Theory of Operation

Block Diagram

HMAC Block Diagram

The HMAC block diagram above shows that the HMAC core converts the secret key registers into an inner padded key and an outer padded key which are fed to the SHA-2 hash engine (which is a SHA-2 engine primitive instantiated with the multi-mode feature enabled) when appropriate. The module also feeds the result of the first round message (which uses the inner padded key) from the SHA-2 hash engine into the 32x32b FIFO for the second round (which uses the outer padded key). The message length is automatically updated to reflect the size of the outer padded key and first round digest result for the second round. See Design Details for more information.

SHA-2 Block Diagram

The SHA-2 engine block diagram shows the message FIFO inside SHA-2 engine, hash registers, digest registers, and SHA-2 compression function. The message FIFO is not software accessible but is fed from the 32x32b FIFO seen in the HMAC block diagram via the HMAC core. The HMAC core can forward the message directly from the 32x32b FIFO if HMAC is not enabled. This message is padded with length appended to fit either the 512-bit or 1024-bit block size (depending on the configured digest size) as described in the SHA-256 specification.

With the 512-bit block (for SHA-2 256), the compress function runs 64 rounds to calculate the block hash, which is stored in the hash registers above. After 64 rounds are completed, the SHA-2 256 updates the digest registers with the addition of the hash result and the previous digest registers. With the 1024-bit block (for SHA-2 384/512), the compress function runs 80 rounds instead. SHA-2 384 is a truncated version of SHA-2 512 where the last 128 bits of the final digest output are truncated to bring the digest size to 384 bits.

Design Details

SHA-2 message feed and pad

A message is fed via a memory-mapped message FIFO. Any write access to the memory-mapped window MSG_FIFO updates the message FIFO. If the FIFO is full, the HMAC block will block any writes leading to back-pressure on the interconnect (as opposed to dropping those writes or overwriting existing FIFO contents). It is recommended this back-pressure is avoided by not writing to the memory-mapped message FIFO when it is full. To avoid doing so, software can read the STATUS.fifo_full register.

The logic assumes the input message is little-endian. It converts the byte order of the word right before writing to SHA-2 storage as SHA-2 treats the incoming message as big-endian. If SW wants to convert the message byte order, SW should set CFG.endian_swap to 1. The byte order of the digest registers, from DIGEST_0 to DIGEST_15 can be configured with CFG.digest_swap.

See the table below:

Input Msg #0: 010203h
Input Msg #1: 0405h
Push to SHA2 #003020105h01020304h
Push to SHA2 #100000004h00000005h

Small writes to MSG_FIFO are coalesced with into 32-bit words by the [packer logic]({{< relref “hw/ip/prim/doc/prim_packer” >}}). These words are fed into the internal message FIFO. While passing writes to the packer logic, the block also counts the number of bytes that are being passed. This gives the received message length, which is used in HMAC and SHA-2 as part of the hash computation.

The SHA-2 engine computes an intermediate hash for every 512-bit or 1024-bit block depending on the configured digest size. The message must be padded to fill the 512/1024-bit blocks. This is done with an initial 1 bit after the message bits with a 64/128-bit message length at the end and enough 0 bits in the middle to result in a full block. The SHA-256 specification describes this in more detail. An example is shown below. The padding logic handles this so software only needs to write the actual message bits into the FIFO.

SHA-2 Message Padding

For example for SHA-2 256, if the message is empty, the message length is 64-bit 0. In this case, the padding logic gives 0x80000000 into the SHA-2 module first. Then it sends (512 - 32 - 64)/32, 13 times of 0x00000000 for Padding 0x00. Lastly, it returns the message length which is 64-bit 0x00000000_00000000. If incomplete words are written, the packet logic appends 0x80 in the proper byte location, such as 0xXX800000 for the message length % 4B == 1 case. This similarly occurs for SHA-2 384/512 but with a 128-bit message length and block size of 1024 bits.

SHA-2 computation

For SHA-2 256, the SHA-2 engine receives 16 32-bit words from the message FIFO or the HMAC core, which get padded into 16 64-bit words for the SHA-2 engine (upper 32 bits of each data word is all-zero padded), then begins 64 rounds of the hash computation which is also called compression. Alternatively for SHA-2 384/512, the SHA-2 engine receives 32 32-bit words from message FIFO, which get packed into 16 64-bit words for the SHA-2 engine, which then begins the 80 compression rounds. In each round, the compression function fetches a 64-bit word from the buffer and computes the internal variables. The first 16 rounds are fed by the words from the message FIFO or the HMAC core. Input for later rounds comes from shuffling the given 512/1024-bit block. Details are well described in Wikipedia and the SHA-256 specification.

With the given hash values, 4-byte (or 8-byte) message word, and round constants, the compression function computes the next round hash values. The round constants for the different digest sizes are hard-wired in the design. After the compression at the last round is finished, the resulting hash values are added into the digest. The digest, again, is used as initial hash values for the next block compression. During the compression rounds, it doesn’t fetch data from the message FIFO. The software can push up to 16 entries to the FIFO for the next hash computation.

HMAC computation

Two steps of HMAC

HMAC can be used with any hash algorithm but this version of HMAC IP uses SHA-2 256/384/512. The first phase of HMAC calculates the SHA-2 hash of the inner secret key concatenated with the actual message to be authenticated. This inner secret key is created with the 256/384/512/1024-bit (hashed) secret key (depending on the configured key length) and 0x36 padding to complete the corresponding block size of the configured digest size. For example, for SHA-2 256 with 256-bit key, 512-bit inner secret key is created with the 256-bit secret key with 256-bit zero padding, XORed with 64{0x36}.

    inner_pad_key = {key[255:0], 256'h0} ^ {64{8'h36}} // big-endian

The message length used in the SHA-2 module is calculated by the HMAC core by adding the block size to the original message length (to account for the length of inner_pad_key, which has been prepended to the message).

The first round digest is fed into the second round in HMAC. The second round computes the hash of the outer secret key concatenated with the first round digest. In case of SHA-2 256 with 256-bit key, as the digest result is 256-bit, it must be zero-padded to fit into 512-bit block size.

    outer_pad_key = {key[255:0], 256'h0} ^ {64{8'h5c}} // big-endian

In the second round, the message length is a fixed 768 bits (512-bit size of outer secret key + 256-bit first round digest size).

HMAC supports secret key of length 256/384/512/1024-bit, so long as the key length does not exceed the block size of the configured digest, i.e., for SHA-2 256 a maximum length of 512-bit key is supported. It is up to the software to shrink the key to the supported key length (up to 512-bit for SHA-2 256 and up to 1024-bit for SHA-2 384/512) using a hash function when setting up the HMAC. For example, common key sizes may be 2048-bit or 4096-bit. Software is expected to hash these into the supported key length and write the hashed result as the configured key to the HMAC IP.

Performance in SHA-2 mode and HMAC mode

The SHA-2 256 hash algorithm computes 512 bits of data at a time. The first 16 rounds need the actual 16 x 32-bit message and the following 48 rounds need some value derived from the message.

In these 48 rounds, the software can feed the next 16 x 32-bit message block. But, once the FIFO is full, the software cannot push more data until the current block is processed. This version of the IP fetches the next 16 x 32-bit message after completing the current block. As such, it takes 80 cycles to complete a block. The effective throughput considering this is 64 byte / 80 clk or 16 clk / 80 clk, 20% of the maximum throughput. For instance, if the clock frequency is 100MHz, the SHA-2 256 can hash out 80MB/s at most.

For SHA-2 384/512, the algorithm computes 1024 bits of data a time and runs for 80 rounds where the first 16 rounds consume the actual 16 x 64-bit message. It takes 96 cycles to complete a 1024-bit block. If the clock frequency is 100MHz, the SHA-2 384/512 can hash out 133MB/s at most.

This throughput could be enhanced in a future version by feeding the message into the internal buffer when the round hits 48, eliminating the extra 16 cycles to feed the message after completing a block.

If HMAC mode is turned on, it introduces extra latency due to the second round of computing the final hash of the outer key and the result of the first round using the inner key. This adds an extra 240 cycles (80 for the inner key, 80 for the outer key, and 80 for the result of the first round) to complete a message. For instance, if an empty message is given then it takes 360 cycles (80 for msg itself and 240 for the extra) to get the HMAC authentication token.


The MSG_FIFO in the HMAC IP has a wide address range not just one 4 byte address. Any writes to the address range go into the single entry point of the prim_packer. Then prim_packer compacts the data into the word-size if not a word-write then writes to the MSG_FIFO. This is different from a conventional memory-mapped FIFO.

By having wide address range pointing to a single entry point, the FIFO can free software from the fixed address restriction. For instance, the core can use “store multiple” commands to feed the message fifo efficiently. Also, a DMA engine which might not have the ability to be configured to the fixed write and incremental read may benefit from this behavior.