Full (AXI-)stream ahead! – Using AXI-stream with floating point numbers in HLS

Tim Fernandez-Hart

A more technical blog this week. Recently, I had to build an IP core in a baremetal environment that outputs a set of floating point numbers. Crucially, the number of floats was not known at synthesis, which meant I could not use an AXI-full or AXI-lite interface. The only option was an AXI-stream interface. I looked around for an example project or tutorial but none quite fit the bill. They all involved integers with AXI-stream or else an AXI-full interface with floats. So I thought I would write one to fill in the gaps because both floats and AXI-stream have their quirks.

Why use a DMA?

Without a DMA all the read and write operations would have to be performed by a CPU over the system bus. This is a blocking operation and ties the processor up performing menial read and write tasks, rather than higher level tasks more suited to a processor. Offloading the DDR read/ write operations to a DMA makes the system faster and more efficient.

Our IP block

We will make a simple proof of principal IP block using HLS. It will take two parameters, one an integer n, and the second a float f. The IP will then stream the given float f out n times. Here is the HLS code:

#include <hls_stream.h>
#include <ap_fixed.h>
#include “ap_axi_sdata.h” // ← This is required for side-channels i.e. TLAST

typedef ap_axis<32,0 ,0 ,0> out_pkt;

union fp_int {
int i;
float f;

void dmaFloatTransfer(int n, float num, hls::stream<out_pkt> &output);

#include <hls_stream.h>
#include <ap_axi_sdata.h>
#include “dma_test.h”

void dmaFloatTransfer(int n, float num, hls::stream<pkt> &output) {
#pragma HLS INTERFACE axis port=output
#pragma HLS INTERFACE s_axilite port=n bundle=CTRL
#pragma HLS INTERFACE s_axilite port=num bundle=CTRL
#pragma HLS INTERFACE s_axilite port=return bundle=CTRL

out_pkt pkt;
fp_int out_data;

for (int i=0 ; i<n ; i++) {

out_data.f = num;
pkt.data = out_data.i;
pkt.strb = 0xf;
pkt.keep = 0xf;

if (i==(n-1)){
pkt.last = true;
} else {
pkt.last = 0;

output << pkt;

There are a number of idiosyncrasies here that we need to go through and get right. Firstly, Xilinx DMA requires the TLAST signal to operate. This is an optional signal under the AXI protocol but is required by the Xilinx DMA block. It signals the final piece of data that will be transferred and is called a side channel. The correct use is enforced by XIlinx in a header file ap_axi_sdata.h which we include at the top. In our header file we have declared a type as:
typedef ap_axis<32,0 ,0 ,0> out_pkt;
The numbers in angled brackets indicate the bit depth of other side channels that we can include if we want. Specifically <TDATA, TUSER, TID, TDEST> we are transferring 32bit floating point numbers but want to keep the rest to a minimum and so we declare <32, 0, 0, 0>. After synthesis we will have three side channels, TLAST, TSTRB, and TKEEP. We must explicitly handle all of these signals in our code otherwise the DMA will just hang. We trigger the TLAST to go high on the final transfer. The synthesis report shows the side channels that have been included, and their bit depth.
The second point you may have noticed is the use of a union to define the data. The reason for this is that all data transfers must be of type u32. If you try to send data of type float it will be truncated to an integer. We can use the union to perform an implicit conversion between the two types. We will also need to do this in Vitis later.


Lets configure the DMA. First disable scatter gather. This can be used to collect data from different memory addresses and uses a pool of reusable ring buffers which makes things rather more complicated. We shall save scatter gather for another time, so disable it for now. Our IP is also a producer of data so we do not need the AXI-stream ‘read’ interface.

Add a Zynq processor and run block automation. Reconfigure it to include a high performance slave port S_AXI_HP0_FPD. I have also added a PL-PS interrupt. Add our IP block (don’t forget to add the extra IP repository) and the DMA block. The output from our IP block is the input to the DMA via its AXI-stream slave, stream to memory mapped interface. output_r -> S_AXIS_S2MM The DMA output (M_AXI_S2MM) is connected to the slave input of the processor (S_AXI_HP0_FPD). This must go via an interconnect. Finally I used a concat block to concatenate the DMA and IP interrupts into the processor. Here is the final diagram:
Now we are nearly there, we just need to go into Vitis to write the ARM core code.

#include <stdio.h>
#include “platform.h”
#include <xparameters.h>
#include “xdmafloattransfer.h”
#include “xaxidma.h”

union fp_int {
int i;
float f;

XDmafloattransfer dmaFloatTransfer;
XDmafloattransfer_Config *dmaFloatTransfer_cfg;

XAxiDma axiDMA;
XAxiDma_Config *axiDMA_cfg;

//DMA Addresses
#define MEM_BASE_ADDR 0x01000000
#define RX_BUFFER_BASE (MEM_BASE_ADDR + 0x00300000)

void initPeripherals()
printf(“Initialising FloatTransferIP…\\\\n”);
dmaFloatTransfer_cfg = XDmafloattransfer_LookupConfig(XPAR_DMAFLOATTRANSFER_0_DEVICE_ID);
if (dmaFloatTransfer_cfg)
int status = XDmafloattransfer_CfgInitialize(&dmaFloatTransfer, dmaFloatTransfer_cfg);
if(status != XST_SUCCESS)
printf(“Error Initialising IP core\\\\n”);

printf(“Initialising DMA…\\\\n”);
axiDMA_cfg = XAxiDma_LookupConfig(XPAR_AXI_DMA_0_DEVICE_ID);
if (axiDMA_cfg)
int status = XAxiDma_CfgInitialize(&axiDMA,axiDMA_cfg);
if(status != XST_SUCCESS)
printf(“Error Initialising DMA core\\\\n”);
//Disable Interrupts

int main()
union fp_int {
int i;
float f;
} converter;

int *m_dma_buffer_RX = (int*) RX_BUFFER_BASE;


int n = 2;
float num = 3.2f;

XDmafloattransfer_Set_n(&dmaFloatTransfer, n);
XDmafloattransfer_Set_num(&dmaFloatTransfer, *((u32*)&num));


//Flush the cache of the buffers
Xil_DCacheFlushRange((u32)m_dma_buffer_RX, n*sizeof(u32));
printf(“n: %d\\\\n”, n);

printf(“Get The Data\\\\n”);

printf(“XAxiDma no longer busy.\\\\n”);


printf(“Calculation is Complete\\\\n”);

//Display Data
for (int idx = 0; idx < n; idx++)
num = (int) m_dma_buffer_RX[idx];
converter.i = *((float*)&num);
printf(“Recv[%d]=%f\\\\n”, idx , converter.f);

return 0;

This is all relatively standard with the exception of how to handle floats in this situation. Firstly we can see that we need our union again to handle the conversion between u32 and float. Secondly, we need to observe UG1399 and cast the floats so the generated drivers handle the floats correctly.

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