Ibex: Code with Confidence

by Philipp Wagner,

Ibex, our small RISC-V core, is constantly changing. Roughly 50 percent of the RTL was refactored recently! We added features, tests, and cleaned the code up. We and our collaborators were able to make these changes (mostly) without breaking Ibex because we invested in testing: earlier this year we added UVM-based verification to the tree, and we run these tests after every change. We run static code analysis to catch common programming bugs. We run software on Ibex to see if it actually behaves as we expect it to behave. For licensing reasons it hasn’t been possible to share all of these tests - this post will explain how we’ve been working to address that issue..

We want every contributor to have a similar degree of confidence that their changes won’t break something, which is why we’ve been building out the test and continuous integration infrastructure using open source or freely available tooling. (I talked about the idea behind that at WOSH, you’re invited to watch the recorded talk to hear more about it!)

Today, we’re happy to announce a significant step in this direction: we have enabled publicly visible continuous integration (CI) for Ibex. On every pull request we now run three tests:

  • We run Verilator lint on all SystemVerilog code files. Verilator lint catches common programming errors such as undefined variables or wrong signal width definitions.
  • We build a cycle-accurate compiled simulation of Ibex with Verilator.
  • Finally, we run the RISC-V compliance test suite with our cycle-accurate simulation model of Ibex. This test suite executes a set of small assembly programs and checks its output against a golden reference.

All of these tests run in a couple of minutes, and all test outputs are publicly visible at Azure Pipelines.

Azure pipeline

The last test is worth explaining in more depth. The RISC-V Compliance test suite is a collaborative effort by the RISC-V Foundation Compliance Task Group to test RISC-V implementations for specification compliance. Lee Moore from Imperas has been doing a lot of work to get the test suite extended to work with Ibex, and we have done our part by adjusting the simulation model of Ibex to work with it. Once these building blocks were in place it was only a matter of a couple of lines of configuration to enable these tests to run in CI.

With all this infrastructure in place, contributors can submit pull requests with more confidence than ever: look out for the green check mark under a pull request!

Screenshot show checks passed

We are delighted that Ibex can now serve as a reference end-to-end RTL and ISS co-simulation flow for riscv-dv and for running the RISC-V compliance suite on an RTL simulation. The DARPA-funded OpenROAD open source EDA toolchain initiative have also included Ibex as a standard test case.

For us at lowRISC, this is just the start of the automation journey. Continuous integration in open source hardware projects is uncharted territory for many reasons, with licensing of proprietary tools adding further complicationWe will continue to expand the coverage of our publicly available continuous integration, and we’ll keep you updated here!