Unpacking Xilinx 7-Series Bitstreams: Part 2


In Part 1, I walked through the various file formats generated by Xilinx tools, the BIT file format header, and the physical interface layer of the bitstream protocol stack. In this part, I’ll dive into the gory details of the configuration packet format and how those packets control the overall programming operation.

As I briefly mentioned in Part 1, the physical interface layer transports a stream of packetized register read/write operations that constitute the configuration packet layer. The sync word that begins the packet stream also serves to establish 32-bit alignment within the overall byte stream carried by the physical interface layer. From that point on, all data formats are described in 32-bit, big-endian words.

Note that the physical interface used may impose limitations on the features available at the configuration packet layer. I’ll call out these limitations when describing features that are impacted.

Configuration Packet Format

Xilinx 7-Series Configuration Packet Header

Each configuration packet begins with a one-word header. The contents of the header change according to the header type which is contained in the top 3 bits. Only types 1 and 2 are officially documented though type 0 exists in practice as we’ll see later.

Xilinx 7-Series Configuration Packet Type 1 Header

Type 1 packets specify a complete operation to be performed with opcodes being defined as follows:

  • 00 – NOP
  • 01 – Read
  • 10 – Write

For a NOP, the remaining header fields are unused for this operation but the address field is important for type 2 packets. Reads and writes are directed at a specific register specified in the address field. While 14 bits of address space is defined in the header, 7-series devices seem to only use the lower 5 bits. Payload length is the number of data words to be read or written. These data words immediately follow the header with writes being sent to the device and reads being sent from the device. Note: reads are only available over SelectMAP and JTAG physical interfaces.

Xilinx 7-Series Configuration Packet Type 2 Header

Type 2 packets are used when the payload length exceeds the 11 bits available in a type 1 packet. Note the lack of an address field. Remember how I mentioned the address field being important for a NOP? The address field of the last type 1 packet is reused as the target of a type 2 packet. Only the address is reused so, in theory, a type 1 read could be followed by a type 2 write. In practice, I’ve only seen type 2 used immediately after a zero-length type 1 write.

Configuration Registers

Addresses specified in configuration packets are mapped 1-to-1 to a set of variable-width registers. Most of the registers are a single word wide but FDRI and FDRO are notable exceptions. I have not experimented with what happens if a packet attempts a short write or a write past the end of the register.

These registers provide low-level control over the chip including boot configuration and programming. Many of the available knobs are related to tuning physical interface behavior and which status/debug signals are available on pins. A few of the key registers used during programming are:

  • IDCODE
    Before writing to the configuration memory, a 32-bit device ID code must be written to this register. Reads from the register return the attached device’s ID code.
  • CRC
    When a packet is received by the device, it automatically updates an internal CRC calculation to include the contents of that packet. A write to the CRC register checks that the calculated CRC matches the expected value written to the register. This CRC check is only used to provide integrity checking of the packet stream, not the configuration memory contents, and are not required for programming. If you are modifying a bitstream, CRC writes can simply be removed instead of recalculating them.
  • Command
    Most of the programming sequence is implemented as a state machine that is controlled via one-shot actions. Writes to this register arm an action that, depending on the action requested, may be triggered immediately or delayed until some other condition is met.
    Important Note: During autoincremented frame writes (described later), the current command is rewritten during every autoincrement. This has the effect of rearming the action on every frame written.
  • Frame Address Register (FAR)
    Writes to this register set the starting address for the next frame read or write.
  • FDRI
    When a frame is written to FDRI, the frame data is written to the configuration memory address specified by FAR. If the write to FDRI contains more than one frame, FAR is autoincremented at the end of each frame.

For more details on these registers and others I didn’t mention, refer to Table 5-23 in UG470.

Programming Sequence

I’ll only be providing a high-level overview of a programming sequence for a complete write of the configuration memory. Partial reconfiguration uses a slightly different sequence that I’ll document in a separate post. I highly suggest looking at a bitstream as there are details such as NOPs that I am omitting that may be important when actually programming a device.

  1. Write TIMER: 0x000000000
    Disable the watchdog timer
  2. Write WBSTAR: 0x00000000
    On the next device boot, start with the bitstream at address zero.  This may be different if the bitstream contains a multi-boot configuration.
  3. Write COMMAND: 0x00000000
    Switch to the NULL command.
  4. Write COMMAND: 0x00000007
    Reset the calculated CRC to zero.
  5. Write register 0x13: 0x00000000
    Undocumented register. No idea what this does yet.
  6. Write Configuration Option Register 0: 0x02003fe5
    Setup timing of various device startup operations such as which startup cycle to wait in until MMCMs have locked and which clock settings to use during startup.
  7. Write Configuration Option Register 1: 0x00000000
    Writing defaults to various device options such as the page size used to read from BPI and whether continuous configuration memory CRC calculation is enabled.
  8. Write IDCODE: 0x0362c093
    Tell the device that this is a bitstream for a XC7A50T. If the device is an XC7A50T, configuration memory writes will be enabled.
  9. Write COMMAND: 0x00000009
    Activate the clock configuration specified in Configuration Option Register 0. Up to this point, the device was using whatever clock configuration the last loaded bitstream used.
  10. Write MASK: 0x00000401
    Set a bit-wise mask that is applied to subsequent writes to Control 0 and Control 1. This seems unnecessary for programming but is used to toggle certain bits in those registers instead of using precomputed values. It might make more sense in a use case where the exact value of Control 0 or Control 1 is unknown but a bit needs to be flipped.
  11. Write Control 0: 0x00000501
    Due to the previous write to MASK, 0x401 is actually written to this register which is the default value. Mostly disable fallback boot mode and masks out memory bits in the configuration memory during readback.
  12. Write MASK: 0x00000000
    Clear the write mask for Control 0 and Control 1
  13. Write Control 1: 0x00000000
    Control 1 is officially undocumented. See Part 3 for at least one bit I’ve figured out.
  14. Write FAR: 0x00000000
    Set starting address for frame writes to zero.
  15. Write COMMAND: 0x00000001
    Arm a frame write. The write will occur on the next write to FDRI.
  16. Write FDRI: <547420 words>
    Write desired configuration to configuration memory. Since more than 101 words are written, FAR autoincrementing is being used. 547420 words is 5420 frames. Between each frame, COMMAND will be rewritten with 0x1 which re-arms the next write. Note that the configuration memory space is fragmented and autoincrement moves to the next valid address. As we’ll see in Part 3, this is a rather annoying feature that makes reading bitstream configuration data a bit more challenging.
  17. Write COMMAND: 0x0000000A
    Update the routing and configuration flip-flops with the new values in the configuration memory. At this point, the device configuration has been updated but the device is still in programming mode.
  18. Write COMMAND: 0x00000003
    Tell the device that the last configuration frame has been received. The device re-enabled its interconnect.
  19. Write COMMAND: 0x00000005
    Arm the device startup sequence. Documentation claims both a valid CRC check and a DESYNC command are required to trigger the startup. In practice, a bitstream with no CRC checks works just fine.
  20. Write COMMAND: 0x0000000D
    Exit programming mode. After this, the device will ignore data on the configuration interfaces until the sync word is seen again. This also triggers the previously armed device startup sequence.

Next: Configuration Memory

In Part 3, I’ll cover how configuration memory is addressed and how that gives us some clues about the physical chip structure. I’ll also look at a very curious detail that violates the protocol stack encapsulation.