Annotations Extending Chisel and Firrtl

Chick Markley edited this page Jan 3, 2017 · 5 revisions

Annotations are used to mark modules and their elements in a way that can be accessed by Firrtl transformation passes. Custom passes and the annotations that guide their behavior extend the circuit generation capabilities of Chisel/Firrtl. This article focuses on the approach to building a library that contains Annotations and Transforms. We will walk through src/test/scala/chiselTests/AnnotatingDiamondSpec.scala to see the basic concepts.


We need a few basic imports to reference the components we need. The chisel3 is a standard

import chisel3._
import chisel3.internal.InstanceId
import firrtl.{CircuitForm, CircuitState, LowForm, Transform}
import firrtl.annotations.{Annotation, ModuleName, Named}

Write a transform

This is an identity transform that returns whatever it is passed without alteration. See Writing Firrtl Transforms for the gory details on writing transforms that actually do something.

class IdentityTransform extends Transform {
  override def inputForm: CircuitForm = LowForm
  override def outputForm: CircuitForm = LowForm

  override def execute(state: CircuitState): CircuitState = {
    getMyAnnotations(state) match {
      case Nil => state
      case myAnnotations =>
        // Use annotations contained in the myAnnotations list to modify state
        // and return that modified state.

This creates a transform that operates on low Firrtl (LowForm) and returns low Firrtl. getMyAnnotations returns a list of annotations for your pass. This example does nothing with those annotations.

Create an Annotation Factory

The following creates an annotation that is connected to your transform, note the classOf[IdentityTransform]. The unapply is a convenience method for extracting information from your annotation by using the Scala match operator.

object IdentityAnnotation {
  def apply(target: Named, value: String): Annotation = Annotation(target, classOf[IdentityTransform], value)

  def unapply(a: Annotation): Option[(Named, String)] = a match {
    case Annotation(named, t, value) if t == classOf[IdentityTransform] => Some((named, value))
    case _ => None

note target: Named identifies a firrtl circuit component. Annotations can refer to specific elements of a Module such as registers or wires, or can point to a Module in the case of some more generic transformation.

Create an Annotator

An Annotator is a trait that only be applied to a Module. It provides an abstraction layer over the underlying Chisel annotation system. In this example, the identify annotator takes an kind of circuit component reference (i.e. InstanceId) and packages it with value to be available in the firrtl pass. The library writer could place restrictions on the type of component and value.

The value passed to the Annotator does not have to be a string, but it must serializable into a string for the value parameter of the ChiselAnnotation being created.

trait IdentityAnnotator {
  self: Module =>
  def identify(component: InstanceId, value: String): Unit = {
    annotate(ChiselAnnotation(component, classOf[IdentityTransform], value))

Using the Annotator

Here is a module that uses our IdentityAnnotator

class ModC(widthC: Int) extends Module with IdentityAnnotator {
  val io = IO(new Bundle {
    val in = Input(UInt(widthC.W))
    val out = Output(UInt(widthC.W))
  io.out :=

  identify(this, s"ModC($widthC)")

  identify(io.out, s"ModC(ignore param)")

There are several things to note here. ModC includes the with IdentityAnnotator which adds the identity method to it. The identify(this, s"ModC($widthC)") annotates an instance of ModC as it is created. It value annotations includes the widthC parameter to the constructor. In this case that could be used to distinguish transformation behavior between different instances of ModC. The identify(io.out, s"ModC(ignore param)") annotates io.out but with a fixed string. In contrast the previous annotation, multiple instances of ModC would have result in a single io.out annotation here.

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