vhdlDigital hardware design using VHDL in a nutshell


In this topic we propose a simple method to correctly design simple digital circuits with VHDL. The method is based on graphical block diagrams and an easy-to-remember principle:

Think hardware first, code VHDL next

It is intended for beginners in digital hardware design using VHDL, with a limited understanding of the synthesis semantics of the language.


Digital hardware design using VHDL is simple, even for beginners, but there are a few important things to know and a small set of rules to obey. The tool used to transform a VHDL description in digital hardware is a logic synthesizer. The semantics of the VHDL language used by logic synthesizers is rather different from the simulation semantics described in the Language Reference Manual (LRM). Even worse: it is not standardized and varies between synthesis tools.

The proposed method introduces several important limitations for the sake of simplicity:

  • No level-triggered latches.
  • The circuits are synchronous on the rising edge of a single clock.
  • No asynchronous reset or set.
  • No multiple drive on resolved signals.

The Block diagram example, first of a series of 3, briefly presents the basics of digital hardware and proposes a short list of rules to design a block diagram of a digital circuit. The rules help to guarantee a straightforward translation to VHDL code that simulates and synthesizes as expected.

The Coding example explains the translation from a block diagram to VHDL code and illustrates it on a simple digital circuit.

Finally, the John Cooley’s design contest example shows how to apply the proposed method on a more complex example of digital circuit. It also elaborates on the introduced limitations and relaxes some of them.