Temporal Runtime...: This is a specialized on-chip microcontroller/SoC component for performing runtime monitoring of temporal logic formulas.

Clone this repo:


  1. 347543e final gds oasis by Jeff DiCorpo · 1 year, 3 months ago main
  2. eab2e00 MPW-6 Update by Ruediger Ehlers · 1 year, 10 months ago
  3. aa67994 Merge tag 'mpw-6b' by Ruediger Ehlers · 1 year, 10 months ago
  4. 52a2396 Update Makefile by Jeff DiCorpo · 1 year, 10 months ago
  5. c50bc54 Update Makefile by Jeff DiCorpo · 1 year, 10 months ago

Caravel User Project


Short description

This project implements a runtime monitoring component for the Caravel SoC that is capable of monitoring a temporal logic safety property. The component has two SRAM blocks for storing its configuration (1 kB and 2 kB each) and implements a lookup table-based approach to monitoring a reactive system for the satisfaction of a given specification, as described below.

Longer description

Many modern reactive systems, such as those implemented using microcontrollers or system on chips (SoC) need to be behave correctly in all situations in order for them to be usable. It not always possible to verify the implementation of a reactive system upfront before its deployment. The research area of runtime verification deals with approaches to detect specification violations at runtime, so that they can at least be detected after deployment of the reactive system. With a reported specification violation, the system's implementation can then be revised or the system can switch to a fail-safe mode.

Runtime verification techniques typically need to be lightweight, i.e., they should not slow down the monitored system too much. Especially for monitoring temporal specifications that describe how the system evolves and reacts over time, implementing efficient monitors is far from trivial. Such specification can for example be given in linear temporal logic (LTL). Previous approaches to monitoring such specifications have mostly relied on either:

  1. using a real-time operating system (RTOS) with a separate monitoring process for which the input is buffered and that is scheduled from time to time,
  2. using an external FPGA chip that observes the monitored system's behavior by computing runs of an automaton whose runs encode the ways in which a specification can be violated, or
  3. augmenting the microcontroller code with instructions that simulate the possible runs of an automaton whose runs encode the ways in which a specification can be violated.

Solution 1 is mostly suitable for bigger embedded systems that actually employ real-time operating systems, and it requires a careful selection of what exactly is monitored in order for the monitoring process not to require too much computation time. Solution 2 is quite expensive, as the FPGA chip can be more costly than the microcontroller/SoC being monitored. In solution 3, the overhead due to the added instructions can be quite substantial.

A specialized runtime monitoring component for microcontrollers, as implemented in this repository, can help to reduce monitoring overhead. Once programmed, the component performs the monitoring process on its own, while the microcontroller/SoC only needs to send the elements of the system execution to be monitored to the component by writing to one of its control registers via the bus connecting the SoC core and the monitoring component.

Starting point

The type of monitoring that we consider is temporal monitoring over words of unbounded length, where each character in a word is an assignment of Boolean values to a fixed number of bits. The words represent the evolution of the system's observable state over time, and the characters represent the states at each time instant. Normally, only the part of the state that is relevant for the system properties to be monitored is included in the characters.

This is also the setting used when performing runtime monitoring for linear temporal logic (LTL), but knowledge of LTL is not needed for the following description.

Introducing the running example

Let us consider a simple traffic light. It has three lights: a red one, a yellow one, and a green one. Each of these can be switched on or off at any point in time. We want to monitor that the evolution of the lights' values over time is reasonable. The specification to be monitored can consist of multiple parts, some of which may be:

  • Whenever a red light is lit, then no green light can be lit later without the yellow light being lit before.
  • The red and green lights are never lit at the very same time.

Variables that can have values of “true” and “false” are also called propositions in the field of mathematical logic, and we will use this term henceforth. Both specification parts can also be represented as a non-deterministic automaton over finite words that accepts all words that violate the property. The automaton for the second property looks as follows:

graph LR
    Initial --true--> Initial;
    Initial --r & g--> Failure;
    Failure((Failure)) --true--> Failure((Failure));

The state of the red light at a state of the system is referred to by the proposition “r”, while the propositions “y” and “g” represent the states of the yellow and green lights, respectively. Here, and henceforth, the accepting states are depicted by round graph nodes, and the initial state is marked with the name “Initial”. Note that the “Failure” state is reachable once a character has been seen for which the Boolean formula “r & g” holds, where “&” represents logical conjunction. The failure state also has a self-loop, so that it is never left along a run of the automaton once reached.

This ensures that if a monitor keeps track of in which state a run of the automaton can be when reading the input word, the failure state is never left when the word monitored contains a character on which both r and g hold at the same time.

When more complicated properties are being monitored, more states are needed. For instance, the first of the two properties above can be represented as the linear temporal logic formula “G(r -> X ((g & !r) R !y))”. This can be read as “It globally holds that whenever r is true, then starting from the next character, propositions y is false until possibly eventually proposition y is false while proposition g is true”.

Translating a formula in LTL that is a so-called safety property (explained here) to a non-deterministic automaton accepting the prefix words that witness the violation of a specification is a solved problem in the field of formal methods. A safety property is one for which every word not satisfying it has a finite prefix all of whose extensions violate the property. Note that this definition only makes sense when assuming that the execution of a system is infinitely long by abstracting from the detail that every reactive system is eventually be switched off.

We henceforth consider the monitoring problem for non-deterministic automata accepting the prefix words that witness the violation of a specification.

Classical circuit-based monitoring

Tracing in which state a finite automaton observing the execution of a system can be can is possible by encoding the tracing problem as a circuit. The circuit has some registers that store which states are reachable for the prefix execution observed so far, and the register content is updated whenever a new valuation to the propositions is read. Such a circuit could in principle be mapped to an FPGA implementation of the monitor.

Circuit encoding of the running example

Let us now consider a slightly more complex version of the example above in which both specification parts are monitored. A corresponding automaton for the bad prefixes of the specification could look as follows:

graph LR
    Initial --true--> Initial;
    Initial --r & g--> Failure;
    Initial --r-->Observe;
    Observe --!y-->Observe;
    Observe --g-->Failure;
    Failure((Failure)) --true--> Failure((Failure));

We now have three states. State “Initial” is the only one initially reached. Afterwards, state “Observe” is reached whenever either:

  • a character is read on which “r” holds and for which “Initial” was reached by some run of the automaton for the part of the prefix until then, or
  • a character is read on which “y” holds and previously, a run was already in “Observe”.

More generally, for each automaton, we can represent in which states a run can be in after the next character based on the states in which a run can be in for the prefix word before the character and the character itself. For this automaton, we can represent all computations that have to be performed whenever a character of the execution is processed as:

Initial' = Initial;
Observe' = (Initial & r) | (Observe & !y);
Failure' = (Initial & r & g) | (Observe & g);

The dashed variables represent the next values after reading a character. It can be seen that this state update is easy to represent as a circuit, which makes implementing the monitor in the form of an FPGA easy. When performing these computations in a microprocessor, a lot of AND, OR, and NOT operations have to be performed for each character. For bigger monitor automata, the monitoring effort can easily raise to >1000 clock cycles per character, which is a substantial overhead.

Using Lookup Tables

To reduce the number of AND, NOT, and OR operations needed to perform the state update computation, lookup tables can be used. For a table lookup for the above scenario, an index can be computed from the last values for Initial, Observe, Failure, and the next values of r, y, and g. A table lookup then yields the respective next values for Initial, Observe, and Failure. Such a lookup table would need 64 entries in this case, which is not too much. For more complex specification automata, the tables can however grow very large, so that the available space in a microcontroller memory would often not suffice.

Using Partitioned Lookup Tables

The idea to use lookup tables to speed up computation can still be used for more complex monitors by not using a monolithic lookup table, but rather a couple of smaller lookup tables. We introduce this idea by means of an example, where we go straight to a Boolean formula form of the monitor.

Let the specification to monitor be that when observing the execution of a traffic light controller, we never see a yellow light without a red light at the same time exactly 16 steps after we had yellow+red lights lit together. We can implement this specification by a chain of variables that together track in which of the last 15 steps red+yellow lights were lit at the same time:

Initial' = Initial;
History1' = (Initial & r & y);
History2' = History1;
History3' = History2;
History4' = History3;
History5' = History4;
History6' = History5;
History7' = History6;
History8' = History7;
History9' = History8;
History10' = History9;
History11' = History10;
History12' = History11;
History13' = History12;
History14' = History13;
History15' = History14;
Failure' = Failure | (History15 & y & !r);

A lookup table for the next state of the monitor in this case needs 2^16*2^3 many entries with 16 bits each. This is too large for typical microcontroller memory sizes. We can however split the big table lookup into four smaller tables:

Initial' = Initial;
History1' = (Initial & r & y);
History2' = History1;
History3' = History2;
History4' = History3;
History5' = History4;
History6' = History5;
History7' = History6;
History8' = History7;
History9' = History8;
History10' = History9;
History11' = History10;
History12' = History11;
History13' = History12;
History14' = History13;
History15' = History14;
Failure' = Failure | (History15 & y & !r);

Here, the lookup tables only need 2^3*2^3, 2^4, 2^5, and 2^7 entries, respectively, which is much less even after summing up these entry numbers.

A monitoring component for partitioned lookup tables.

The monitoring component from this repository implements a monitoring process for partitioned lookup tables, where only eight clock cycles are needed per table lookup. The component has a 64 bit state register that keeps track of in which states a monitoring automaton can be for the prefix execution observed so far.

When new proposition values are written, the most significant bits of the state register are overwritten with the proposition values (for a number of propositions that is rounded up to a multiple of 4). Then, the component iterates through the lookup tables. For every lookup table, the component performs the following steps (together called one monitoring cycle henceforth):

  1. First, it gathers the input bits needed for a table lookup using a “bit extract” operation (BEXT) using a mask provided for the respective lookup table.
  2. Then, a table lookup is performed.
  3. While the table lookup is in action, the component performs a second bit extract operation in which the state register is compressed by removing bits that are no longer needed for finishing the monitoring cycles for all lookup tables.
  4. Finally, the most significant bits of the state register are overwritten by the result of the table lookup.

All bit masks, starting addresses for the lookup tables, and lookup table entry sizes reside in a 1 Kilobyte SRAM in the monitoring component. For the lookup tables, there is a separate 2 Kilobyte SRAM. Lookup table entries can be 4,8, or 16 bits wide.

Using the monitoring component

The monitoring component has been designed for the use case that it is not programmed directly, but rather the engineer programming a SoC employing the component uses a compiler to generate the content of the SRAMs of the component.

The compiler can be found on Github and is licensed under GPLv3. It takes specification files that are already in the form of Boolean formulas to be computed as input:

STATES a b c
PROPOSITIONS x y z x2 y2 z2
LET tmp | x a
LET u tmp
LET v ^ y b
LET a' u
LET b' ^ v a
LET c' & u v

The first line in such an input file must always provide the names of the non-temporary variables to track. Since these normally refer to states in a monitor automaton, the line starts with “STATES”. The initial values of these variables are given in the next line (normally used for marking which states in the monitoring automaton are initial states). Afterwards, the names of the propositions of the characters comprising the word/execution to be monitored follow (starting with the bit that is provided as least significant bit whenever the monitor receives a character).

The lines after the first three lines describe what is computed with the lookup tables. The tables are separated by NEWBLOCK lines. All lines between are of the form LET <TargetVariable> <Boolean Expression>, where <TargetVariable> is a variable into which the result of evaluating the Boolean expression is to be stored. The Boolean formula is given in Polish notation (with the operators being given before the operands).

Variables with a ' at the end have a special meaning -- they describe the next values of the state variables.

The next state variables need to be defined in the order in which they are declared, but not necessarily all in the same lookup table. If needed, the declared variables have to be reordered. The compiler does not currently do this automatically.

Starting from such a monitor description, the monitor compiler performs the following tasks:

  • It tracks which variables are still needed after each table lookup and makes sure that during a step of the monitor execution, only state bits are retained that are still needed. This also means that temporary variables that are only used within a lookup table do not actually consume space in the monitor state bits.
  • It computes the data to be stored in both monitor SRAMs to implement the monitoring task.
  • It checks that at no point during the computation, the number of state bits needed exceeds the available capacity.
  • It takes into account that proposition bits are reordered nibble-wise by the monitor to reduce the complexity of the monitor component.
  • It checks that the SRAM contents are not too big to fit into 1 kB or 2 kB, respectively.
  • It computes the needed initial control register values.
  • It emits C code that can be executed on the Caravel SoC (after compiling it) that configures the monitoring component on the SoC.

The generated code for this example looks as follows:

const uint32_t monitoringLookupTables[] = {0x33113210,0x11331032,0x57023120};
const uint32_t monitoringMaskTable[] = {0x3,0x30000000,0x1,0x0,
const uint32_t monitoringControlInfo[] = {0x80108000,0x0000c000};
void resetMonitor() {
	*((volatile uint32_t*)(0x30020008)) = 0x2;
	*((volatile uint32_t*)(0x3002000C)) = 0x0;

void initMonitor() {
	// Fill lookup table memory
	for (unsigned int i=0;i<12;i+=4) {
		*((volatile uint32_t*)(0x30010000+i)) = monitoringLookupTables[i>>2];
	// Fill mask table
	for (unsigned int i=0;i<12;i++) {
		*((volatile uint32_t*)(0x30000000+4*i)) = monitoringMaskTable[i];
	// Fill control information part
	for (unsigned int i=0;i<2;i++) {
		*((volatile uint32_t*)(0x30000000+1024-4-4*i)) = monitoringControlInfo[i];
	// Set control register
	*((volatile uint32_t*)(0x30020000)) = 2 /*Nof last block*/ + (0 << 6) /*current block*/;
	// Trigger cycle to fill buffers
	*((volatile uint32_t*)(0x30020004)) = 0;

void monitorStep(uint32_t data) {
	*((volatile uint32_t*)(0x30020004)) = data;

The arrays at the beginning of the generated code define:

  • The content of the lookup tables (placed in the 2 kB SRAM)
  • The table with the bit selections for table lookup and the state register bits retained in each cycle of the monitor (placed at the beginning of the 1 kB SRAM)
  • The table with the lookup addresses and table entry sizes of the lookup tables (placed at the end of the 1 kB SRAM)

The functions afterwards are used by the program to be monitored:

  • Function ``initMonitor'' initializes the monitor. It copies the monitor configuration into its SRAMs, programs the monitoring component's main control register, triggers filling an internal buffer of the monitor component, and finally programs the reached states of the encoded automaton to the initial ones.
  • Function ``resetMonitor'' sets the monitor back to its initial state.

There is currently no explicit function for reading the state of the monitor. This is because in most applications, normally not the complete state bits are read back by the application. Only the bit referring to the automaton's error/failure state is normally needed. The first 32 state bits can be accessed by reading from *((volatile uint32_t*)(0x30020008)), the second 32 state bits can be found at *((volatile uint32_t*)(0x3002000C)).

Note that the actual number of lookup tables in the output of the monitor compiler is always one higher than the number of lookup tables declared. This is because at the end of the process, all bits no longer needed need to be filtered out, which is done in another cycle of the monitor.

Also note that the monitor compiler currently only performs some basic optimizations. For instance, sometimes one lookup table can end with the same data as the next lookup table starts. In this case, they can share some space in the 2 kB SRAM, but the current version of the monitor compiler cannot make use of this fact.

Technical documentation

The monitor component interfaces with the rest of the Caravel SoC by the Wishbone bus of the SOC. The following registers and RAMS are exposed in the address space:

  • 0x30000000 - 0x300003FF: The 1 kB SRAM for the bitmasks and the lookup table addresses for each lookup table
  • 0x30010000 - 0x300007FF: The 2 kB SRAM for the lookup tables
  • 0x30020000: The main control register, containing the following bits:
    • Bit 31 represents whether a monitoring cycle is currently active. Because read access to this register will be stalled while the cycle is active, this bit cannot actually be observed to have a value of “1” by the SoC core.
    • Bits 18-20 represent the number of nibbles (4 bits) used for atomic propositions. Each nibble reduces the number of bits in the state register usable for state bits by 4.
    • Bits 12-14 represent the current position in the monitoring cycle consisting of 8 clock cycles that is executed once per lookup table. Because access to this register is stalled while a monitoring cycle is running, these bits cannot be observed to have a value other than 0.
    • Bits 6-11 represent the number of the lookup table used for the current monitoring cycle, or the number of the next lookup table to be used in case no cycle is currently active.
    • Bits 0-5 represent the overall number of lookup tables used in the monitor.
  • 0x30020004: This is the address that the atomic proposition values of the next character of the monitored execution are written to
  • 0x30020008: Lower 32 bits of the state register
  • 0x3002000C: Upper 32 bits of the state register

The SRAMs can be both written to and read from, so that parts of the SRAMs not used for the monitor information can be used for other purposes. The 2 kByte SRAM can also be accessed while a monitoring cycle is running.

Authors of the monitor component

  • Ruediger Ehlers - My e-mail address can be found on my academic web page, which is easy to google, or my personal web-page, which can be found at http://forename-lastname.de.

Ideas incorporated and submodules used

The monitoring component uses the BEXTDEP Verilog modules for bit extraction by Claire Wolf, available under the ISC License.

All SRAM output is read by a buffer in the monitoring component, which is an aspect whose implementation has been taken from the OpenSRAM test project by the following authors:

  • Jesse Cirimeli-Low
  • Amogh Lonkar
  • Matthew Guthaus

The names of some macro instantiations and some registers have also been taken from that project.