Programming an FPGA

Contributors: Alchitry, Ell C
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In this tutorial I’m going to cover the basics of what creating designs for an FPGA looks like and the fundamental building blocks you get to use. Let’s just get something cleared up real quick before we dive in. You don’t program FPGAs. It is often convenient to say we do just because it kind of feels like programming, you write some text, text is turned into a binary file, binary file is loaded on to the FPGA.

But you aren’t writing a program. You are creating a circuit. You don’t use programming languages to create circuits, you use hardware description languages (HDLs).

Large complex designs would get too complicated to draw out with a schematic so instead we describe the behavior we want in the circuit and the tools figure out how to actually implement it.

It’s important to keep in mind when creating designs for an FPGA that you are describing hardware and whatever you write will eventually end up as a physical circuit. It is possible to describe circuits that are impossible to implement or to describe something that seems simple but takes a huge amount of resources to implement.

Because of this, having a good idea of how the circuit you are trying to describe could be implemented is critical.

Required Materials

To follow along with this tutorial, you will need the following materials. You may not need everything though depending on what you have. Add it to your cart, read through the guide, and adjust the cart as necessary.

Suggested Reading

If you aren’t familiar with the following concepts, we recommend checking out these tutorials before continuing.

How Does an FPGA Work?

The What, How, Why, and When of Field Programmable Gate Arrays, aka FPGAs

You may also want to check out some of Alchitry's tutorials. They can be found here: