OpenTitan Assertions

OpenTitan Assertions

What Are Assertions?

Assertions are statements about your design that are expected to be always true. Here are two examples:

  • `ASSERT(grantOneHot, $onehot0(grant), clk, !rst_n)
    This asserts that signal grant will be either one-hot encoded or all-zero.
  • `ASSERT(ackTwoClocksAfterReq, req |-> ##2 ack, clk, !rst_n)
    Every time req goes high, ack must be high exactly 2 clock cycles later.

Above examples are using the `ASSERT macro defined in, whose four arguments are assertion name, property, clock, and reset (active-high reset).

Assertions are usually added by the designer in the RTL file. Assertions can also be added in a separate module, see for example and its documentation, which contains a generic protocol checker for the TileLink-UL standard.

Types of Assertions

There are two types of assertions:

  • Concurrent assertions can span time and are triggered by a clock edge. See the two examples in the previous section.
  • Immediate assertions do not depend upon a clock edge. They are typically used in an initial block to check for correct parameter settings. Example:
initial begin
  checkFifoWidth: assert (FifoDepth > 0) else begin
    $error("FifoDepth parameter should be > 0");

Useful Macros

The file defines many useful shortcuts that you can use in your RTL code. Some of them are detailed below:

`ASSERT(name, prop, clk, rst)

  • This is a shortcut macro for a generic concurrent assignment.
  • The first argument is the assertion name. It is recommended to use lowerCamelCase for the assertion name. The assertio name should be descriptive, which will help during debug.
  • The second argument is the assertion property.
  • The last two arguments specify the clock and reset signals (active-high reset).
  • Note that this macro doesn’t support a custom error message (such as the $error message in the previous section). However, the macro will print out the property name and the entire property code such as req |-> ack.

For example, `ASSERT(myAssertion, req |-> ack, clk, !rst_n) is expanded as follows:

myAssertion: assert property (
  @(posedge clk) disable iff ((!rst_n) !== 1'b0)
    (req |-> ack)
) else begin
  $error("Assert failed: [%m] %s: %s\n",
      `STRINGIFY(myAssertion), `STRINGIFY(req |-> ack));

`ASSERT_INIT(name, prop)

Concurrent assertion inside an initial block. It can be used for checking parameters.

`ASSERT_FINAL(name, prop)

Concurrent assertion inside a final block. It can be used e.g. for making sure that a FIFO is empty at the end of each sim.

`ASSERT_NEVER(name, prop, clk, rst)

Assert that a concurrent property never happens.

`ASSERT_KNOWN(name, signal, clk, rst)

Assert that signal has a known value after reset, where “known” refers to a value that is not X.

More Macros and Examples

Useful SVA System Functions

Below table lists useful SVA (SystemVerilog assertion) functions that can be used for assertion properties.

System Function Description
$rose() True if LSB of expression changed to 1
$fell() True if LSB of expression changed to 0
$stable() True if the value of expression didn't change
$past() Value of expression of previous clock cycle
$past( , n_cycles) Value of expression n_cycles clocks ago
$countones() Number of ones in the expression
$onehot() True if exactly one bit is 1
$onehot0() True if no bits or only one bit is 1
$isunknown() True if any bit in the expression is 'X' or 'Z'

Useful SVA Operators

Below table lists useful operators that can be used for assertion properties.

Operator Description
##n Delay operator, fixed time interval of n clock cycles
##[m:n] Delay operator, time interval range between m and n clocks
|-> "Overlapping" implication (same cycle)
|=> "Non-overlapping" implication (next cycle)
a |=> b is equivalent to a |-> ##1 b
not, or, and Property operators

There are also powerful repetition operators, see here for more details.

Symbolic Variables

When design has a set of modules or signals that share same properties, symbolic variables can be used to reduce duplicated assertions. For example, in the rv_plic design, the array of input intr_src_i are signals sharing sam properties. Each intr_src_i[index] will trigger the interrupt pending (ip) signal depending on the corresponding level indicator (le) is set to level triggered or edge triggered. Without symbolic variables, the above assertions can be implemented as below:

  genvar i;
  generate for (i = 0; i < N_SOURCE; i++) begin : gen_rv_plic_fpv
    `ASSERT(LevelTriggeredIp_A, $rose(rv_plic.ip[i]) |->
            $past(rv_plic.le[i]) || $past(intr_src_i[i]), clk_i, !rst_ni)

In contrast, symbolic variable can abstract the design by declaring the index with constraints. To ensure the symbolic variable performs the expected behaviors, two assumptions need to be written:

  • Constraint the symbolic variable with the correct bound.
  • Randomize the variable at the beginning of the simulation, then keep it stable throughout the rest of the simulation.
  logic [$clog2(N_SOURCE)-1:0] src_sel;
  `ASSUME_FPV(IsrcRange_M, src_sel >= 0 && src_sel < N_SOURCE, clk_i, !rst_ni)
  `ASSUME_FPV(IsrcStable_M, ##1 $stable(src_sel), clk_i, !rst_ni)
  `ASSERT(LevelTriggeredIp_A, $rose(rv_plic.ip[src_sel]) |->
          $past(rv_plic.le[src_sel]) || $past(intr_src_i[src_sel]), clk_i, !rst_ni)


Coverpoints are used for properties and corner cases that the designer wants to make sure are being exercised by the testbench (e.g. FIFO-full checks). The code coverage tool then reports the coverage percentage of these coverpoints together with the other cover metrics (such as line coverage and branch coverage).

The macro `COVER(name, prop, clk, rst) of can be used to add coverpoints to your design, where the cover property uses the same SVA syntax, operators, and system functions as the the assert properties.

Running FPV on DVSim

Cadence JasperGold

If you have access to JasperGold from Cadence, you can formally verify your assertions. Before running FPV, please make sure the target has been added to the batch script.

For example, to run formal property verification (FPV) using JasperGold on module gpio, type:

  $REPO_TOP/util/dvsim/ $REPO_TOP/hw/top_earlgrey/formal/top_earlgrey_fpv_cfgs.hjson --select-cfgs gpio

JasperGold will then report which assertions have been proven or disproven, and whether or not there are any unreachable assertions or coverpoints. Adding a --gui option will open the JasperGold GUI.

To run formal property verification for all modules, type:

  $REPO_TOP/util/dvsim/ $REPO_TOP/hw/top_earlgrey/formal/top_earlgrey_fpv_cfgs.hjson

Synopsys VC Formal

If you have access to VC Formal from Synopsys, you can formally verify your assertions. For example, to run formal property verification (FPV) using VC Formal on module gpio, type:

  $REPO_TOP/util/dvsim/ $REPO_TOP/hw/top_earlgrey/formal/top_earlgrey_fpv_cfgs.hjson --select-cfgs gpio -t vcformal

VC Formal will then report which assertions have been proven or disproven, and whether or not there are any unreachable assertions or coverpoints. Adding a --gui option will open the VCFormal GUI.

To run formal property verification for all modules, type:

  $REPO_TOP/util/dvsim/ $REPO_TOP/hw/top_earlgrey/formal/top_earlgrey_fpv_cfgs.hjson -t vcformal

This script generates a report of all FPV runs. The report is printed at the end of the run, which lists the total number of assertions and the number of proven, vacuous, covered and failing assertions for each block. CRASH identifies modules that fail to run VC Formal.

Running Connectivity Tests

Connectivity tests use formal method to exhaustively verify system-level connections, which are specified in a high-level format (for example: CSV format for JasperGold).

Cadence JasperGold on dvsim

The dvsim formal flow supports connectivity test. Each top-level can create its own connectivity setting with a customized Hjson file. For example, top_earlgrey has hw/top_earlgrey/formal/chip_conn_cfgs.hjson that specifies its top_level name, fusesoc_core file, and csv file path. You can trigger top_earlgrey’s connectivity test using dvsim:

  util/dvsim/ hw/top_earlgrey/formal/chip_conn_cfgs.hjson

Adding a --gui option will open the JaperGold GUI.

Running FPV on security blocks for common countermeasure primitives

A security countermeasure verification framework is implemented in design and fpv tcl script to verify common countermeasure primitives in a semi-automated way.

Common security assertion macros

OpenTitan’s security IP blocks have implemented assertions to check against common fault injections. These assertions ensure if the security prim module returns an error, a corresponding alert should fire immediately without any gating conditions. There are three pre-defined assertion macros under file hw/ip/prim/rtl/prim_assert_sec_cm.svh:

  • ASSERT_PRIM_FSM_TRIGGER_ALERT: if design module prim_sparse_fsm_flop returns state_o value that is not one of the defined FSM states, which means the FSM state might be attacked, a fatal alert is expected to fire.
  • ASSERT_PRIM_COUNT_TRIGGER_ALERT: if design module prim_count sets err_o to 1, which means the two counters do not match, a fatal alert is expected to fire.
  • ASSERT_PRIM_DOUBLE_LFSR_TRIGGER_ALERT: if design module prim_double_lfsr sets err_o to 1, which means two LFSR states do not match, a fatal alert is expected to fire. Note that assertions defined with these macros will have a common prefix name FpvSecCm, which will help the FPV tcl file to group them in a specific task.

FPV fault injection

The above security assertions are expected to be unreachable in normal design environment, and are only reachable if a fault is injected. To create a FPV environment that has fault injections, the stopat command and black box methods are used.

  • FSM fault injection: a stopat is placed at state_o output.
  • Counter fault injection: black-box the prim_count module.
  • Double LFSR fault injection: black-box the prim_double_lfsr module. Then we will let formal environment to randomly drive these outputs and run security assertions to ensure these error cases will trigger alerts under any circumstance.

Set up FPV security check environment

To set up the FPV security check environment, please follow the steps below:

  1. Add an item under hw/top_earlgrey/formal/top_earlgrey_fpv_cfgs.hjson with the naming convention “{ip_name}_sec_cm”.
  2. Under the item add an entry “task” with value “FpvSecCm”. This entry tells the tcl file to black-box security prim modules in the FPV environment, and define required macros. This “task” entry also tells the tcl file to disable regular assertions and only analyze macro defined security assertions with prefix FpvSecCm.
  3. Under the item add an entry “stopats” if design has sparse FSMs. This is an optional step. Because some designs contain more than one stopat path, the entry “stopats” is declared as a list of strings.

Here is an example on csrng module:

  name: csrng_sec_cm
  dut: csrng
  fusesoc_core: lowrisc:dv:csrng_sva
  import_cfgs: ["{proj_root}/hw/formal/tools/dvsim/common_fpv_cfg.hjson"]
  rel_path: "hw/ip/csrng/{sub_flow}/{tool}"
  cov: false
  task: "FpvSecCm"
  stopats: ["*u_state_regs.state_o"]

Naming Conventions

For assertions, it is preferred to use postfix _A for assertions, _M for assumptions, _P for properties, and _S for sequences. For example:

  `ASSUME_FPV(IsrcRange_M, src_sel >= 0 && src_sel < N_SOURCE, clk_i, !rst_ni)
  `ASSERT(LevelTriggeredIp_A, $rose(rv_plic.ip[src_sel]) |->
          $past(rv_plic.le[src_sel]) || $past(intr_src_i[src_sel]), clk_i, !rst_ni)

Implementation Guidelines

The recommended guidelines for where to implement assertions are as follows:

  • Basic assertions should be implemented directly in the RTL file. These basic functional assertions are often inserted by designers to act as a smoke check.
  • Assertions used for the testbench to achieve verification goals should be implemented under the ip/hw/module_name/fpv/vip folder. This FPV environment can be automatically generated by the script.
  • Portable assertions written for common interfaces or submodules should also be implemented under the ip/hw/submodule_or_interface/fpv/vip folder. These portable assertion collections can be easily reused by other testbench via a bind file.