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Project Apicula 🐝: bitstream documentation for Gowin FPGAs
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doc change wording Nov 22, 2019
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generic update attosock IOB names Dec 22, 2019
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LICENSE Create LICENSE Dec 22, 2019 working on both Gowin boards now Dec 15, 2019 fixes for Gowin 1.9.3 and Python 3.6 Dec 24, 2019 wip new unpacker Dec 5, 2019 working on both Gowin boards now Dec 15, 2019 handle IOB without mode Dec 17, 2019 More accurate search for matching pinout file. Dec 24, 2019

Project Apicula

Documentation of the Gowin FPGA bitstream format.

Project Apicula uses a combination of fuzzing and parsing of the vendor data files to find the meaning of all the bits in the bitstream.


Version of the Gowin vendor tools. Newer versions may work, but have not been tested. A copy of the following Gowin files downloaded in ~/Documents/gowinsemi:

  • UG107-1.07E_GW1N-1 Pinout.xlsx
  • UG801-1.5E_GW1NR-9 Pinout.xlsx

Optionally openFPGALoader for a complete open source end-to-end flow.

The latest Yosys and Nextpnr, installed with the generic backend.

Python 3.6+:

  • Numpy
  • Pandas
  • Pillow
  • crcmod
  • xlrd
  • dataclasses (Python 3.6 only)

Getting Started

For the Trenz TEC0117, use GW1NR-9, for the Sipeed Tang Nano, use GW1N-1.

virtualenv env
source env/bin/activate
export GOWINHOME=/gowin/installation
export DEVICE="GW1NR-9" # TEC0117
export DEVICE="GW1N-1" # Tang Nano
pip install numpy pandas pillow crcmod xlrd ipython
python # makes $DEVICE.json
python # makes $DEVICE.pickle
cd generic
bash blinky.v # TEC0117
bash attosoc/*.v # TEC0117
bash blinkygw1n1.v # Tang Nano
bash nanolcd/*.v # Tang Nano
# open blinky.vm and blinky.posp in Gowin Floorplanner
# look at and blinky.png
cd ..
python generic/pnrblinky.json
# look at pack.png and pack.fs
python pack.fs
yosys -p "read_verilog -lib +/gowin/cells_sim.v; clean -purge; show" unpack.v
/gowin/installation/Programmer/bin/programmer_cli --device $DEVICE --run 2 --fsFile /path/to/pack.fs
openFPGALoader -m -b littleBee pack.fs # FOSS programmer

Other devices are currently not supported. Read on to learn how to contribute other devices.


This project is in its very early stages, and not ready for general use. It only supports very rudimentary FPGA features, and has only been tested with the Trenz TEC0117 board with a GW1NR-9 FPGA and Sipeed Tang Nano with a GW1N-1 FPGA.

For users, there is a very basic and slow Nextpnr script based on the generic target. It can be modified to synthesize simple designs. These can be packed into a bitstream using gowin_pack. This exprimental flow only uses basic IOB, and 3/4 of the available DFF and LUT. No other resources are supported yet. Global routing is not supported, so you might have setup and hold time violations.

For developers, there are two fuzzers, parsers for vendor data files, and a gowin_unpack script to inspect bitstreams. One fuzzer efficiently fuzzes the whole FPGA without any assumptions, while the other fuzzer uses vendor data files to inspect specific tiles. The vendor data parsers are fairly complete in the sense that there are few unparsed sections left, but understanding of the parsed data leaves a lot to be desired. The bitstream packer and unpacker take a few shortcuts when it comes to commands, but completely parse and emit correct data frames.


Check out the doc folder for documentation about the FPGA architecture, vendor file structure, and bitstream structure.

My internship report about this project can be downloaded here.

I did a few livestreams on twitch working on this project, which are collected on this playlist

What remains to be done / how can I help?

There is a lot of work left to do before this is a mature and complete FPGA flow. The upside is that there is something for people from all skill levels and backgrounds.


This project partially relies on the data files provided by the vendor to work. However, the exact meaning of these files is often not completely understood. Fuzzing can be used to discover the meaning of the vendor files. is a fuzzer that uses vendor files to find bits in a specific tile type. Adding code for a new primitive or tile type is relatively easy. All that is neede is a function that uses to generate the primitive of interest, which has to be added to the fuzzers list. Then the output at the bottom of the script can be adjusted to your needs.

There is a fuse_h4x.parse_tile function which uses our understanding of the vendor files to look for matching items. On the other hand fuse_h4x.scan_fuses will just give you a list of fuses that were set in the tile, and fuse_h4x.scan_tables will go through all vendor data tables and spit out even a partial match. The latter will give false positives, but is helpful when discovering new tables. is a bit more complex to write new fuzzers for, but could be usefull in some cases. It is for example much more efficient in fuzzing array parameters such as LUT bits, BRAM contents, and PLL settings. Have a look at Lut4BitsFuzzer for ideas about how to fuzz BRAM and DRAM for example.

Things that could be fuzzed:

  • ALU modes
  • DRAM modes and bits
  • IOB logic levels and drive stengths, may require some refactoring to fuzz constraints.
  • BRAM modes and bits
  • IO logic (LVDS etc.), expected to be complex.
  • Global routing, have a look at Cmux tables in .dat files and GB wires, compare with Project Trellis Global Routing
  • PLL settings


For each FPGA, the vendor provides .dat, .fse, .ini, .pwr, and .tm files. Of these, only parsers for .dat and .fse have been written. It is expected that the .pwr, and .tm files contain respectively power and timing data, which will be of crucial importance when writing a full-fledged Nextpnr flow.

The format of these other files is unknown, you're on your own here. I could only offer you some vague pointers based on experience from the other two files.

For a description of the known file format, see the documentation.

The parser for the .fse format is fairly robust and complete, but vendor software updates sometimes add new file and table types. The main thing lacking here is a better understanding of the meaning of all these tables. Part of this can be done with fuzzing, but another large part is just looking at the data for patterns and correlations. For example, some numbers might be indices into other tables, wire IDs, fuse IDs, or encoded X/Y positions.

The parser for the .dat file is more fragile and incomplete. This is mainly because it just appears to be a fixed format struct with array fields. New vendor software versions sometimes add new fields, breaking the parser. Here there are actually a few gaps in the data that have not been decoded and named. It is suspected that at least some of these gaps are related to pinouts and packaging.


Currently, the Nextpnr flow is based on the simple example of the generic target. This script is very slow to load (over a dozen seconds) and cannot be easily extended to support more of the Gowin FPGA. So this script should very much be seen as a proof of concept that is not worth extending.

Eventually a proper Nextpnr target will need to be written. This is quite a large chunk of code that needs to be written, but the upside is that the ice40 target can serve as a basis. Some documentation is available

Part of this will be writing a binary blob assembler script to encode the chipDB data files into a format suitable for Nextpnr, or using the master chipDB directly.


There are quite a few sketchy places in the code that could use some tender loving care, without taking a deep dive into FPGA documenting.

The .dat parser was sort of patched to output a JSON file, but it would be a lot nicer if one could just import it as a library and get Python datastructures back directly. Both parsers could optionally be extended to map known IDs to more human readable values ( for example), provide a more convenient structure, and chomp of padding values.

The fuzzers should be extended so that they run against all FPGA types. This is important to detect differences between FPGAs and generate ChipDBs for all of them. This does not require much in-depth knowledge. Just adding parameters for all FPGA types. A bit more involved is extending the fuzzer to fuzz global settings and constraints, these would need to be assigned config bits and toggle them accordingly.

The user-facing tools such as gowin_pack and gowin_unpack could really use some proper command line arguments, and could also be packaged in a proper Python package so that they can be installed easily. They could also be ported to something other than Python for speed.

Currently the ChipDB is just using Pickle because it's easy. This is however not a good format going forward. Some research needs to be done into a suitable format. This might involve either a single database, or a "master" database in a human readable format, and derived databases for PnR and bitgen.

Eventually it'd be really sweet if there were some tests and continuous integration.

JTAG programmer

Currently the vendor programming tool is used. For a truly end-to-end open source flow, a JTAG programmer would have to be written, or at least adapted for use with Gowin FPGAs.

In some toolchains the IDE can generate a SVF file for use with other JTAG programmers. This could for example be used with OpenOCD. However, Gowin is not one of those toolchains.

So what needs to be done is to extract the JTAG commands used by the vendor tools by either capturing USB packets, or using a logic analyser to decode the JTAG commands at the FPGA inputs. With these commands, a script can be written that converts a bitstream to an SVF file that could be used with OpenOCD.

Files overview

  • utilities for parsing .fs bitstream files in ascii format.
  • a library for combining vendor and fuzzing data into a single chipDB
  • utilities for generating Verilog netlist files.
  • a parser for vendor .dat files used in PnR.
  • doc documentation.
  • example a simple test program.
  • a parser for vendor .fse files used in bitgen.
  • a fuzzer for finding bit locations of various things, not based on vendor files.
  • generic Python files for the Nextpnr generic target
    • writes .fasm(unused) and .vm/.posp (for vendor floorplanner).
    • blinky.v example program
    • main Python script that generates all the bels and pips.
    • script to synth and PnR Verilog files.
    • generates the pip and port delays.
    • synth Yosys synthesis scripts and libs.
      • cells_map.v techmap file.
      • prims.v simulation primitives.
      • synth_generic.tcl Yosys synthesis script.
  • the bitstream packer, turns Nextpnr JSON into Gowin .fs.
  • the bitstream unpacker, tursn Gowin .fs into Verilog.
  • legacy old bash fuzzers, sometimes useful for a quick test.
  • extract pinout information form vendor spreadsheets.
  • a simplified fuzzer that uses vendor data files to fuzz a specific tile type.
  • mapping between vendor wire IDs and names.
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