at the type of our mac circuit:

>>> :t mac
mac :: (Pack o, Num o) => (Signal o, Signal o) -> SignalP o

We see that our mac function work on a two-tuple of Signals and not on a Signal of a two-tuple. Indeed, the CλaSH prelude library defines that:

type instance SignalP (a,b) = (Signal a, Signal b)

SignalP is an associated type family belonging to the Pack type class, which, together with pack and unpack defines the isomorphism between a product type of Signals and a Signal of a product type. That is, while (Signal a, Signal b) and Signal (a,b) are not equal, they are isomorphic and can be converted from on to the other using pack and unpack. Instances of this Pack type-class are defined as isomorphisms for:

  • All tuples until and including 8-tuples
  • The Vector type

But they are defined as identities for:

  • All elementary / primitive types such as: Bit, Bool, Signed n, etc.

That is:

instance Pack Bool where
  type SignalP Bool = Signal Bool
  pack :: SignalP Bool -> Signal Bool
  pack = id
  unpack :: Signal Bool -> SignalP Bool
  unpack = id

We will see later why this Pack type class is so convenient, for now, you just have to remember that it exists. And more importantly, that you understand that a product type of Signals is not equal to a Signal of a product type, but that the functions of the Pack type class allow easy conversion between the two.

Creating VHDL

We are now almost at the point that we can create actual hardware, in the form of a VHDL netlist, from our sequential circuit specification. The first thing we have to do is create a function called topEntity and ensure that it has a monomorphic type. In our case that means that we have to give it an explicit type annotation. It might now always be needed, you can always check the type with the :t command and see if the function is monomorphic:

topEntity :: (Signal (Signed 9),Signal (Signed 9)) -> Signal (Signed 9)
topEntity = mac

Which makes our circuit work on 9-bit signed integers. Including the above definition, our complete MAC.hs should now have the following content:

module MAC where

import CLaSH.Prelude

ma acc (x,y) = acc + x * y

macT acc (x,y) = (acc',o)
    acc' = ma acc (x,y)
    o    = acc

mac = macT <^> 0

topEntity :: (Signal (Signed 9),Signal (Signed 9)) -> Signal (Signed 9)
topEntity = mac

The topEntity function is the starting point for the CλaSH compiler to transform your circuit description into a VHDL netlist. It must meet the following restrictions in order for the CλaSH compiler to work:

  • It must be completely monomorphic
  • It must be completely first-order

Our topEntity meets those restrictions, and so we can convert it successfully to VHDL by executing the :vhdl command in the interpreter. This will create a directory called vhdl, which contains a directory called MAC, which ultimately contains all the generated VHDL files. You can now load these files (except testbench.vhdl) into your favourite VHDL synthesis tool, marking topEntity_0.vhdl as the file containing the top level entity.

Circuit testbench

There are multiple reasons as to why might you want to create a so-called testbench for the VHDL:

  • You want to compare post-synthesis / post-place&route behaviour to that of the behaviour of the original VHDL.
  • Need representative stimuli for your dynamic power calculations
  • Verify that the VHDL output of the CλaSH compiler has the same behaviour as the Haskell / CλaSH specification.

For these purposes, you can have CλaSH compiler generate a testbench.vhdl file which contains a stimulus generator and an expected output verifier. The CλaSH compiler looks for the following functions to generate these to aspects:

  1. testInput for the stimulus generator.
  2. expectedOutput for the output verification.

Given a topEntity with the type:

topEntity :: SignalP a -> SignalP b

Where a and b are placeholders for monomorphic types: the topEntity is not allowed to be polymorphic. So given the above type for the topEntity, the type of testInput should be:

testInput :: Signal a

And the type of expectedOutput should be:

expectedOutput :: Signal b -> Signal Bool

Where the expectedOutput function should assert to True once it has verified all expected values. The CLaSH.Prelude module contains two standard functions to serve the above purpose, but a user is free to use any CλaSH specification to describe these two functions. For this tutorial we will be using the functions specified in the CLaSH.Prelude module, which are stimuliGenerator and outputVerifier:

testInput :: Signal (Signed 9,Signed 9)
testInput = stimuliGenerator $(v [(1,1) :: (Signed 9,Signed 9),(2,2),(3,3),(4,4)])

expectedOutput :: Signal (Signed 9) -> Signal Bool
expectedOutput = outputVerifier $(v [0 :: Signed 9,1,5,14])

This will create a stimulus generator that creates the same inputs as we used earlier for the simulation of the circuit, and creates an output verifier that compares against the results we got from our earlier simulation. We can even simulate the behaviour of the testbench:

>>> sampleN 7 $ expectedOutput (topEntity $ unpack testInput)
expected value: 14, not equal to actual value: 30
expected value: 14, not equal to actual value: 46
expected value: 14, not equal to actual value: 62

We can see that for the first 4 samples, everything is working as expected, after which warnings are being reported. The reason is that stimuliGenerator will keep on producing the last sample, (4,4), while the outputVerifier will keep on expecting the last sample, 14. In the VHDL testbench these errors won't show, as the the global clock will be stopped after 4 ticks.

You should now again run :vhdl in the interpreter; this time the compiler will take a bit longer to generate all the circuits. After it is finished you can load all the files in your favourite VHDL simulation tool that has support for VHDL-2008. VHDL-2008 support is required because the output verifier will use the VHDL-2008-only to_string function. Once all files are loaded into the VHDL simulator, run the simulation on the testbench entity. On questasim / modelsim: doing a run -all will finish once the output verifier will assert its output to true. The generated testbench, modulo the clock signal generator(s), is completely synthesizable. This means that if you want to test your circuit on an FPGA, you will only have to replace the clock signal generator(s) by actual clock sources, such as an onboard PLL.

This concludes the main part of this section on "Your first circuit", read on for alternative specifications for the same mac circuit, or just skip to the next section where we will describe another DSP classic: an FIR filter structure.

Alternative specifications

  • Num instance for Signal:

    Signal a is also also considered a Numeric type as long as the value type a is also Numeric. This means that we can also use the standard numeric operators, such as (*) and (+), directly on signals. An alternative specification of the mac circuit will also use the register function directly:

    macN (x,y) = acc
        acc = register 0 (acc + x * y)
  • Applicative instance for Signal:

    We can also mix the combinational ma function, with the sequential register function, by lifting the ma function to the sequential Signal domain using the operators (<$> and <*>) of the Applicative type class:

    macA (x,y) = acc
        acc  = register 0 acc'
        acc' = ma <$> acc <*> pack (x,y)
  • State Monad

    We can also implement the original macT function as a State monadic computation. First we must an extra import statement, right after the import of CLaSH.Prelude:

    import Control.Monad.State

    We can then implement macT as follows:

    macTS (x,y) = do
      acc <- get
      put (acc + x * y)
      return acc

    We can use the <^> operator again, although we will have to change position of the arguments and result:

    asStateM :: (Pack o, Pack i)
             => (i -> State s o)
             -> s
             -> (SignalP i -> SignalP o)
    asStateM f i = g <^> i
        g s x = let (o,s') = runState (f x) s
                in  (s',o)

    We can then create the complete mac circuit as:

    macS = asStateM macTS 0

Higher-order functions

An FIR filter is defined as: the dot-product of a set of filter coefficients and a window over the input, where the size of the window matches the number of coefficients.

dotp as bs = vfoldl (+) 0 (vzipWith (*) as bs)

fir coeffs x_t = y_t
    y_t = dotp coeffs xs
    xs  = window x_t

topEntity :: Signal (Signed 16) -> Signal (Signed 16)
topEntity = fir $(v [0::Signal (Signed 16),1,2,3])

Here we can see that, although the CλaSH compiler does not support recursion, many of the regular patterns that we often encounter in circuit design are already captured by the higher-order functions that are present for the Vector type.

Composition of sequential circuits

First we define some types:

module CalculatorTypes where

import CLaSH.Prelude

type Word = Signed 4
data OPC a = ADD | MUL | Imm a | Pop | Push

deriveLift ''OPC

Now we define the actual calculator:

module Calculator where

import CLaSH.Prelude
import CalculatorTypes

(.:) :: (c -> d) -> (a -> b -> c) -> a -> b -> d
(f .: g) a b = f (g a b)

infixr 9 .:

alu :: Num a => OPC a -> a -> a -> Maybe a
alu ADD     = Just .: (+)
alu MUL     = Just .: (*)
alu (Imm i) = const . const (Just i)
alu _       = const . const Nothing

pu :: (Num a, Num b)
   => (OPC a -> a -> a -> Maybe a)
   -> (a, a, b)       -- Current state
   -> (a, OPC a)      -- Input
   -> ( (a, a, b)     -- New state
      , (b, Maybe a)  -- Output
pu alu (op1,op2,cnt) (dmem,Pop)  = ((dmem,op1,cnt-1),(cnt,Nothing))
pu alu (op1,op2,cnt) (dmem,Push) = ((op1,op2,cnt+1) ,(cnt,Nothing))
pu alu (op1,op2,cnt) (dmem,opc)  = ((op1,op2,cnt)   ,(cnt,alu opc op1 op2))

datamem :: (KnownNat n, Integral i)
        => Vec n a       -- Current state
        -> (i, Maybe a)  -- Input
        -> (Vec n a, a)  -- (New state, Output)
datamem mem (addr,Nothing)  = (mem                  ,mem ! addr)
datamem mem (addr,Just val) = (vreplace mem addr val,mem ! addr)

topEntity :: Signal (OPC Word) -> Signal (Maybe Word)
topEntity i = val
    (addr,val) = (pu alu <^> (0,0,0 :: Unsigned 3)) (mem,i)
    mem        = (datamem <^> initMem) (addr,val)
    initMem    = vcopy d8 0

Here we can finally see the advantage of having the <^> return a function of type: (SignalP i -> SignalP o) (instead of: (Signal i -> Signal o)):

  • We can use normal pattern matching to get parts of the result, and,
  • We can use normal tuple-constructors to build the input values for the circuits.

Advanced: VHDL primitives

There are times when you already have an existing piece of IP, or there are times where you need the VHDL to have a specific shape so that the VHDL synthesis tool can infer a specific component. In these specific cases you can resort to defining your own VHDL primitives. Actually, most of the primitives in CλaSH are specified in the same way as you will read about in this section. There are perhaps 10 (at most) functions which are truly hard-coded into the CλaSH compiler. You can take a look at the files in if you want to know which functions are defined as "regular" primitives. The compiler looks for primitives in two locations:

  • The official install location: e.g. $CABAL_DIR/share/<GHC_VERSION>/clash-ghc-<VERSION>/primitives
  • The current directory (the location given by pwd)

Where redefined primitives in the current directory will overwrite those in the official install location. For now, files containing primitive definitions must end in the .json file-extension.

CλaSH differentiates between two types of primitives, expression primitives and declaration primitives, corresponding to whether the primitive is a VHDL expression or a VHDL declaration. We will first explore expression primitives, using Signed multiplication (*) as an example. The CLaSH.Sized.Signed module specifies multiplication as follows:

{-# NOINLINE timesS #-}
timesS :: KnownNat n => Signed n -> Signed n -> Signed n
timesS (S a) (S b) = fromIntegerS_inlineable (a * b)

For which the expression primitive is:

{ "BlackBox" :
  { "name"      : "CLaSH.Sized.Signed.timesS"
  , "templateE" : "resize(~ARG[1] * ~ARG[2], ~LIT[0])"

The name of the primitive is the fully qualified name of the function you are creating the primitive for. Because we are creating an expression primitive we define a templateE field. As the name suggest, it is a VHDL template, meaning that the compiler must fill in the holes heralded by the tilde (~). Here:

  • ~ARG[1] denotes the second argument given to the timesS function, which corresponds to the LHS of the (*) operator.
  • ~ARG[2] denotes the third argument given to the timesS function, which corresponds to the RHS of the (*) operator.
  • ~LIT[0] denotes the first argument given to the timesS function, with the extra condition that it must be a LITeral. If for some reason this first argument does not turn out to be a literal then the compiler will raise an error. This first arguments corresponds to the "KnownNat n" class constraint.

An extensive list with all of the template holes will be given the end of this section. What we immediately notice is that class constraints are counted as normal arguments in the primitive definition. This is because these class constraints are actually represented by ordinary record types, with fields corresponding to the methods of the type class. In the above case, KnownNat is actually just like a newtype wrapper for Integer.

The second kind of primitive that we will explore is the declaration primitive. We will use blockRam as an example, for which the Haskell/CλaSH code is:

{-# NOINLINE blockRam #-}
-- | Create a blockRAM with space for @n@ elements
-- NB: Read value is delayed by 1 cycle
-- > bram40 :: Signal (Unsigned 6) -> Signal (Unsigned 6) -> Signal Bool -> Signal a -> Signal a
-- > bram40 = blockRam d40
blockRam :: forall n m a . (KnownNat n, KnownNat m, Pack a, Default a)
         => SNat n              -- ^ Size @n@ of the blockram
         -> Signal (Unsigned m) -- ^ Write address @w@
         -> Signal (Unsigned m) -- ^ Read address @r@
         -> Signal Bool         -- ^ Write enable
         -> Signal a            -- ^ Value to write (at address @w@)
         -> Signal a            -- ^ Value of the blockRAM at address @r@ from the previous clock cycle
blockRam n wr rd en din = pack $ (bram' <^> binit) (wr,rd,en,din)
    binit :: (Vec n a,a)
    binit = (vcopy n def,def)

    bram' :: (Vec n a,a) -> (Unsigned m, Unsigned m, Bool, a)
          -> (((Vec n a),a),a)
    bram' (ram,o) (w,r,e,d) = ((ram',o'),o)
        ram' | e         = vreplace ram w d
             | otherwise = ram
        o'               = ram ! r

And for which the definition primitive is:

{ "BlackBox" :
  { "name"      : "CLaSH.Prelude.blockRam"
  , "templateD" :
"~SYM[0]_block : block
  type ram_array is array (natural range <>) of ~TYP[8];
  signal ~SYM[1] : ram_array((~ARG[0]-1) downto 0) := (others => ~ARG[3]); -- ram
  signal ~SYM[2] : ~TYP[8]; -- inp
  signal ~SYM[3] : ~TYP[8] := ~ARG[3]; -- outp
  ~SYM[2] <= ~ARG[8];

    if rising_edge(~CLKO) then
      if ~ARG[7] then
        ~SYM[1](to_integer(~ARG[5])) <= ~SYM[2];
      end if;
      ~SYM[3] <= ~SYM[1](to_integer(~ARG[6]));
    end if;
  end process;

  ~RESULT <= ~SYM[3];
end block;"

Again, the name of the primitive is the fully qualified name of the function you are creating the primitive for. Because we are creating a declaration primitive we define a templateD field. Instead of discussing what the individual template holes mean in the above context, we will instead just give a general listing of the available template holes:

  • ~RESULT: VHDL signal to which the result of a primitive must be assigned to. NB: Only used in a definition primitive.
  • ~ARG[N]: (N+1)'th argument to the function.
  • ~LIT[N]: (N+1)'th argument to the function An extra condition that must hold is that this (N+1)'th argument is an (integer) literal.
  • ~CLK[N]: Clock signal to which the (N+1)'th argument is synchronized to.
  • ~CLKO: Clock signal to which the result is synchronized to.
  • ~RST[N]: Asynchronous reset signal to the clock to which the (N+1)'th argument is synchronized to.
  • ~RSTO: Asynchronous reset signal to the clock to which the result is synchronized to.
  • ~TYP[N]: VHDL type of the (N+1)'th argument.
  • ~TYPO: VHDL type of the result.
  • ~TYPM[N]: VHDL typename of the (N+1)'th argument; used in type qualification.
  • ~TYPM: VHDL typename of the result; used in type qualification.
  • ~DEF[N]: Default value for the VHDL type of the (N+1)'th argument. NB: Does not correspond per se to the value of def of the Default type class for the Haskell type.
  • ~DEFO: Default value for the VHDL type of the result. NB: Does not correspond per se to the value of the def of the Default type class for the Haskell type.
  • ~SYM[N]: Randomly generated, but unique, symbol. Multiple occurrences of ~SYM[N] in the same primitive definition all refer to the same random, but unique, symbol.

Some final remarks to end this section: VHDL primitives are there to instruct the CλaSH compiler to use the given VHDL template, instead of trying to do normal synthesis. As a consequence you can use constructs inside the Haskell definitions that are normally not synthesizable by the CλaSH compiler. However, VHDL primitives do not give us co-simulation: where you would be able to simulate VHDL and Haskell in a single environment. If you still want to simulate your design in Haskell, you will have to describe, in a cycle- and bit-accurate way, the behaviour of that (potentially complex) IP you are trying to include in your design.

Perhaps in the future, someone will figure out how to connect the two simulation worlds, using e.g. VHDL's foreign function interface VHPI.


For now, this is the end of this tutorial. We will be adding updates over time, so check back from time to time. For now, we recommend that you continue with exploring the CLaSH.Prelude module, and get a better understanding of the capabilities of CλaSH in the process.


A list of often encountered errors and their solutions:

  • Type error: Couldn't match expected type ‘Signal (a,b)’ with actual type ‘(Signal a, Signal b)’:

    Signals of product types and product types (to which tuples belong) of signals are isomorphic due to synchronisity principle, but are not (structurally) equal. Use the pack function to convert from a product type to the signal type. So if your code which gives the error looks like:

    ... = f a b (c,d)

    add the pack function like so:

    ... = f a b (pack (c,d))

    Product types supported by pack are:

    • All tuples until and including 8-tuples
    • The Vector type

    NB: Use cpack when you are using explicitly clocked CSignals

  • Type error: Couldn't match expected type ‘(Signal a, Signal b)’ with actual type ‘Signal (a,b)’:

    Product types (to which tuples belong) of signals and signals of product types are isomorphic due to synchronicity principle, but are not (structurally) equal. Use the unpack function to convert from a signal type to the product type. So if your code which gives the error looks like:

    (c,d) = f a b

    add the unpack function like so:

    (c,d) = unpack (f a b)

    Product types supported by unpack are:

    • All tuples until and including 8-tuples
    • The Vector type

    NB: Use cunpack when you are using explicitly clocked CSignals

  • CLaSH.Netlist(..): Not in normal form: <REASON>: <EXPR>:

    A function could not be transformed into the expected normal form. This usually means one of the following:

    • The topEntity has residual polymorphism.
    • The topEntity has higher-order arguments, or a higher-order result.
    • You are using types which cannot be represented in hardware.

    The solution for all the above listed reasons is quite simple: remove them. That is, make sure that the topEntity is completely monomorphic and first-order. Also remove any variables and constants/literals that have a non-representable type, see Unsupported Haskell features to find out which types are not representable.

  • CLaSH.Normalize(94): Expr belonging to bndr: <FUNCTION> remains recursive after normalization:
    • If you actually wrote a recursive function, rewrite it to a non-recursive one using e.g. one of the higher-order functions in CLaSH.Sized.Vector :-)
    • You defined a recursively defined value, but left it polymorphic:
    topEntity x y = acc
        acc = register 3 (acc + x * y)

    The above function, works for any number-like type. This means that acc is a recursively defined polymorphic value. Adding a monomorphic type annotation makes the error go away:

    topEntity :: Signal (Signed 8) -> Signal (Signed 8) -> Signal (Signed 8)
    topEntity x y = acc
        acc = register 3 (acc + x * y)

    Or, alternatively:

    topEntity x y = acc
        acc = register (3 :: Signed 8) (acc + x * y)
  • CLaSH.Normalize.Transformations(155): InlineNonRep: <FUNCTION> already inlined 100 times in:<FUNCTION>, <TYPE>:

    You left the topEntity function polymorphic or higher-order: use :t topEntity to check if the type is indeed polymorphic or higher-order. If it is, add a monomorphic type signature, and / or supply higher-order arguments.

  • Can't make testbench for: <LONG_VERBATIM_COMPONENT_DESCRIPTION>:
    • Don't worry, it's actually only a warning.
    • The topEntity function does not have exactly 1 argument. If your topEntity has no arguments, you're out of luck for now. If it has multiple arguments, consider bundling them in a tuple.
  • <*** Exception: <<loop>>

    You are using value-recursion, but one of the Vector functions that you are using is too strict in one of the recursive arguments. For example:

    -- Bubble sort for 1 iteration
    sortV xs = vmap fst sorted <: (snd (vlast sorted))
       lefts  = vhead xs :> vmap snd (vinit sorted)
       rights = vtail xs
       sorted = vzipWith compareSwapL lefts rights
    -- Compare and swap
    compareSwapL a b = if a < b then (a,b)
                                else (b,a)

    Will not terminate because vzipWith is too strict in its second argument:

    >>> sortV (4 :> 1 :> 2 :> 3 :> Nil)
    <*** Exception: <<loop>>

    In this case, adding lazyV on vzipWiths second argument:

    sortVL xs = vmap fst sorted <: (snd (vlast sorted))
       lefts  = vhead xs :> vmap snd (vinit sorted)
       rights = vtail xs
       sorted = vzipWith compareSwapL (lazyV lefts) rights

    Results in a successful computation:

    >>> sortVL (4 :> 1 :> 2 :> 3 :> Nil)

Unsupported Haskell features

Here is a list of Haskell features which the CλaSH compiler cannot synthesize to VHDL (for now):

Recursive functions

Although it seems rather bad that a compiler for a functional language does not support recursion, this bug/feature of the CλaSH compiler is amortized by the builtin knowledge of all the functions listed in CLaSH.Sized.Vector. And as you saw in this tutorial, the higher-order functions of CLaSH.Sized.Vector can cope with many of the recursive design patterns found in circuit design.

Also note that although recursive functions are not supported, recursively (tying-the-knot) defined values are supported (as long as these values do not have a function type). An example that uses recursively defined values is the following function that performs one iteration of bubble sort:

sortVL xs = vmap fst sorted <: (snd (vlast sorted))
   lefts  = vhead xs :> vmap snd (vinit sorted)
   rights = vtail xs
   sorted = vzipWith compareSwapL (lazyV lefts) rights

Where we can clearly see that lefts and sorted are defined in terms of each other.

Recursive datatypes

The CλaSH compiler needs to be able to determine a bit-size for any value that will be represented in the eventual circuit. More specifically, we need to know the maximum number of bits needed to represent a value. While this is trivial for values of the elementary types, sum types, and product types, putting a fixed upper bound on recursive types is not (always) feasible. This means that the ubiquitous list type is unsupported! The only recursive type that is currently supported by the CλaSH compiler is the Vector type, for which the compiler has hard-coded knowledge.

For "easy" Vector literals you should use Template Haskell splices and the v meta-function that as we have seen earlier in this tutorial.

GADT pattern matching

While pattern matching for regular ADTs is supported, pattern matching for GADTs is not. The Vector type, which is also a GADT, is no exception! You can use the extraction and indexing functions of CLaSH.Sized.Vector to get access to individual ranges / elements of a Vector.

Floating point types

There is no support for the Float and Double types, if you need numbers with a fractional part you can use the Fixed point type.

Other primitive types

Most primitive types are not supported, with the exception of Int, Int#, and Integer. This means that types such as: Word, Word8, Int8, Char, Array, etc. cannot to translated to hardware.

The translations of Int, Int#, and Integer are also incorrect: they are translated to the VHDL integer type, which can only represent 32-bit integer values. Use these types with due diligence.

Side-effects: IO, ST, etc.

There is no support for side-effecting computations such as those in the IO or ST monad. There is also no support for Haskell's FFI.

CλaSH vs Lava

In Haskell land the most well-known way of describing digital circuits is the Lava family of languages:

The big difference between CλaSH and Lava is that CλaSH uses a "standard" compiler (static analysis) approach towards synthesis, where Lava is an embedded domain specific language. One downside of static analysis vs. the embedded language approach is already clearly visible: synthesis of recursive descriptions does not come for "free". This will be implemented in CλaSH in due time, but that doesn't help the circuit designer right now. As already mentioned earlier, the lack of support for recursive functions is amortized by the built-in support for the higher-order in CLaSH.Sized.Vector.

The big upside of CλaSH and its static analysis approach is that CλaSH can do synthesis of "normal" functions: there is no forced encasing datatype (often called Signal in Lava) on all the arguments and results of a synthesizable function. This enables the following features not available to Lava:

  • Automatic synthesis for user-defined ADTs
  • Synthesis of all choice constructs (pattern matching, guards, etc.)
  • Applicative instance for the Signal type
  • Working with "normal" functions permits the use of e.g. the State monad to describe the functionality of a circuit.

Although there are Lava alternatives to some of the above features (e.g. first-class patterns to replace pattern matching) they are not as "beautiful" and / or easy to use as the standard Haskell features.