Fade - Light L3 Ethernet protocol for transmission of data from FPGA to embedded PC :: Overview

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Name: fade_ether_protocol
Created: Dec 14, 2012
Updated: Sep 11, 2015
SVN Updated: Jan 22, 2017
SVN: Browse
Latest version: download
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Other project properties

Category: Communication controller
Language: VHDL
Development status: Beta
Additional info: FPGA proven
WishBone Compliant: No
License: Others


This project implements the simple and light protocol for transmission of data from low resources FPGA connected to the Ethernet PHY and an embedded system running Linux OS. The main goal was to assure the reliable transmission over unreliable Ethernet link without need to buffer significant amount of data in the FPGA. This created a need to obtain possibly early acknowledgment of received packets from the embedded system, and therefore the protocol had to be implemented in layer 3.
The Ethernet type 0xfade was used (unregistered, but as this protocol should be used only in a small private networks, without routers, with switches only, it should not be a problem).
We assume, that the FPGA is capable to store one "set" of packets (in the example design length of this set is equal to 32). To start the transmission, receiver sends the "start transmission" packet:

TGT,SRC,0xfade,0x0001,pad to 64 bytes

After reception of the "start transmission" packet, the transmitter (FPGA) starts to send the data packets:

TGT,SRC,0xfade,0xa5a5,set & packet number, delay, 1024 bytes of data

After reception of the correct data packet, the receiver sends the "acknowledge" packet:

TGT,SRC,0xfade,0x0003,set & packet number, pad to 64 bytes

Another packet may be used to request immediate stop of transmission:

TGT,SRC,0xfade,0x0005, pad to 64 bytes

When first packets from the current set buffered in FPGA are transmitted and acknowledged, they may be replaced with the packets from the next set - the current state of transmission is stored in desc_memory in the desc_manager entity.

When particular packet is not acknowledged, it is transmitted once again. In current example design each packet has simple attributes:
  1. set number
  2. valid (ready to be sent)
  3. sent (has been sent at least once - used for delay adaptation)
  4. confirmed (reception has been confirmed, packet may be replaced with the same packet from the next set)
List of packets is cyclically browsed to move the "head" and "tail" pointers.
If the data packets are sent too quickly, the acknowledge packets from the embedded system are received too late, and the packet is retransmitted before acknowledge arrives. The same may occur if the embedded system is overloaded with packets from different slaves and drops some packets.
Therefore paradoxically resending of packets as soon as possible does not provide the maximal throughput, and a delay between packets must be introduced.
Of course if this delay is too big, the transmission also slows down. To find the optimal delay, I have implemented a simple adaptive algorithm based on analysis of the ratio between number of all sent packets and of retransmitted packets: Nretr/Nall
If the data packets are sent too quickly, the ratio of Nretr/Nall increases indicating, that the delay should be higher.
If the ratio Nretr/Nall is near to 0, we may reduce the delay. Such a simple algorithm works quite satisfactory.

In the embedded system, the fpga_l3_fade.ko driver allows you to service multiple FPGA slaves connected to different network interfaces.
The "max_slaves" parameter lets you to set the maximum number of slaves, when module is loaded.

After that, you can open /dev/l3_fpga0, /dev/l3_fpga1 ... devices, to connect different slaves. To connect one of those devices to particular FPGA slave, you need to use the ioctl command L3_V1_IOC_STARTMAC (please see the attached receiver2.c application for an example).
The data received from the FPGA are placed in a kernel buffer (each subdevice has its own buffer) which may be mmapped to the user space application, providing very quick access to the data. Another ioctl commands: L3_V1_IOC_READPTRS and L3_V1_IOC_WRITEPTRS allow you to read the head and tail pointers in this buffer and to confirm reception of data. The attached receiver2.c application uses the described mechanisms and simply tests, if the connected FPGA slave sends consecutive 32-bit integers.

The project is also hosted at my website:
Description of the project is also available at
The updated description is published in the article:


The published sources are "the first iteration". They work for me, but I do not provide any warranty. You can use it only on your own risk!


  1. My kernel driver is released under the GPL license
  2. My user space application is public domain
  3. My FPGA code is published with BSD license
  4. The core kept in FPGA_with_MAC directory includes also very slightly modified Ethernet MAC,ethernet_tri_mode which is published under LGPL. (The core located in the FPGA_no_MAC directory does not use MAC core, the Ethernet PHY is controlled directly by simple state machines.)
  5. Due to licensing issues I can include only xco files for blocks generated by Xilinx tools


My sources have been tested with three boards: SP601, Atlys and Spartan-3E Starter Kit. In the FPGA_with_MAC and FPGA_no_MAC subdirectories there are three subdirectories: sp601, atlys and sk3e. In each of those subdirectories there is the "" script, which should recreate the .bit file needed to configure particular board.


In the directory experimental_jumbo_frames_version you can find the experimental version of my protocol, working with the 10Gb/s link on the KC705 board and with 1Gb/s link on the Atlys board. It uses longer "jumbo frames" with 8192 bytes of user data to transmit data from the FPGA. The high speed operation has exposed serious disadvantages of the previous implementation. E.g. the concept of "sets" of packets has been dropped, and instead packets are sequentially (modulo 2^32) numbered in the data stream.
Additionally a possibility to send user defined commands (16-bit command code, 32-bit command argument, 12-bytes return value (with 8 bytes defined by the user)) to the FPGA.
The design has been initially tested, and is working.
It is described in more details in my paper Low latency protocol for transmission of measurement data from FPGA to Linux computer via 10 Gbps Ethernet link published in Journal of Instrumentation.

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