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XLS Optimizations

Narrowing Optimizations

The XLS compiler performs bitwise flow analysis, and so can deduce that certain bits in the output of operations are always-zero or always-one. As a result, after running this bit-level tracking flow analysis, some of the bits on the output of an operation may be "known". With known bits in the output of an operation, we can often narrow the operation to only produce the unknown bits (those bits that are not known static constants), which reduces the "cost" of the operation (amount of delay through the operation) by reducing its bitwidth.

Select operations

An example of this is select narrowing, as shown in the following -- beforehand we have three operands, but from our bitwise analysis we know that there are two constant bits in the MSb as well as two constant bits in the LSb being propagated from all of our input operands.

One-Hot-Select Before Squeezing{style="display:block;margin:auto;width:50%"}

Recognizing that property, we squeeze the one hot select operation -- in the "after" diagram below observe we've narrowed the operation by slicing the known-constant bits out of the one hot select operation, making it cheaper in terms of delay, and propagated the slices up to the input operands -- these slices being presented at the output of the operands may in turn let them narrow their operation and become cheaper, and this can continue transitively):

One-Hot-Select After Squeezing{style="display:block;margin:auto;width:50%"}

Arithmetic and shift operations

Most arithmetic ops support mixed bit widths where the operand widths may not be the same width as each other or the result. This provides opportunities for narrowing. Specfically (for multiplies, adds and subtracts):

  1. If the operands are wider than the result, the operand can be truncated to the result width.

  2. If the operation result is wider than the full-precision width of the operation, the operation result can be narrowed to the full-precision width then sign- or zero-extended (depending upon the sign of the operation) to the original width to produce the desired result. The full-precision width of an add or subtract is one more than the width of the widest operand, and the full-precision width of a multiply is the sum of the operand widths.

  3. If the most-significant bit of an operand are zeros (for unsigned operations) or the same as the sign-bit value (for signed operations), the operand can be narrowed to remove these known bits.

As a special case, adds can be narrowed if the least-significant bits of an is all zeros. The add operation is narrowed to exclude this range of least-significant bits. The least-signifant bits of the result are simply the least-significant bits of the non-zero operand:


Similarly, if the most-significant bits of the shift-amount of a shift operation are zero the shift amount can be narrowed.

Comparison operations

Leading and trailing bits can be stripped from the operands of comparison operations if these bits do not affect the result of the comparison. For unsigned comparisons, leading and trailing bits which are identical between the two operands can be stripped which narrows the comparison and reduces the cost of the operation.

Signed comparison are more complicated to handle because the sign bit (most-signicant bit) affects the interpretation of the value of the remaining bits. Stripping leading bits must preserve the sign bit of the operand.

Strength Reductions

Arithmetic Comparison Strength Reductions

When arithmetic comparisons occur with respect to constant values, comparisons which are be arithmetic in the general case may be strength reduced to more boolean-analyzeable patterns; for example, comparison with mask constants:

u4:0bwxyz > u4:0b0011

Can be strength reduced -- for the left hand side to be greater one of the wx bits must be set, so we can simply replace this with an or-reduction of wx. Similarly, a trailing-bit and-reduce is possible for less-than comparisons.

NOTE These examples highlight a set of optimizations that are not applicable (profitable) on traditional CPUs: the ability to use bit slice values below what we'd traditionally think of as a fundamental comparison "instruction", which would nominally take a single cycle.

"Simple" Boolean Simplification

NOTE This optimization is a prelude to a more general optimization we expect to come in the near future that is based on Binary Decision Diagrams. It is documented largely as a historical note of an early / simple optimization approach.

With the addition of the one_hot_select and its corresponding optimizations, a larger amount of boolean logic appears in XLS' optimized graphs (e.g. or-ing together bits in the selector to eliminate duplicate one_hot_select operands). Un-simplified boolean operations compound their delay on the critical path; with the process independent constant $$\tau$$ a single bit or might be $$6\tau$$, which is just to say that having lots of dependent or operations can meaningfully add up in the delay estimation for the critical path. If we can simplify several layers of boolean operations into one operation (say, perhaps with inputs optionally inverted) we could save a meaningful number of tau versus a series of dependent boolean operations.

For a simple approach to boolean simplification:

  • The number of parameters to the boolean function is limited to three inputs
  • The truth table is computed for the aggregate boolean function by flowing input bit vectors through all the boolean operation nodes.
  • The result bit vectors on the output frontier are matched the resulting truth table from the flow against one of our standard operations (perhaps with the input operands inverted).

The algorithm starts by giving x and y their vectors (columns) from the truth table, enumerating all possible bit combinations for those operands. For example, consider two operands and a (bitwise) boolean function, the following is the truth table:

X Y | X+~Y
0 0 |  1
0 1 |  0
1 0 |  1
1 1 |  1

Each column in this table is a representation of the possibilities for a node in the graph to take on, as a vector. After giving the vector [0, 0, 1, 1] to the first input node (which is arbitrarily called X) and the vector [0, 1, 0, 1] to the second input node (which is arbitrarily called Y), and flowing those bit vectors through a network of boolean operations, if you wind up with a vector [1, 0, 1, 1] at the end, it is sound to replace that whole network with the expression X+~Y. Similarly, if the algorithm arrived at the vector [1, 1, 1, 1] at the end of the network, you could replace the result with a literal 1, because it has been proven for all input operand possiblities the result is always 1 in every bit. Effectively, this method works by brute force enumerating all the possibilities for input bits and operating on all of those possibilities at the same time. In the end, the algorithm arrives at a composite boolean function that can be pattern matched against XLS's set of "simple boolean functions".

In the following example there are two nodes on the "input frontier" for the boolean operations (sub and add, which we "rename" to x and y for the purposes of analysis).

Two-Input Boolean Simplification{style="display:block;margin:auto;width:75%"}

As shown in the picture, the algorithm starts flowing the bit vector, which represents all possible input values for x and y. You can see that the not which produces $$\bar{x}$$ (marked with a red star) simply inverts all the entries in the vector and corresponds to the $$\bar{x}$$ column in the truth table. Similarly the and operation joins the two vector with the binary & operation, and finally we end up with the blue-starred bit vector on the "output frontier", feeding the dependent one_hot_select (marked as ohs in the diagram).

When we resolve that final result bit vector with the blue star against our table of known function substitutions, we see that the final result can be replaced with a node that is simply or(x, y), saving two unnecessary levels of logic, and reducing the critical path delay in this example from something like $$13\tau$$ to something like $$6\tau$$.

This basic procedure is then extended to permit three variables on the input frontier to the boolean expression nodes, and the "known function" table is extended to include all of our supported logical operators (i.e. nand, nor, xor, and, or) with bit vectors for all combinations of inputs being present, and when present, either asserted, or their inversions (e.g. we can find $$nand(\bar{X}, Y)$$ even though X is inverted).

Bit-slice optimizations

Bit-slice operations narrow values by selecting a contiguous subset of bits from their operand. Bit-slices are zero-cost operations as no computation is performed. However, optimization of bit-slices can be beneficial as bit-slices can interfere with optimizations and hoisting bit-slices can narrow other operations reducing their computation cost.

Slicing sign-extended values

A bit-slice of a sign-extended value is a widening operation followed by a narrowing operation and can be optimized. The details of the transformation depends upon relative position of the slice and the sign bit of the original value. Let sssssssXXXXXXXX be the sign-extended value where s is the sign bit and X represents the bits of the original value. There are three possible cases:

  1. Slice is entirely within the sign-extend operand.


    Transformation: replace the bit-slice of the sign-extended value with a bit-slice of the original value.

  2. Slice spans the sign bit of the sign-extend operand.


    Transformation: slice the most significant bits from the original value and sign-extend the result.

  3. Slice is entirely within the sign-extended bits.


    Transformation: slice the sign bit from the original value and sign-extend it.

To avoid introducing additional sign-extension operations cases (2) and (3) should only be performed if the bit-slice is the only user of the sign-extension.

Concat optimizations

Concat (short for concatenation) operations join their operands into a single word. Like BitSlices, Concat operations have no cost since since they simply create a new label to refer to a set of bits, performing no actual computation. However, Concat optimizations can still provide benefit by reducing the number of IR nodes (increases human readability) or by refactoring the IR in a way that allows other optimizations to be applied. Several Concat optimizations involve hoisting an operation on one or more Cocnats to above the Concat such that the operation is applied on the Concat operands directly. This may provide opportunities for optimization by bringing operations which actually perform logic closer to other operations performing logic.

Hoisting a reverse above a concat

A Reverse operation reverses the order of the bits of the input operand. If a Concat is reversed and the Concat has no other consumers except for reduction operations (which are not sensitive to bit order), we hoist the Reverse above the Concat. In the modified IR, the Concat input operands are Reverse'd and then concatenated in reverse order, e.g. :

Reverse(Concat(a, b, c))
=> Concat(Reverse(c), Reverse(b), Reverse(a))

Hoisting a bitwise operation above a concat

If the output of multiple Concat operations are combined with a bitwise operation, the bitwise operation is hoisted above the Concats. In the modified IR, we have a single Concat whose operands are bitwise'd BitSlices of the original Concats, e.g. :

Or(Concat(A, B), Concat(C, D)), where A,B,C, and D are 1-bit values
=> Concat(Or(Concat(A, B)[1], Concat(C, D)[1]), Or(Concat(A, B)[0], Concat(C, D)[0]))

In the case that an added BitSlice exactly aligns with an original Concat operand, other optimizations (bit slice simplification, constant folding, dead code elimination) will replace the BitSlice with the operand, e.g. for the above example:

=> Concat(Or(A, C), Or(B, D))

Merging consecutive bit-slices

If consecutive Concat operands are consecutive BitSlices, we create a new, merged BitSlice spanning the range of the consecutive BitSlices. Then, we create a new Concat that includes this BitSlice as an operand, e.g.

Concat(A[3:2], A[1:0], B)
=> Concat(A[3:0], B)

This optimization is sometimes helpful and sometimes harmful, e.g. in the case that there are other consumers of the original BitSlices, we may only end up adding more IR nodes since the original BitSlices will not be removed by DCE once they are replaced in the Concat. Some adjustments might be able to help with this issue. An initial attempt at this limited the application of this optimization to cases where the givenConcat is the only consumer of the consecutive BitSlices. This limited the more harmful applications of this optimization, but also reduced instances in which the optimization was beneficially applied (e.g. the same consecutive BitSlices could be merged in multiple Concats).

Select optimizations

XLS supports two types of select operations:

  1. Select (opcode Op::kSel) is a traditional multiplexer. An n-bit binary-encoded selector chooses among 2**n inputs.

  2. OneHotSelect (opcode Op::kOneHotSel) has one bit in the selector for each input. The output of the operation is equal to the logical-or reduction of the inputs corresponding to the set bits of the selector. Generally, a OneHotSelect is lower latency and area than a Select as a Select is effectively a decode operation followed by a OneHotSelect.

Converting chains of Selects to into a single OneHotSelect

A linear chain of binary Select operations may be produced by the front end to select amongst a number of different values. This is equivalent to nested ternary operators in C++.


A chain of Selects has high latency, but latency may be reduced by converting the Select chain into a single OneHotSelect. This may only be performed if the single-bit selectors of the Select instructions are one-hot (at most one selector is set at one time). In this case, the single-bit Select selectors are concatenated together to produce the selector for the one hot.


This effectively turns a serial operation into a lower latency parallel one. If the selectors of the original Select instructions can be all zero (but still at most one selector is asserted) the transformation is slightly modified. An additional selector which is the logical NOR of all of the original Select selector bits is appended to the OneHotSelect selector and the respective case is the value selected when all selector bits are zero (case_0 in the diagram).

Specializing select arms

Within any given arm of a Select multiplexer, we can assume that the selector has the specific value required to select that arm. This assumption is safe because in the event that the selector has a different value, the arm is dead.


This makes it possible to try specialize the arms based on the selector value. In the above example, a LHS of Selector + x could be simplified to 0 + x.

The current optimization simply substitutes any usages of the selector in a Select arm with its known value in that arm. Future improvements could use range based analysis or other techniques to narrow down the possible values of any variables within the selector, and use that information to optimize the select arms.

Consecutive selects with identical selectors

Two consecutive two-way selects which use the same selector can be compacted into a single select statement. The selector only has two states so only two of the three different cases may be selected. The third is dead. Visually, the transformation looks like:


The specific cases which remain in the new select instruction depends on whether the upper select feeds the true or false input of the lower select.

Binary Decision Diagram based optimizations

A binary decision diagram (BDD) is a data structure that can represent arbitrary boolean expressions. Properties of the BDD enable easy determination of relationships between different expressions (equality, implication, etc.) which makes them useful for optimization and analysis

BDD common subexpression elimination

Determining whether two expression are equivalent is trivial using BDDs. This can be used to identify operations in the graph which produce identical results. BDD CSE is an optimization pass which commons these equivalent operations.

OneHot MSB elimination

A OneHot instruction returns a bitmask with exactly one bit equal to 1. If the input is not all-0 bits, this is the first 1 bit encountered in the input going from least to most significant bit or vice-versa depending on the priority specified. If the input is all-0 bits, the most significant bit of the OneHot output is set to 1. The semantics of OneHot are described in detail here. If the MSB of a OneHot does not affect the functionality of a program, we replace the MSB with a 0-bit, e.g.

OneHot(A) such that the MSB has no effect
⇒ Concat(0, OneHot(A)[all bits except MSB]))

This can open up opportunities for further optimization. To determine if a OneHot’s MSB has any effect on a function, we iterate over the OneHot’s post-dominators. We use the BDD to test if setting the OneHot’s MSB to 0 or to 1 (other bits are 0 in both cases) implies the same value for the post-dominator node. If so, we know the value of the MSB cannot possibly affect the function output, so the MSB can safely be replaced with a 0 bit. Note: This approach assumes that IR nodes do not have any side effects. When IR nodes with side effects are introduced (i.e. channels) the analysis for this optimization will have to be adjusted slightly to account for this.

Traditional compiler optimizations

Many optimizations from traditional compilers targeting CPUs also apply to the optimization of hardware. Common objectives of traditional compiler optimizations include exposing parallelism, reducing latency, and eliminating instructions. Often these translate directly into the primary objectives of hardware optimization of reducing delay and area.

Common Subexpression Elimination (CSE)

TODO: Finish.

Constant Folding

TODO: Finish.

Dead Code Elimination (DCE)

TODO: Finish.


Reassociation in XLS uses the associative and commutative property of arithmetic operations (such as adds and multiplies) to rearrange expressions of identical operations to minimize delay and area. Delay is reduced by transforming chains of operations into balanced trees which reduces the critical-path delay. For example, given the following expression:


This can be reassociated into the following balanced tree:


The transformation has reduced the critical path through the expression from three adds down to two adds.

Reassociation can also create opportunities for constant folding. If an expression contains multiple literal values (constants) the expressions can be reassociated to gather literals into the same subepxression which can then be folded. Generally this requires the operation to be commutative as well as associative. For example, given the following expression:


This can be reassociated into:


The right-most add of the two literals can be folded reducing the number of adds in the expression to two.