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The Very first question that can arise would be "What does VHDL stand for ?"

VHDL stands for VHSIC Hardware Description Language, and VHSIC in turn stands for Very High Speed Integrated Circuits. VHDL is an industry standard language used to describe hardware from the abstract to the concrete level. VHDL is rapidly growing in popularity & it is being embraced as the universal communication medium of design. The EDA vendors support VHDL both in & out of their tools (Simulation tools, Synthesis tools, & Verification tools).

  • VHDL, A Simulation Modeling Language
    VHDL has ample features appropriate for describing the behavior of electronic components ranging from simple logic gates to complete Microprocessors, high performance Digital Signal Processors and custom chips. Features of VHDL allow timing aspects of circuit behavior (such as rise and fall times of signals, delays through gates, and functional operation) to be precisely described. The resulting VHDL simulation models can then be used as building blocks in larger circuits (using schematics, block diagrams or system-level VHDL descriptions) for the purpose of simulation
  • A Design Entry Language
    Analogous to any high-level programming languages like Pascal & C, which allow complex design concepts to be expressed as computer programs, VHDL allows the behavior of complex electronic circuits to be captured into a design system for automatic circuit synthesis or for system simulation. VHDL includes features useful for structured design techniques, and offers a rich set of control and data representation (most useful for modeling current day high performance microprocessors and digital signal processors) features. One other feature is that, hardware being described in VHDL is inherently concurrent analogous to the actual hardware behavior. However those who have experience with just the programming languages, have some new concepts to grasp.
  • A Verification Language
    VHDL being a powerful language is capable of enabling the development of the verification environment.  This is most commonly referred to as a "Test Bench" which contains the descriptions of circuit stimulus and corresponding expected outputs that verify the behavior of the circuit known as "Device Under Test (DUT)" over the time. This feature is most of the time under-utilized. Test benches should be an integral part of any VHDL project and should be created in parallel with the development of the functional modules. Have a look at VHDL Verification section to learn more about VHDL's Verification capabilities
  • A Netlist Language
    VHDL with its ability to support structural representation of circuits, is very useful as a low-level form of communication between different tools in a computer-aided design environment. These features of VHDL allow it to be effectively used as a netlist language, replacing (or augmenting) other netlist languages such as EDIF (Electronic Design Interchange Format).
  • As Simple or Complex u want it to be
    One of the most compelling reasons for you to become experienced with and knowledgable in VHDL is its adoptance as a standard in the electronic design community. While it is believed that VHDL is a large and complex language, it is not actually difficult to get started with. Use it as you need, explore the advanced features as you become more confident, and clarify your doubts on the news groups ( It won't take long before you get confident and master this wonderful language.


The next possible question would be "What is the History of VHDL ?"

Well, this is not the place to discuss about the past of VHDL. Here our focus is to, how best we can utilise the capabilities of VHDL to develop a desired system. However it is worth looking at the 10,000 feet overview of VHDL's past. VHDL is the child of VHSIC program funded by the Dept. of Defense in US during 1970s  to 1980s. It was established as the IEEE 1076 standard in 1987. In 1993, the IEEE 1076 standard was updated & an additional standard, IEEE 1164 was adopted. In 1996, IEEE 1076.3 became the VHDL synthesis standard. 


Its quite possible that u may be having 100 other questions, and obviously you are not the first one to ask these questions, many others have asked the same questions before and yes... they have been collected and made available to everyone in a FAQ repository. No follow the below links and find the answers yourself: 

The VHDL FAQ - This FAQ is divided into 4 sections and is posted monthly to the VHDL Newsgroup 
Part 1: FAQ General (contacts, etc.) 
Part 2: Lists of Books on VHDL 
Part 3: Lists of Products & Services (Freewares and Commercial stuff) 
Part 4: Glossary 
Yes, its quite possible that your question might not have been answered yet, then u can definitely go and post your question in the newsgroup comp.lang.vhdl  and be assured, u will find the answer. Haven't heard of this newsgroup yet ? Well in that case u should know what is told about the newsgroup:
"The newsgroup comp.lang.vhdl was created in January 1991. It's an international forum to discuss ALL topics related tothe language VHDL which is currently defined by the IEEE Standard 1076/93. Included are language problems, tools that only support subsets etc. but NOT other languages such as Verilog HDL. This is not strict - if there is the need to discuss information exchange from EDIF to VHDL for example, this is a topic of the group. The group is unmoderated. Please think carefully before posting - it costs a lot of money! (Take a look into your LRM for example or try to search - if you still cannot find the answer, post your question, but make sure, that other readers will get the point). "


Next possible question is, "How do I get started with VHDL ?"

Very simple, u just read thru' this page and u will get all the stuff u need to know before u get started with VHDL. Primarily, what one can think of is some tools with which u can learn VHDL. What are those tools now ? Yes, u need an Editor to write your VHDL code. Being a beginner u would of course look for some sort of free editors:

  • Emacs / Xemacs is the best bet as I would suggest. You can also get VHDL mode for it for syntax highlighting. It is the most preferred as I would say. This is normally used under unix platforms (may it be Linux of Solaris). An emacs close does exist for Windows users too, NTemacs, though I haven't tried it.
  • Next option is the standard editor since ages, Vi / Vim. You can download the latest Vim release and use it. It has got syntax highlighting for VHDL.
If you come across any other better editors, do let me know and that will help others know it.

Next comes the Simulation Tools. Oh!! I really forgot to tell u " What is Simulation?"
Simulation is a process in which the designed model of an actual component is exercised for analyzing its behaviour under a given set of conditions and/or stimuli. With this definition, a simulation run requires a model of the component being simulated & a set of stimuli for activating the model. A simulator is a tool which simulates the model with our stimuli & produces the simulation result which is an indicator for the behaviour of the model. We shall come to questions like "How many types of simulations are there ? & what are the differences between them" at a later stage.

Now coming back to Simulators for beginners, yes there are quite a few of them like GMVHDL, PeakVHDL etc., but its very difficult to say which one is the best. One has to try a couple of tools and see which he feels better. Anyway, I'll give my opinions and its up to u to dig out further:

  • For a beginner I would suggest Alliance Simulation Tool (asimut). I am not saying that it is the best ever tool a beginner can find, but it is very simple to use and u need not break your head on learning a lot at once. Of course there are some limitations, this supports just a subset of VHDL and to understand the concept involed this is no less than any other tool. Not to forget this works on unix-like platforms (Linux and Solaris).
  • If you feel that u wish to start off with a better tool then it is better to go for Vanilla CAD Tools along with a Waveform Viewer under Linux Platform.
  • For Windows worshipers, VHDL Simili from symphonyEDA would be a better choice.
  • If one thinks that a little money spent can fetch a better stuff, then try out Active-HDL from Aldec. Inc. If I am not wrong they do have a trial version, which u can try and purchse on being satisfied.
  • Well, finally its not a god thing to end the simulators section without telling which is the BEST SIMULATOR in industry. It is "Modelsim"from Model Tech. Beginners, don't ever think of looking at its price. Even the industries think twice before opting for an additional modelsim license. A 30 day evaluation version is always available. Ofcourse this a memory limited version. This can support a maximum of 7MB.
  • One other good option for a beginner is going for Xilinx WebPack, which includes a free modelsim simulator (ModelsimXE). This is one best simulator anyone can think of. Look at the Feature Support Matrix to know more about the WebPack capabilities.
Next comes the Synthesis Tools, yes now is the time to tell you "What is Synthesis ?"
Synthesis is a blanket term which refers to the automatic translation of HDL code into an equivalent netlist of digital cells. The tools which handle this conversion task are "Synthesis tools". Essentially a synthesis tool is a collection of artificial intelligence (AI) programmes which interpret, optimize & retarget designs expressed in an HDL. The current synthesis tools available today convert Register Transfer Level (RTL) descriptions to gate-level netlists. The gate-level netlists consist of interconnected gate-level macro cells. The models for gate-level cells are contained in technology libraries for each type of technology supported. The gate-level netlists currently can be optimized for area, speed, power, testability, etc. We shall go into the details later.

Now getting back to the Synthesis Tools:

  • I strongly suggest Alliance Synthesis Tools (FPGEN, DPR, DPP, SCR, etc) here. This is one excellent set of synthesis and backend tools that come for free. I have tried these they are simply superb. This is one reason I suggested Alliance Simulator too, because one bunch of tools can do everything for u, from Simulation to Synthesis to Physical Design.
  • I have heard of one other tool, MyCAD which I am yet to try and it would be a wrong thing to comment on this without fiddling with it. But as I've heard this is also a good evolving tool. In case u use this do let me know its performance.
  • Again the industry standard here is to tool from Synopsys which has no equivalent as I would say. A piece of advice for beginners, forget using this at home.
  • Xilinx WebPack is again a good option for a beginner since it has got a synthesis tool in the package. Have a look at its Feature Support Matrix.
VHDL tutorials and books
It is just not enough to have all the essential tools in place. It is more essential to know and learn VHDL in full. Only then its possible for u to reap the fruits those tools are capable of giving out. A few good online VHDL tutorials and books are given below.
Libraries containing VHDL models
After Learning VHDL, it is good to have a look at some of the VHDL models available on the web. It may be helpful in many ways. Following are a list of places of web where one can find loads of VHDL models.
  • The RASSP Technology Base developing VHDL models of selected standard integrated  circuits. -> list of VHDL-models
  • The Free Model Foundation
  • They provide free VITAL compliant VHDL models. Make sure to add your own models  with them! FMF-Library
  • VHDL Models and Packages (Hamburg VHDL Archive)
  • You get there: IEEE package, Numeric std arithmetic package for synthesis, Mathematical package, several microprocessor models, memory and glue-logic models.
  • The TIREP Project (Technology Independent Representation of Electronic Products) The project was directed toward the generation of a paperless design specification, based upon VHDL.
  • The Model of the month (Archive) 
  • IEEE Packages 
  • Examples to Francis Bruno: "VHDL: An introduction"
  • University of Strasbourg (VHDL-Database server of the MACAO/Phase team)
  • Many models and packages, but be patient, the server is slow! Click here to search the list of models 
  • University of Pittsburgh. Models in directory EXAMPLES!
  • Free VHDL core models from OpenCores
  • Commercial Sites: look at Model Hotlist 
VHDL Verification

Verification is an important phase in an ASIC design cycle. I would say this is more important than the design phase itself. It is the quality of our product that gets certified in this phase and we can't trade-off this with any other phase. At this point we are more concerned about the functionality of model we have designed and its adherence to the design specifications. A brief note on how VHDL enable verification

  • VHDL Verification Course :  A good page with a collection of details regarding various verification strategies in VHDL. (A site by Stefan Doll)


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Last Updated on 06th Dec 2003