Experimental: Synchronization

Calyx's default semantics do not admit any predictable form of language-level synchronization in presence of parallelism. We're currently experimenting with a suite of new primitives that add synchronization to the language.


The std_sync_reg primitive defined by primitives/sync.futil provides a synchronizing register that acts as an M-structure which provides the following interface: On the reader side:

  1. If the register is "empty", block the read till the register is written into.
  2. If the register is "full", provide the value to the reader, provide a done signal, and mark it as "empty".

On the writer side:

  1. If the register is "empty", write the value in the register, mark it as "full", and provide a done signal.
  2. If the register is "full", block the write till the register is read from.

One way to think of this interface is as a size-1 concurrent FIFO.

Using std_sync_reg

The following example is a part of the Calyx compiler test suite and can be executed using:

  runt -i examples/sync

The synchronizing register interface is non-standard: it provides two go signals and two done signals to initiate parallel reads and writes.

  primitive std_sync_reg[WIDTH](
    @write_together(1) in_0: WIDTH,
    @write_together(2) in_1: WIDTH,
    read_en_0: 1,
    read_en_1: 1, 
    @write_together(1) write_en_0: 1,
    @write_together(2) write_en_1: 1,
    @clk clk: 1,
    @reset reset: 1
  ) -> (
    out_0: WIDTH,
    out_1: WIDTH,
    write_done_0: 1,
    write_done_1: 1,
    read_done_0: 1,
    read_done_1: 1,
    peek: WIDTH

The signal read_en is used by a program to initiate a read operation while the write_en signal initiates a write operation. We need to explicitly initiate a read operation because reading a value marks the register as "empty" which causes any future reads to block.

Similarly, the output interface specifies the read_done and write_done signals which the user program needs to read to know when the operations are completed. The read_done signal is similar to a valid signal while the write_done is similar to a write_done signal.

The following group initiates a write operation into the synchronizing register imm from the memory in:

    // Write value from `in[idx]` to sync intermediate.
    group write_imm {
      imm.write_en_0 = 1'd1;
      imm.in_0 = in.read_data;
      in.addr0 = idx.out;
      write_imm[done] = imm.write_done_0;

The group waits for the imm.write_done signal to be high before continuing execution. If the synchronizing register was "full" in this cycle, the execution would stall and cause the group to take another cycle.

The following group initiates a read the synchronizing register imm and saves the value into the out memory:

    // Read value from sync intermediate and write to temp.
    group read_imm {
      imm.read_en_0 = 1'd1;
      out.write_en = imm.read_done_0;
      out.addr0 = idx.out;
      out.write_data = imm.out_0;
      read_imm[done] = out.done;

The group waits till the imm.read_done signal is high to write the value into the memory. Note that in case the register is empty, imm.read_done will be low and cause the group to another cycle.

Finally, we can describe the control program as:

    while lt.out with cmp {
      seq {
        par {

Note that the two groups execute in parallel which means there is no guarantee to their order of execution. However, the synchronization ensures that the reads see a consistent set of writes in the order we expect.


The example above implements a standard producer-consumer. However, as implemented, the std_sync_reg primitive does not support multiple producers or consumers. To do so, it would need to provide an interface that allows several read and write ports and ensure that only one read or write operation succeeds. This capability would be useful in implementing synchronizing barriers in Calyx.