Message protocol on FPGA

This continues the third part of Math Talk. This page shows a master implementation of the message protocol described earlier.

Messages Exchange with FPGA as Slave

The implementation builds onto the Byte Module code shown earlier. We will start by explaining how to pass multidimensional arrays through ports.


On Altera, we can the multidimensional arrays available in system verilog HDL

wire [nrRWregs+nrROregs-1:0] [31:0] registers;

The implementation is slightly more complicated on Xilinx, because Verilog 2001 doesn’t allow multidimensional arrays to be used as inputs or outputs. Instead, we work around this by flatten the 2D registers array into two vectors. One for input, and one for the output ports as shown in the code fragments below.

Flatten the 2-dimensional array, registers, into vectors rwRegs1D and roRegs1D genvar nn; wire [31:0] roRegs2D[0:nrROregs-1]; for ( nn = 0; nn < nrRWregs; nn = nn + 1) begin :nnRW assign rwRegs1D[32*nn+31:32*nn] = registers[nn]; // flatten end for ( nn = 0; nn < nrROregs; nn = nn + 1) begin :nnRO assign roRegs2D[nn] = roRegs1D[32*nn+31:32*nn]; // inflate end[/code]

Inflate the vectors, rwRegs1D and roRegs1D, into a 2-dimensional array registers.

wire [0:31] registers[0:nrRWregs+nrROregs-1]; genvar nn; for ( nn = 0; nn < nrRWregs; nn = nn + 1 ) begin :nnRW assign registers[nn] = rwRegs1D[32*nn+31:32*nn]; end for ( nn = 0; nn < nrROregs; nn = nn + 1 ) begin :nnRO assign roRegs1D[32*nn+31:32*nn] = registers[nn+nrRWregs]; end[/code]


The timing diagram below shows the relation between the different signals at the message level on Xilinx.

Timing for Xilinx implementation

The Altera implementation is more optimized, as it needs to run at 200 MHz. The gate level simulation is shown below;

Timing for Altera implementation

Finite State Machine

This message module converts the bytes into messages and visa versa. The protocol is implemented using a state machine with 4 states:

  • Idle (0)
  • Transmit status (1), transmits 8-bit status to master
  • Transmit register value (2) , transmits a 32-bit register value to the master
  • Receive register value (3), receives a 32-bit register value from the master

An additional state-like variable, byteId, is used to keeps track of what byte to transmit or receive.

SPI Finite State Machine


The complete project including constraints and test bench is available through


To verify the implementation, run the test bench (spi_msg_tb.v) using gate level simulation. This test bench will monitor the communication and report errors when found. In the real world, we connect the Arduino SPI Master that acts just like the test bench.

This article introduced SPI as a protocol and expanded it to exchange messages.