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Writing TLM2.0-compliant timed SystemC simulation models for SoCLib

Authors : Alain Greiner, François Pêcheux, Aline Vieira de Mello

A) Introduction

This document is still under development.

It describes the modeling rules for writing TLM-T SystemC simulation models for SoCLib that are compliant with the new TLM2.0 OSCI standard. These rules enforce the PDES (Parallel Discrete Event Simulation) principles. In the TLM-T approach, we don't use the SystemC global time, as each PDES process involved in the simulation has its own local time. PDES processes (implemented as SC_THREADS) synchronize through messages piggybacked with time information. Models complying to these rules can be used with the "standard" OSCI simulation engine (SystemC 2.x) and the TLM2.0 library, but can also be used also with others simulation engines, especially distributed, parallelized simulation engines.

The pessimistic PDES algorithm used relies on temporal filtering of the incoming messages. An active component is only allowed to process when it has sufficient timing information on its input ports. For example, an interconnect is only allowed to let a packet reach a given target only when all the initiators that are connected to it have sent at least one packet with their local times. Several experiments have been realized to identify the best way to perform this temporal filtering. The previous implementation relied on sollicited null message, i.e. the interconnect asks all the initiators for their times. This solution only impacts the way the interconnect is written, and the initiators are not aware of the interconnect requests. The experiments have shown that this technique simplifies the writing of the initiator models but also has a strong impact on the simulation time, as the interconnect spends much of its effort consulting the time of the initiators and not passing packets from initiators to targets. The induced overhead is about 90%.

The solution retained is now to strictly follow the Chandy-Misra pessimistic algorithm and to reverse the synchronization process by letting the initiators transmit their local time to others according to their own null message policy. The interconnect is much simpler to write, but the initiators have to be modified in order to handle explicitely the sending of null messages. The performance of the simulation is therefore directly linked to the number of generated null messages. When writing an initiator model, this number directly corresponds to the period that separates the sending of two successive null messages.

The models described with the writing rules defined herein are syntactically compliant with the TLM2.0 standard, but do not respect its semantics. In particular, the third parameter of the transport functions is considered to be an absolute time and not relative to a global simulation time that does prevail anymore. The examples presented below use the VCI/OCP communication protocol selected by the SoCLib project, but the TLM-T approach described here is very flexible, and is not limited to the VCI/OCP communication protocol.

The interested user should also look at the general SoCLib rules.

B) VCI initiator and VCI target

Figure 1 presents a minimal system containing one single VCI initiator, my_initiator , and one single VCI target, my_target . The initiator behavior is modeled by the SC_THREAD execLoop(), that contains an infinite loop. The interface function nb_transport_bw() is executed when a VCI response packet is received by the initiator module.

Unlike the initiator, the target module has a purely reactive behaviour and is therefore modeled as a simple interface function. In other words, there is no need to use a SC_THREAD for a target component: the target behaviour is entirely described by the interface function nb_transport_fw(), that is executed when a VCI command packet is received by the target module.

The VCI communication channel is a point-to-point bi-directional channel, encapsulating two separated uni-directional channels: one to transmit the VCI command packet, one to transmit the VCI response packet.

C) VCI Transaction in TLM-T

The TLM2.0 standard defines a generic payload that contains almost all the fields needed to implement the complete vci protocol. In SocLib, the missing fields are defined in what TLM2.0 calls a payload extension. The C++ class used to implement this extension is soclib_payload_extension.

The SocLib payload extension only contains four data members:

  soclib::tlmt::vci_command m_soclib_command; 
  unsigned int m_src_id; 
  unsigned int m_trd_id; 	
  unsigned int m_pkt_id; 

The m_soclib_command data member supersedes the command of the TLM2.0 generic payload. This is why the parameter to the set_command() of a generic payload is always set to tlm::TLM_IGNORE_COMMAND. Up to seven values can be assigned to m_soclib_command. These values are:


The VCI_READ_COMMAND (resp. VCI_WRITE_COMMAND) is used to send a VCI read (resp. write) packet command. The VCI_LINKED_READ_COMMAND and VCI_STORE_CONDITIONAL_COMMAND are used to implement atomic operations. The latter 3 values are not directly related to VCI but rather to the PDES simulation algorithm used. The TLMT_NULL_MESSAGE value is used whenever an initiator needs to send its local time to the rest of the platform for synchronization purpose. The TLMT_ACTIVE and TLMT_INACTIVE values are used to inform the interconnect that the corresponding initiator must be taken into account during PDES time filtering or not. A programmable component such as a DMA controller, until it has been programmed and launched should not participate in the PDES time filtering. At the beginning of the simulation, all the initiators are considered to be active, and therefore send at least one synchronization message.

The data members of the soclib_payload_extension can be accessed through the following access functions:

  // Command related method
  bool                 is_read() const {return (m_soclib_command == VCI_READ_COMMAND);}
  void                 set_read() {m_soclib_command = VCI_READ_COMMAND;}
  bool                 is_write() const {return (m_soclib_command == VCI_WRITE_COMMAND);}
  void                 set_write() {m_soclib_command = VCI_WRITE_COMMAND;}
  bool                 is_locked_read() const {return (m_soclib_command == VCI_LOCKED_READ_COMMAND);}
  void                 set_locked_read() {m_soclib_command = VCI_LOCKED_READ_COMMAND;}
  bool                 is_store_cond() const {return (m_soclib_command == VCI_STORE_COND_COMMAND);}
  void                 set_store_cond() {m_soclib_command = VCI_STORE_COND_COMMAND;}
  bool                 is_null_message() const {return (m_soclib_command == VCI_NULL_MESSAGE);}
  void                 set_null_message() {m_soclib_command = VCI_NULL_MESSAGE;}
  bool                 is_active() const {return (m_soclib_command == VCI_ACTIVE);}
  void                 set_active() {m_soclib_command = VCI_ACTIVE;}
  bool                 is_inactive() const {return (m_soclib_command == VCI_INACTIVE);}
  void                 set_inactive() {m_soclib_command = VCI_INACTIVE;}
  vci_command          get_command() const {return m_soclib_command;}
  void                 set_command(const vci_command command) {m_soclib_command = command;}
  unsigned int get_src_id(){ return m_src_id; }
  unsigned int get_trd_id(){ return m_trd_id; }
  unsigned int get_pkt_id(){ return m_pkt_id; }

  void set_src_id(unsigned int id) { m_src_id = id; }
  void set_trd_id(unsigned int id) { m_trd_id = id; }
  void set_pkt_id(unsigned int id) { m_pkt_id = id; }

To build a new VCI packet, one has to create a new generic payload and a soclib payload extension, and to call the appropriate access functions on these two objects. For example, to issue a VCI read command, one should write the following code:

  tlm::tlm_generic_payload *payload_ptr = new tlm::tlm_generic_payload();
  tlm::tlm_phase            phase;
  soclib_payload_extension *extension_ptr = new soclib_payload_extension();

    // set the values in tlm payload
    // set the values in payload extension
    // set the extension to tlm payload
    payload_ptr->set_extension (extension_ptr );
    // set the tlm phase
    phase = tlm::BEGIN_REQ;
    // set the local time to transaction time
    m_send_time = m_local_time;

D) VCI initiator Modeling

D.1) Member variables & methods

In the proposed example, the initiator module is modeled by the my_initiator class. This class inherits from the standard SystemC sc_core::sc_module class, that acts as the root class for all TLM-T modules.

The initiator local time is contained in a member variable named m_local_time, of type sc_core::sc_time. The local time can be accessed with the following accessors: addLocalTime(), setLocalTime() and getLocalTime().

  sc_core::sc_time m_local_time;                     // the initiator local time
  void addLocalTime(sc_core::sc_time t);            // add an increment to the local time
  void setLocalTime(sc_core::sc_time& t);           // set the local time
  sc_core::sc_time getLocalTime(void);              // get the local time

The boolean member variable m_activity_status indicates if the initiator is currently active. It is used by the temporal filtering threads contained in the vci_vgmn interconnect, as described in section F. The corresponding access functions are setActivity() and getActivity().

  bool m_activity_status;
  void setActivity(bool t);                         // set the activity status (true if the component is active)
  bool getActivity(void);                           // get the activity state

The execLoop() method, describing the initiator behaviour must be declared as a member function.

The my_initiator class contains a member variable p_vci_init, of type tlm_utils::simple_initiator_socket, representing the VCI initiator port.

It must also define an interface function to handle the VCI response packets.

D.2) Sending a VCI command packet

To send a VCI command packet, the execLoop() method must use the nb_transport_fw() method, defined by TLM2.0, that is a member function of the p_vci_init port. The prototype of this method is the following:

  tlm::tlm_sync_enum nb_transport_fw            
  ( tlm::tlm_generic_payload &payload,      // payload 
    tlm::tlm_phase   &phase,        // phase (TLM::BEGIN_REQ)
    sc_core::sc_time                   &time);        // absolute local time

The first argument is a pointer to the payload (including the soclib payload extension), the second represents the phase (always set to TLM::BEGIN_REQ for requests), and the third argument contains the initiator local time. The return value is not used in this TLM-T implementation.

The nb_transport_fw() function is non-blocking. To implement a blocking transaction (such as a cache line read, where the processor is stalled during the VCI transaction), the model designer must use the SystemC sc_core::wait(x) primitive (x being of type sc_core::sc_event): the execLoop() thread is then suspended, and will be reactivated when the response packet is actually received.

D.3) Receiving a VCI response packet

To receive a VCI response packet, an interface function must be defined as a member function of the class my_initiator. This function (named nb_transport_bw() in the example), must be linked to the p_vci_init port, and is executed each time a VCI response packet is received on the p_vci_init port. The function name is not constrained, but the arguments must respect the following prototype:

  tlm::tlm_sync_enum nb_transport_bw              
    ( tlm::tlm_generic_payload &payload,     // payload
      tlm::tlm_phase   &phase,       // phase (TLM::BEGIN_RESP)
      sc_core::sc_time                   &time);       // response time

The return value (type tlm::tlm_sync_enum) is not used in this TLM-T implementation, and must be sytematically set to tlm::TLM_COMPLETED.

D.4) Initiator Constructor

The constructor of the class my_initiator must initialize all the member variables, including the p_vci_init port. The nb_transport_bw() function being executed in the context of the thread sending the response packet, a link between the p_vci_init port and this interface function must be established.

The constructor for the p_vci_init port must be called with the following arguments:

  p_vci_init.register_nb_transport_bw(this, &my_initiator::nb_transport_bw);

D.5) Time quantum parameter

The SystemC simulation engine behaves as a cooperative, non-preemptive multi-tasks system. Any thread in the system must stop execution after at some point, in order to allow the other threads to execute. With the proposed approach, a TLM-T initiator will never stop if it does not execute blocking communication (such as a processor that has all code and data in the L1 caches).

To solve this issue, it is necessary to define -for each initiator module- a time quantum parameter. This parameter defines the maximum delay that separates the sending of two successive null messages. The time quantum parameter allows the system designer to bound the de-synchronization time interval between threads.

A small value for this parameter results in a better timing accuracy for the simulation, but implies a larger number of context switches, and a slower simulation speed.

This time quantum parameter is implemented using the QuantumKeeper construct already available in TLM2.0. The main difference comes from the fact that this class is just used to manage the synchronization interval between two null messages. More precisely, the sync() function of QuantumKeeper is not used at all, because it implicitely calls a wait(x) statement (x being a time delay, which is valid in TLM2.0 but forbidden in the presented distributed time approach).

D.6) VCI initiator example

E) VCI target modeling

In this example, the my_target component handles all VCI command types in the same way, and there is no error management.

E.1) Member variables & methods

The class my_target inherits from the class sc_core::sc_module. The class my_target contains a member variable p_vci_target of type tlm_utils::simple_target_socket, representing the VCI target port. It contains an interface function to handle the received VCI command packets, as described below.

E.2) Receiving a VCI command packet

To receive a VCI command packet, an interface function must be defined as a member function of the class my_target. This function (named nb_transport_fw() in the example), is executed each time a VCI command packet is received on the p_vci_target port. The function name is not constrained, but the arguments must respect the following prototype:

  tlm::tlm_sync_enum nb_transport_fw              
  ( tlm::tlm_generic_payload &payload,      // payload 
    tlm::tlm_phase   &phase,       // phase (TLM::BEGIN_REQ)
    sc_core::sc_time                   &time);        // time

The return value (type tlm::tlm_sync_enum) is not used in this TLM-T implementation, and must be sytematically set to tlm::TLM_COMPLETED.

E.3) Sending a VCI response packet

To send a VCI response packet the call-back function uses the nb_transport_bw() and has the same arguments as the nb_transport_fw() function. Respecting the general TLM2.0 policy, the payload argument refers to the same tlm_generic_payload object for both the nb_transport_fw() and nb_transport_bw() functions, and the associated interface functions. Only two values are used for the response_status field in this TLM-T implementation:


For a reactive target, the response packet time is computed as the command packet time plus the target intrinsic latency.

       tlm::tlm_sync_enum nb_transport_bw ( 
           tlm::tlm_generic_payload &payload,       
           tlm::tlm_phase   &phase,      
           sc_core::sc_time                   &time)
	phase = tlm::BEGIN_RESP;
	time = time + (nwords * UNIT_TIME);
	p_vci_target->nb_transport_bw(payload, phase, time);

E.4) Target Constructor

The constructor of the class my_target must initialize all the member variables, including the p_vci_target port. The nb_transport_fw() function being executed in the context of the thread sending the command packet, a link between the p_vci_target port and the call-back function must be established. The my_target constructor must be called with the following arguments:

  p_vci_target.register_nb_transport_fw(this, &my_target::nb_transport_fw);

E.5) VCI target example

F) VCI Interconnect modeling

The VCI interconnect used for the TLM-T simulation is a generic interconnection network, named VciVgmn. The two main parameters are the number of initiators, and the number of targets. In TLM-T simulation, we don't want to reproduce the detailed, cycle-accurate, behavior of a particular interconnect. We only want to simulate the contention in the network, when several VCI intitiators try to reach the same VCI target.

In a physical network such as the multi-stage network described in Figure 2.a, conflicts can appear at any intermediate switch.

The VciVgmn network, described in Figure 2.b, is modeled as a cross-bar, and conflicts can only happen at the output ports. It is possible to specify a specific latency for each input/output couple. As in most physical interconnects, the general arbitration policy is round-robin.

F.1) Generic network modeling

According to PDES, a packet P emitted by an initiator reaches the correct target when it is safe to do so, i.e. when the interconnect is sure that no initiator will send a packet with a timestamp lesser than the timestamp of P. This temporal filtering operation can be factorized, when all the connected active initiators have sent at least one message to the interconnect. These messages are stored in a centralized data structure. This structure stores tree information: the packet, the timestamps and the current initiator activity. After elaboration of the simulator, the activity information for each initiator is set to true. For example, a coprocessor will send a message with m_soclib_command set to TLMT_INACTIVE in the beginning of the simulation. Therefore, when all slots of this centralized structure are filled with real or null messages with their associated timestamps, a temporal filtering iteration can occur.

The arbitration process must take into account the actual state of the VCI initiators: For example a DMA coprocessor that has not yet been activated will not send request and should not participate in the temporal filtering and arbitration process. As a general rule, each VCI initiator must define an active boolean flag, defining if it should participate to the arbitration. This active flag is always set to true for general purpose processors.

There is actually two fully independent networks for VCI command packets and VCI response packets.

The two networks are not symmetrical :

  • There is one processing thread for each output port (i.e. one processing thread for each VCI target). Each processing thread is modeled by a SC_THREAD, and contains a dedicated message fifo and a local time. This time represents the target local time.

  • For the response network, there are no conflicts, and therefore there is no thread (and no local time). The response network is implemented by simple function calls.

This scheme is illustrated in Figure 3 for a network with 2 initiators and three targets :

The command network handles the two following tasks:

  • Temporal filtering and arbitration of the requests from the initiators.

This task is activated when all the connected initiators have sent at least one message to the interconnect. The task computes the list of the messages that can actually be sent to the targets according to PDES. The list contains all the messages which timestamp belongs to the time interval [T, T+ interconnect_delay], where T is the smallest timestamp of all the messages in the interconnect. Priority between initiators with the same local time is computed using a traditional round-robin algorithm. The temporal filtering and arbitration task is executed in the context of the initiator that sends a new (possibly null) message.

  • Routing of a filtered request packet to the correct target. Each target runs under the control of a processing thread and

has a dedicated message fifo. The routing wakes up the processing thread of the corresponding target, that empties the message fifo filled by the temporal filtering. The behavioral function of the target is executed in the context of the processing thread.

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