Aggregate data structure library

Amendments The behavior described in this RFC was updated by RFC #8, RFC #9, and RFC #15.


Add a rich set of standard library classes for accessing hierarchical aggregate data an idiomatic way, to fill one of the two major use cases of Record while avoiding its downsides.

See also RFC #2.


Amaranth has a single data storage primitive: Signal. A Signal can be referenced on the left hand and the right hand side of an assignment, and so can be its slices. Although a signal serves the role of a numeric and bit container type fine, designs often include signals used as bit containers whose individual bits are named and have unique meanings. A mechanism that allows referring to such bit fields by name is essential.

Currently, the role of this mechanism is served by Record. However, Record has multiple major drawbacks:

  1. Record attempts to do too much: it is both a mechanism for controlling representation (including implicitly casting a record to a value) and a mechanism for defining interfaces (specifying signal directions and facilitating connections between records).

    These mechanisms should be defined separately, since the only aspect they have in common is using a container class that consists of multiple named fields. Conflating the two mechanisms constraints the design space, making addressing the other drawbacks impossible, and the ill-defined scope encourages bugs in downstream code.

  2. Record has limited composability: records can only be nested within each other. Practical designs (in particular, implementations of protocols) use data with complex representation beyond nested sequences of fields: these include overlaid sequences of fields (where interpretation alternates based on some discriminant) and arrays of fields (where a field can be indexed by a non-constant), where any individual field can have a complex representation itself.

    Record is structured as a sequence of Signals, which is a part of its API. As such, it cannot support overlaid fields, and implementing support for arrays of fields is challenging.

  3. Record has limited introspectability: while its layout member can be accessed to enumerate its fields, the results do not include field boundaries, and the types of the returned shape-castable objects are preserved only as an implementation detail. Layout objects themselves are also not shape-castable.

    Record and Layout are structured as a sequence of Signals rather than a view into an underlying bit container, which is reflected in its API. Thus, Layout does not fit into Amaranth's data model, which concerns individual values.

  4. Record comes with its own storage: while its fields argument can be used to substitute the signals that individual fields are pointing to (in an awkward and error-prone way), it is still a collection of Signals. Using Record to impose structure on an existing Value requires a Module and a combinatorial assignment. This is an unnecessary complication, especially in helper functions.

  5. Record does not play well with Python's type annotations. Amaranth developers often inherit from Record as well as Layout, but in both cases the class definition syntax is usually little more than a way to define a callable returning a Record with a specific layout, and provides no benefits for IDE users.

  6. Record reserves a lot of names, including commonly used names like connect, any, all, and matches. Conversely, it defines a lot of arithmetic methods that are rarely if ever used on field containers.

  7. Layout's DSL is very amorphous. It passes around variable length tuples. The second element of these tuples (the shape) can be another Layout, which is neither a shape nor a shape-castable object.

  8. Neither Record nor Layout allow defining fields whose shapes are arbitrary ShapeCastable classes.

Since these drawbacks are entrenched in the public API and heavily restrict usefulness of Record as a mechanism for specifying data representation, a new mechanism must replace it.

Overview and examples

This section shows a bird's eye view of the new syntax and behavior proposed in this RFC. The detailed design is described afterwards.

from amaranth import *
from amaranth.lib import data

# Declaring a simple structure:
class Float32(data.Struct):
    fraction: unsigned(23)
    exponent: unsigned(8)
    sign: unsigned(1)

# Defining a signal with the structure above:
flt_a = Float32()

# Reinterpreting an existing value with the same structure:
flt_b = Float32(Const(0b00111110001000000000000000000000, 32))

# Referencing and updating structure fields by name:
with m.If(flt_b.fraction > 0):
    m.d.comb += [

# Declaring a simple union, referencing an existing structure:
class FloatOrInt32(data.Union):
    float: Float32
    int: signed(32)

# Using the union to bitcast an IEEE754 value from an integer:
f_or_i = FloatOrInt32()
is_sub_1 = Signal()
m.d.comb += [,
    is_sub_1.eq(f_or_i.float.exponent < 127) # => 1

class Op(enum.Enum):
  ADD = 0
  SUB = 1

# Programmatically declaring a structure layout:
adder_op_layout = data.StructLayout({
    "op": Op,
    "a": Float32,
    "b": Float32

# Using the layout defined above to define appropriately sized storage...
adder_op_storage = Signal(adder_op_layout)
len(adder_op_storage) # => 65

# ... and wrap it for the fields to be accessible.
adder_op = data.View(adder_op_layout, adder_op_storage)
m.d.comb += [

Detailed design

This RFC proposes a number of language and library additions:

  • Adding a ShapeCastable interface, similar to ValueCastable;
  • Adding classes that hierarchically describe representation of aggregate values: named field containers with non-overlapping fields (structs), named field containers with overlapping fields (unions), and indexed field containers (arrays);
  • Adding a wrapper class that accepts a Value (or a ValueCastable object) and provides accessors that slice it according to the corresponding aggregate representation;
  • Adding an ergonomic and IDE-compatible interface for building descriptions of non-parametric layouts of aggregate values.

User-defined shape-castable objects

ShapeCastable is an interface for defining Shape-like values outside of the core Amaranth language. It is functionally identical to ValueCastable, and could be used like:

from amaranth import *

class Layout(ShapeCastable):
    def __init__(self, fields):
        self.fields = fields

    def as_shape(self):
        return unsigned(sum(len(field) for field in self.fields))

Value layout descriptions

Aggregate value layouts are represented using two classes: and

  • A Field(shape_castable, offset=0) object describes a field of the given shape starting at bit number offset of the aggregate value.
  • A Layout() object describes an abstract aggregate value. It can be iterated, returning (name, field) or (index, field) pairs; or indexed (__getitem__) by the name or index of the field. It has a .size in bits, determined by the type of the layout, and is shape-castable, being converted to unsigned(layout.size()).
    • A StructLayout(members={"name": shape_castable}) object describes an aggregate value with non-overlapping named fields (struct). The fields are placed at offsets such that they immediately follow one another, from least significant to most significant.
    • A UnionLayout(members={"name": shape_castable}) object describes an aggregate value with overlapping named fields (union). The fields are placed at offset 0.
    • An ArrayLayout(element=shape_castable, length=1) object describes an aggregate value with indexed fields (array). The fields all have identical shape and are placed at offsets such that they immediately follow one another, from least significant to most significant.
    • A FlexibleLayout(fields={"name": field, 0: field}, size=16) object describes a aggregate value with fields arbitrarily placed within its bounds.

The representation of a discriminated union could be programmatically constructed as follows:

import enum
from amaranth.lib import data

class Kind(enum.Enum):
    ONE_SIGNED = 0

layout = data.StructLayout({
    "kind": Kind,
    "value": data.UnionLayout({
        "one_signed": signed(2),
        "two_unsigned": data.ArrayLayout(unsigned(1), 2)

Aggregate value access

Aggregate values are manipulated through the class. A View(layout, value_castable) object wraps a value-castable object (which may be a valid assignment target) and provides access to fields according to the layout. A view is itself value-castable, being converted to the object it's wrapping. If the view is wrapping a valid assignment target, then the accessors also return a valid assignment target.

Fields can be accessed using either __getitem__ (for both named and indexed fields) or __getattr__ (for named fields). To avoid name collisions when using __getattr__ to access fields, views do not define any non-reserved attributes of their own except for the .as_value() casting method. Field names starting with _ are reserved as attribute names and and can only be accessed using the view["name"] indexing syntax.

When a view is used to access a field whose shape is an ordinary Shape object, the accessor returns a Value of the corresponding shape that slices the viewed object.

When a view is used to access a field whose shape is an aggregate value layout, the accessor returns another View with this layout, wrapping the slice of the viewed object. For fields that have any other shape-castable object set as their shape, the behavior is the same as for the Shape case.

Views that have an ArrayLayout as their layout can be indexed with a Value. In this case, the viewed object is sliced with Value.word_select.

A signal can be manipulated with its structure viewed as the discriminated union defined above as follows:

# creates an unsigned(3) signal by shape-casting `layout`
sig = Signal(layout)
view = data.View(layout, sig)

# if the second argument is omitted, a signal with the right shape is created internally;
# the line below is equivlent to the two lines above
view = data.View(layout)

m = Module()
m.d.comb += [

Ergonomic layout definition

Rather than using the underlying StructLayout and UnionLayout classes, struct and union layouts can be defined using the Python class definition syntax, with the shapes of the members specified using the PEP 526 variable annotations:

class SomeVariant(data.Struct):
    class Value(data.Union):
        one_signed: signed(2)
        two_unsigned: data.ArrayLayout(unsigned(1), 2)

    kind: Kind
    value: Value

# this class can be used in the same way as a `data.View` without needing to specify the layout:
view2 = SomeVariant()
m.d.comb += [

When they refer to other structures or unions defined in the same way, the variable annotations are also valid PEP 484 type hints, and will be used by IDEs to derive types of properties and expressions. Otherwise, the annotations will be opaque to IDEs or type checkers, but are still useful for a human reader.

The classes defined in this way are shape-castable and can be used anywhere a shape or a aggregate value layout is accepted:

sig2 = Signal(SomeVariant)
layout2 = data.StructLayout({
    "ready": unsigned(1),
    "payload": SomeVariant

Implementation note: This can be achieved by using a custom metaclass for Struct and Union that inherits from ShapeCastable.

If an explicit Layout object is nevertheless needed (e.g. for introspection), it can be extracted from the class using Layout.cast:

layout == data.Layout.cast(SomeVariant) # => True

Conversely, the shape-castable object defining the layout of a View (which might be a Layout subclass or a Struct/Union subclass) can be extracted from the view using Layout.of:

SomeVariant is data.Layout.of(view2) # => True

Advanced usage: Parametric layouts

The ergonomic definitions using the Struct and Union base classes are concise and integrated with Python type annotations. However, they cannot be used if the layout of an aggregate value is parameterized. In this case, a class with similar functionality can be defined in a more explicit way:

class Stream8b10b(data.View):
    data: Signal
    ctrl: Signal

    def __init__(self, value=None, *, width: int):
            "data": unsigned(8 * width),
            "ctrl": unsigned(width)
        }), value)

len(Stream8b10b(width=1).data) # => 8
len(Stream8b10b(width=4).data) # => 32

Since the parametric class name itself does not have a fixed layout, it cannot be used with Layout.cast. Similarly, the type annotations cannot include specific field widths; they are included only to indicate the presence of a corresponding attribute to IDEs and type checkers.

Structure field ordering

The fields of a structure layout object are ordered from least significant to most significant:

float32_layout = data.StructLayout({
    "fraction": unsigned(23),   # bits  0..22
    "exponent": unsigned(8),    # bits 23..30
    "sign": unsigned(1)         # bit  31

class Float32(data.Struct):
    fraction: unsigned(23)      # bits  0..22
    exponent: unsigned(8)       # bits 23..30
    sign: unsigned(1)           # bit  31

In other words, the following identity holds:

float32_storage = Signal(float32_layout)
float32 = data.View(float32_layout, float32_storage)

float32_storage == Cat(float32.fraction, float32_layout.exponent, float32.sign)

Customizing the automatically created Signal

When a view is instantiated without an explicit view target, it creates a Signal with a shape matching the view layout. The View constructor accepts all of the Signal constructor keyword arguments and passes them along; the reset= argument accepts a struct or an array (according to the type of the layout):

flt_neg_reset = data.View(float32_layout, reset={"sign": 1})

flt_reset_less = Float32(reset_less=True)


This feature introduces a language-level concept, shape-castable objects, increasing language complexity.

This feature introduces a finely grained hierarchy of 5 similar and related classes for describing layouts.


Do nothing. Record will continue to be used alongside the continued proliferation of ad-hoc implementations of similar functionality.

Remove ArrayLayout from this proposal. The array functionality is niche and introduces the complexity of handling by-index accessors alongside by-name ones.

Remove ArrayLayout, UnionLayout, and FlexibleLayout from this proposal. Their functionality is less commonly used than that of StructLayout and introduces the substantial complexity of handling fields at arbitrary offsets. (This would make useless for slicing CSRs in Amaranth SoC.) This change would bring this proposal close to the original PackedStruct proposal discussed in

Combine the Layout and all of its derivative classes into a single Layout(fields={"name": Field(...), 0: Field(...)}) class that provides a superset of the functionality. This simplifies the API, but makes introspection of aggregate layouts very difficult and can be inefficient if large arrays are used. In this case, factory methods of the Layout class would be provided for more convenient construction of regular struct, union, and array layouts.

Remove Struct and Union annotation-driven definition syntax. This makes the API simpler, less redundant, and with fewer corner cases, also avoiding the use of variable annotations that are not valid PEP 484 type hints, at the cost of a continued jarring experience for IDE users.

Include a more concise and less visually noisy way to build StructLayout and UnionLayout objects (or their equivalents) using a builder pattern. This may make the syntax slightly nicer, though the RFC author could not come up with anything that would actually be such.


The names of the Field, *Layout, and View classes could be changed to something better.

  • IrregularLayout was renamed to FlexibleLayout.

Future work

This feature could be improved in several ways that are not in scope of this RFC:

  • StructLayout, UnionLayout, and ArrayLayout could be extended to generate layouts with padding at the end (for structs and unions) or between elements (for arrays). Currently this requires the use of a FlexibleLayout.
  • StructLayout could be extended to accept a list of fields in addition to a map of field names to values. In this case, it would represent an aggregate value with non-overlapping indexed fields (tuple).
  • Struct and/or StructLayout could be extended to treat certain reserved field names (e.g. "_1", "_2", ...) as designating padding bits. In this case, the offset of the following fields would be adjusted, and the fields with such names would not appear in the layout.
  • Struct and/or StructLayout could be extended to treat certain reserved field names (e.g. "_" for Struct and None for StructLayout) as designating an anonymous inner aggregate. In this case, the members of the anonymous inner aggregate would be possible to access as if they were the members of the outer aggregate.
  • The automatic wrapping of accessed aggregate fields done by View could be extended to call a user-specified cast function rather than hard-coding a check for whether the shape is a Layout. This would allow seamless inclusion of user-defined value-castable types in aggregates.
  • The PEP 484 generics could be used to define layouts parametric over field shapes, using type annotations alone. Since Python does not have type-level integers, layouts parametric over field sizes would still need to be defined explicitly.
  • The struct, union, and enum support could be used as the building blocks to implement first-class discriminated unions. Discriminated unions will also benefit from tuples, described above. (Suggestion by @lachlansneff.)


@modwizcode, @Kaucasus, and @lachlansneff provided valuable feedback while this RFC was being drafted.