AuthorChristopher Felton

Introduction (Motivation)

Constrained 1 integer numbers, such as intbv, are the foundation for hardware development. But in some cases real numbers, numbers with fraction, are more appropriate. This is certainly true with digital signal processing applications. This document proposes a fixed-point bit-vector type, fixbv, to represent signed rational real numbers.

The fixed-point type provides a mechanism to represent a constrained real number with the same hardware realization required by the integers - which is not the case for floating-point types.


A review of the fixed-point representation is required before presenting the fixbv specification.

What is fixed-point

Most people are familiar with fixed-point and floating-point representation but by slightly different names and a different base. When dealing with real numbers we commonly write real numbers either in fixed-point or scientific notation (floating-point)

decimal fixed-point (everyday usage):


scientific notation (floating-point):


The binary version are similar, with binary fixed-point the bits to the left of the "point" are the integer values, the positive powers of two:

$$ \sum^{N-1}_{j=0}{c_j 2^j} $$

and to the right of the point are negative powers of two, the fraction:

$$ \sum^{N-1}_{j=0}{f_j 2^{-j}} $$

The "point" is a logical assignment, there is nothing that locks the point to a position. The point logically defines the number of integer bits and fractional bits and is required when interrupting the number and performing operations.

Binary fixed-point does not restrict the number of bits (width) to be positive values, negative number of bits is possible to represent the integer or fractional widths.
It is possible to have a negative number of integer or fractional bits. Example, if the number of integer bits is -4 there are no integer bits and the fractional has four place holders.

As mentioned, binary fixed-point representation is similar to every day usages of real numbers, that is a "decimal point" is used to separate the integer portion of the real number from the fractional portion, example:

s : sign bit
i : integer bits
f : fractional bits


The above example is an 8-bit bit-vector with three integer bits and four fractional bits. As described, the fractional value is a combination of negative powers of two, analogous, the integer value is a combination of positive powers of two. The value represented by the above example is 3.5.

The following computes the first eight negative powers of two:

>>> [2**(-1*ii) for ii in range(1,9)]
[0.5, 0.25, 0.125, 0.0625, 0.03125, 0.015625, 0.0078125, 0.00390625]


The resolution is the smallest quantity representable. The resolution is defined by the number of fractional bits, $ 2^{-fwl} $. It indicates what the minium increment quantity is.


The range of the fixbv is the maximum and minimum values. The maximum values is actually max-res. The max is $2^{iwl}-res$ and the min is $-2^{iwl}$.

fixbv class

Creating a fixbv object should be straightforward and an extension to the natural usage of real numbers. Because the fixbv represents a constrained range and resolution, these need to be defined when creating a fixed-point type. When creating a fixbv the initial value, minimum, maximum, and resolution are defined, example:

x = fixbv(0.333, min=-1, max=1, res=0.1)    

As discussed in the fixed-point introduction the resolution is the smallest quantity representable. In many cases the requested resolution (res) cannot be encoded exactly with a reasonable number of bits. The resolution will be rounded down to the closes power of two.

In the above fixbv creation the requested resolution is 0.1 but the generated resolution will be 0.0625. This resolution is better than the 0.1 but will have the downside that multiples of the requested resolution cannot be represented exactly.

If the goal is to encode 0.1, 0.2, 0.3, 0.4, etc., it cannot be accomplished with a finite number of bits. The basic idea: if one of the denominator's prime multiples (e.g. 2 and 5 for 10) is not a multiple of the base then the rational fraction cannot be represented exactly. Stated differently, each of the denominator's prime factors needs to be a multiple of the base to be represented exactly.

If the initial value cannot be represented exactly or the initial value defines a greater precision than the fixbv can encode the value will be rounded, using the standard definition of rounding.

In some cases, a different rounding method is desired for the initial value. In those cases the rounding needs to occur outside of the fixbv creation, example:

x = fixbv(0.333, min=-1, max=1, res=0.1)
x[:] = resize(0.333, x, round_mode='convergent')

The above definition (instantiation) should cover most of the use cases. Except, some designers have the habit of defining the bits explicitly. Like the intbv the proposed fixbv would allow the definition of the bits required. To define the bits the word-length (wl), integer word-length (iwl), and fractional word-length (fwl) are set, example:


The word-lengths have a simple relation:

$$ wl = iwl + fwl + 1 $$

fixbv operations

First, lets review fixed-point mathematics, given two fixed-point variables, x and y:

x = fixbv(0, min=-8, max=8, res=1/16)   # siii.ffff
y = fixbv(0, min=-1, max=1, rest=1/128) # s.fffffff

Addition and subtraction require the operands to be aligned, they don't necessarily need to be the same word-length (wl) but the "point" needs to be aligned, using the above as operands:

+ ssss.fffffff

once the operands are aligned normal 2's complement addition/ subtraction can be performed. The maximum result would be 2*max(x.max,y.max) (or max(len(x),len(y))+1). If addition or subtraction is attempted and the values are not aligned an error will be thrown, example:

>>> x = fixbv(0, min=-8, max=8, res=1/16.)
>>> y = fixbv(0, min=-1, max=1, res=1/128.)
>>> x + y
AssertionError: Add: points not aligned
       fixbv(0.00, format=(8,3,4), ) and fixbv(0.00, format=(8,0,7), )

It is assumed the fixbv operations will return an fixbv.

>>> x1 = fixbv(2.5, min=-8, max=8, res=1/16.)
>>> x2 = fixbv(1.25, min=-8, max=8, res=1/16.)
>>> x1 + x2

When assigned to another fixbv the value will fit in the format of the accepting object.

>>> x1 = fixbv(2.5, min=-8, max=8, res=1/16.)
>>> x2 = fixbv(1.25, min=-8, max=8, res=1/16.)
>>> z = fixbv(0, min=-16, max=16, res=1/16.)
>>> z[:] = x1 + x2
fixbv(3.75, format=(9,4,4))

For multiplication the operands do not need to be aligned before the operation but the "point" bookkeeping needs to be accounted.

*       s.fffffff
ssiii.fffffffffff  (total 16 bits)

A multiplication example:

>>> x = fixbv(1.5, min=-8, max=8, res=1/16.)
>>> y = fixbv(0.25, min=-1, max=1, res=1/128.)
>>> myhdl.bin(x*y, 16)
'00000.01100000000'  # 3/2*1/4 = 3/8 = 1/4+1/8

The basic mathematical operations have been reviewed, we will exclude division for now because we can achieve "division" by multiplying by the fractional parts.

The next topic: rounding and overflow handling. During operations it is common not to maintain the maximum word-length through out a chain of operations. When reducing the word-length rounding and overflow come into play.

Example, multiplying two numbers requires len(x)+len(y) bits or x.maxy.max range. It is typical for the result to be resized* after an operation. In the previous multiply example it may be desired to only preserve four fraction bits:

ssiii.ffff ffff fff
           ~~~~~~~~ <- these bits remove

The remaining bits will be rounded based on the removed bits, there are different rounding methods that can be used. This is a base feature of a fixed-point package. Also, when resizing overflow (underflow) is also an issue. If the value being resized does not fit, it needs to be saturated or wrapped.

This enhancement proposal does not include the definition of a resize function. A separate MEP will be created for the resize function and implementation.


The beauty of the fixbv is it has a base class of an intbv. This makes sense because the fixed-point is an integer representation at the hardware. Nothing is required for conversion, the fixed-point is simply a logical representation of a limited capacity (constrained) real number implemented with a standard 2's complement integer.

A couple fixbv functions are proposed to support convertible conversion to other type:

  • : this will return just the integer
  • fixbv.ord() : the underlying intbv value
  • fixbv.frac() : just the fraction portion
>>> x = fixbv(2.5, min=-8, max=8. res=1/256.)
>>> x.ord()
640 (0x280)
>>> x.frac()

These functions are proposed because the factory functions int() and ord() are not convertible, this is consistent with the current implementation (other than the current implementation would have no need to use int(intbv()). There is a reasonable use extra


  • int(fixbv) and float(fixbv) are not convertible. They can be used in the elaboration and other non-convertible code.

  • no resize function (yet). As discussed the resize function is dependent (as best understanding) on an additional enhancement. The resize function will be added once the modfunc enhancement has been implemented. It is my opinion fixed-point support needs the resize function but it will be part of a separate enhancement proposal

  • no division (no surprise, same operation limitations as integer, divide by power of two's

Closing Remarks

The fixbv type provides a clean an straightforward type to represent constrained real numbers (fixed-point numbers). The fixbv provides the basic number representation. The addition of the resize will complete the fixed-point support.

  1. here I am using constrained integer and constrained real to indicate numbers with limited range and resolution. The type will act just like an integer or real within the constrained (the range and resolution).