Tutorial 4 – Using Graphs for Optimization

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This tutorial is all about optimizing your code by looking at the flow of data. We do this by generating and analyzing graphs. When you start creating your own programs you’ll probably want to start introducing more concurrency to make better use of the parallel processing capabilities of the FPGA. The use of dataflow graphs for code optimization is an experimental feature. It’s quite a complex process but gives an interesting insight into how Reconfigure.io works. We’re currently working on automating this optimization stage, at which point, graph generation will no longer be part of our workflow.

What we will do

  • Talk about why graphs are useful
  • Look at the basic structure of our graphs, what the different node types represent
  • Generate a graph for a simple function that adds some numbers using a for loop
  • Identify ways to optimize that function, generate a new graph, and see the differences

Why use graphs?

Our compiler takes your code through several processes to get it into a suitable format for programming an FPGA. The first step is to convert it to a language called Teak.

Teak is a hardware description dataflow language, designed to be easily translated into other hardware description languages. What sets Teak apart from other forms is that it is displayed as a graph rather than a sequential list of instructions. In the Teak model, each node in the graph is an independent process operating on data flowing through the edges. What this gives us is a model of computation that is parallel by default, where sequential dependencies are expressed via dataflow. Teak graphs give us a representation of how our Go code will be translated onto the FPGA circuitry. This is very valuable because, at the two ends of the process, the solution looks very different.

So, our goal is to write concurrent Go code to take advantage of the FPGA’s parallel hardware, and we can use Teak graphs to identify where this parallelism can be increased by changing the way the original code is structured.

How are the graphs structured?

Teak graphs can be many pages long, with a page for each function used in your code. The complexity of each page depends on the complexity of the function. Here’s an example, it’s the graph for the axi/memory.WriteUInt32 function used in our addition example:


Dataflow representation of the axi/memory.WriteUInt32 function


reco graph gen will generate content for every function that reaches our compiler, so some pages in the output may be for functions you haven’t used.

There are various node types, which we will look at below, connected by lines of varying color. The black lines represent control circuits, stop, go etc., so there’s no data flowing there. The colored lines distinguish unique data widths.

Each node has ports for connectivity. Input ports are at the top and output ports at the bottom. Some node types will have multiple inputs or outputs depending on their function.

Node types

Operator – The most fundamental node type is the operator. As you might expect, it’s responsible for operating on data. Anywhere you would use an arithmetic or logical operator in Go, you can expect it to be represented as an operator node in Teak.


Latch – A latch is inserted in the Teak model to break up operations into manageable chunks for the FPGA circuitry. A latch introduces a 1 clock delay into the system. Latches hold data, allowing operators to pass data between each other.


Fork – A fork indicates a split in the circuit. Forks are important for concurrency, because they can pass data to two or more nodes at the same time.


Join – A join shows where data/control paths are synchronized and concatenated.


Steer – A steer takes a single input and sends to multiple outputs, choosing outputs is based on the input control value assigned to the data. They act as data-dependent de-multiplexers.


Merge – A merge multiplexes multiple, concurrent input data or control streams on a first-come-first-served basis.


Arbitrate – An arbiter uses a scheduling algorithm to decide the order it passes on its independent inputs.


Let’s get started

First, let’s check you’re using the latest version of our tutorial materials. Open a terminal and navigate to where you cloned your fork – $GOPATH/src/github.com/<your-github-username>/tutorials and run:

git describe --tags

If you have a version other than v0.4.0, please run

git fetch upstream
git pull upstream master
git checkout v0.4.0

So, we’re going to start with a simple example that could do with some optimization so you can see how it works. tutorials/bad-graph contains a single main.go file with just one function that takes an array of 8 integers and sums them together using a for loop:

package main

func main() {
    var array [8]int
    sum := 0
    for i := 0; i < 8; i++ {
        sum = array[i] + sum

Generate a graph

We can use reco to generate a graph for this function, but first we need to set a project to work within - all reco simulations, builds, deployments and graphs are associated with a project so you can easily find, list and view the various elements later. Open a terminal and navigate to tutorials/bad-graph. Create and set a project called graphs by running the following:

reco project create graphs
reco project set graphs

Now you can generate the graph for our bad example by running reco graph gen:

$ reco graph gen
preparing graph
done. Graph id: <graph_ID>
uploading ...

Graph submitted. Run 'reco graph list' to track the status of your graph
Once the graph has been completed run 'reco graph open <graph_ID>' to view it

Copy the unique graph ID to open the graph in your default PDF viewer:

reco graph open <graph_ID>

It should look like this:


Looking at the graph, you can see it’s pretty complex, there’s a lot going on. But if we simply try to trace the various branches from go (at the top) to done (middle, right hand side), you can see that some of the branches are long and have quite a few nodes, including several latches, which increase the time the whole thing takes. And due to the use of a for loop in the code, some of these branches are looping too.

A sign of good parallelism is when a graph is wide, with multiple unconnected operations appearing horizontally. So, in this example, the only really parallel bit is in the middle, which corresponds to where the array is accessed in the code:


If we used this code to program an FPGA, we would not be making good use of it’s parallelism. What we need to do is think of ways to change the original code to make better use of the parallel circuitry.

More parallelism

Taking away the for loop and summing the bits of the array together, in one go, is a good way to do this. Let’s try that, and see what the graph looks like.

The improved function is in tutorials/good-graph. Again there’s just a single main.go file in there containing one function:

package main

  func sumArray(array [8]int) int {
      val := array[0] + array[1] + array[2] + array[3] + array[4] + array[5] + array[6] + array[7]
      return val

Navigate to tutorials/good-graph and generate a new graph by running reco graph gen:

$ reco graph gen
preparing graph
done. Graph id: <graph_ID>
uploading ...

Graph submitted. Run 'reco graph list' to track the status of your graph
Once the graph has been completed run 'reco graph open <graph_ID>' to view it

Again, copy the unique graph ID to open the graph:

reco graph open <graph_ID>

As you can see, it’s a lot clearer what’s going on here. There is the short go to done journey on the left, representing the simple function, and the elements of the array are clearly being summed together as you look down the right hand side of the graph. Clarity is usually a good sign that the code is designed well for achieving a high degree of parallelism.

Optimizing your own code

Analyzing Teak dataflow graphs is complex. For this reason, we suggest that when it comes to optimizing your own code, you should break out small functions from your overall code to get a clearer picture of what’s going on. Taking the example from our coding style guide: if (a * b) + c is in an inner loop of your program, breaking it out into the function below will help you see its performance in isolation as it will appear as a separate page in the graph output:

func MultiplyAndAdd(a uint, b uint, c uint) uint {
   return (a * b) + c

Once you have optimized these smaller functions you can embed them back into your wider code to improve the overall parallelism of the program.

We have a section on our forum where you can post your own generated graphs to get optimization help from the Reconfigure.io team.