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I know two ways in which a VHDL variable is synthesized by synthesis tool:

  • Variable synthesized as Combinational logic
  • Variable synthesized as a Latch unintentionally (when an uninitialized variable is assigned to a signal or another variable)

What are the other ways in which a VHDL variable can be synthesized ? (Example: can it be interpreted as a FF ? )

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I would distinguish three possibilities:

  1. A VHDL variable has no hardware representation at all. Assume the following example

    signal a,b,c : integer;  
    ...  
    process ( clk ) is  
    variable var : integer := 0;  
    begin  
    if ( rising_edge(clk) ) then  
    var := a + b;  
    c <= var;  
    end if;  
    end process;
    

    The variable var is not really synthesized as combinatorial logic at all (assuming this is what was meant in the question). It's rather the right hand side of the assignment a + b that is synthesized into hardware. Strictly speaking a variable never is synthesized into combinatorial logic.

  2. A variable merely holds an intermediate result, which is either evaluated in the same clock cycle -> no hardware synthesized ( this is 1) again ), or is evaluated in the following clock cycle -> a flipflop is synthezised.

  3. One of those dreaded latches is inferred in such cases where conditional branches exist in which the variable is assigned neither a new value (depending on some signals) nor a default value. Usually this case happens unintended :-)

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  • \$\begingroup\$ The "dreaded latch" can only happen outside of a clocked process though and most people (in my experience) these days are not using non-clocked processes. So the latch dread is not an issue anymore (IMHO) - it stems from the olden days when you had to write your combinatorial logic in a separate process to your flip flops \$\endgroup\$ – Martin Thompson Jul 13 '16 at 12:56
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If you use the value in a variable before you store it, you get the value that was stored last time the process stored it (in a clocked process, the value from a previous clock cycle). That is synthesised as a register or FF.

Of course, in the first clock cycle you get garbage, unless you initialised the variable in a reset clause.

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