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VHDL (VHSIC-HDL, Very High-Speed Integrated Circuit Hardware Description Language) is a hardware description language used in electronic des...

Saturday 29 December 2012


Complete Definition:

A function call is a subprogram of the form of an expression that returns a value.

Simplified Syntax

function function_name (parameters) return type;

function function_name (parameters) return type is



     sequential statements

end function function_name;


The function is a subprogram that either defines an algorithm for computing values or describes a behavior. The important feature of functions is that they are used as expressions that return values of specified type. This is the main difference from another type of subprograms: procedures, which are used as statements.

The result returned by a function can be of either scalar or complex type.

Functions can be either pure (which is default) or impure. Pure functions always return the same value for the same set of actual parameters. Impure functions may return different values for the same set of parameters. Additionally, an impure function may have „side effects”, like updating objects outside of their scope, which is not allowed for pure functions.

The function definition consists of two parts:

· function declaration, which consists of name, parameter list and type of the values returned by the function;

· function body, which contains local declarations of nested subprograms, types, constants, variables, files, aliases, attributes and groups, as well as sequence of statements specifying the algorithm performed by the function.

The function declaration is optional and function body, which contains a copy of it, is sufficient for correct specification. However, if a function declaration exists, the function bodydeclaration must appear in the given scope.


The function declaration can be preceded by an optional reserved word pure or impure, denoting the character of the function. If the reserved word is omitted it is assumed by default that the function is pure.

The function name, which appears after the reserved word function, can be either an identifier or an operator symbol (if the function specifies the operator). Specification of new functions for existing operators is allowed in VHDL and is called operator overloading. See respective topic for details.

The parameters of the function are by definition inputs and therefore they do not need to have the mode (direction) explicitly specified. Only constants, signals and files can be function parameters. The object class is specified by a reserved word (constant, signal or file, respectively) preceding the parameter's name. If no reserved word is used, it is assumed by default that the parameter is a constant.

In case of signal parameters the attributes of the signal are passed into the function, except for 'STABLE, 'QUIET, 'TRANSACTION and 'DELAYED, which may not be accessed within the function.

If a file parameter is used, it is necessary to specify the type of the data appearing in the opened file.

Example 1 contains several examples of function declarations.


Function body contains a sequence of statements that specify the algorithm to be realized within the function. When the function is called, the sequence of statements is executed.

A function body consists of two parts: declarations and sequential statements. At the end of the function body, the reserved word end can be followed by an optional reserved wordfunction and the function name. Examples 2 through 4 illustrate the function bodies.


If a function is explicitly specified as an impure (which is denoted with the reserved word impure, preceding the function declaration) it may return different results in different calls even with the same parameters. See Example 5.


Example 1

type Int_Data is file of NATURAL;
function Func_1 (A,B,X: REAL) return REAL;
function "*" (a,b: Integer_new) return Integer_new;
function Add_Signals (signal In1,In2: REAL) return REAL;
function End_Of_File (file File_name: Int_Data) return BOOLEAN;

The first function above is called Func_1, it has three parameters A, B and X, all of REAL type and returns a value also of REAL type.

· The second function defines a new algorithm for executing multiplication. Note that the operator is enclosed in double quotes and plays the role of the function name.

· The third function is based on signals as input parameters, which is denoted by the reserved word signal preceding the parameters.

· The fourth function declaration is a part of the function checking for end of file, consisting of natural numbers. Note that the parameter list uses the Boolean type declaration.

Example 2

function Transcod_1(Value: in bit_vector(0 to 7)) return bit_vector is
   case Value is
     when "00000000" => return "01010101";
     when "01010101" => return "00000000";
     when others => return "11111111";
   end case;
end Transcod_1;

The case statement has been used to realize the function algorithm. The formal parameter appearing in the declaration part is the Value constant, which is a parameter of the Bit_vector type. This function returns a value of the same type.

Example 3

function Func_3 (constant A,B,X: real) return real is
   return A*X**2+B;
end Func_3;

The formal parameters: A, B and X are constants of the real type. The value returned by this function is a result of calculating the A*X**2+B expression and it is also of the real type.

Example 4

function Func_4 (constant A,B,Step,LeftB,RightB: in real) return real is
variable counter, max, temp: real;
counter:= LeftB;
max:=Func_3(A,B, counter);
     while counter <= RightB loop
temp:=Func_1(A,B, counter);
         if temp > max then
         end if;
counter := counter + Step;
     end loop L1;
   return max;
end Func_4;

The fourth example is much more complicated. It calculates the maximum value of the Func_1 function.

All the formal parameters are constants of the real type. When the function is called, the A and B values appearing in the function are passed, Step is a determinant of calculation correctness. The LeftB and RightB values define the range in which we search for the maximum value of the function.

Inside the function body are contained definitions of variables counter, max and temp. They are used in the simple algorithm, which calculates all the function values in a given range and storing the maximum value returned by the function.

Example 5

variable number: Integer := 0;
impure function Func_5 (A: Integer) return Integer is
variable counter: Integer;
counter := A * number;
number := number + 1;
   return counter;
end Func_5;

Func_ 5 is an impure function; its formal parameter A and returned value are constants of the integer type. When the function is invoked, output value depends on the variablenumber declared outside the function.

The number variable is additionally updated after each function call (it increases its value by 1). This variable affects the value calculated by the function, that is why the out function value is different for the same actual parameter value.

Important Notes

· Functions can be called recursively.

· Function body may not contain a wait statement or a signal assignment.

· Subprograms (functions and procedures) can be nested.

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