A Small ALU in Haskell, Part I

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I consider ALUs (Arithmetic logic units) to be interesting because they are a direct application of Boolean algebra, and it is easy to extend into something realistically resembling a computer (from the 1980s). This post is going to be about sketching a small ALU implementation in Haskell. I originally wrote this code for a discussion section for a Discrete Math honors course, presented right after they learned Boolean algebra.

I have since cleaned the code up once or twice, and I decided it would be neat to present it here. Due to its length, I am going to do it in a few parts:

  1. We will construct a simple ALU Adder for 32-bit Boolean values Next, we will construct a larger ALU to support and, or, and xor and then construct a multiplexer to give us the correct answer.
  2. The second installment will also feature the addition of registers with load and save to feature more general computation. After, that we will add program counter, branching and jumps to construct something resembling a full computer.

In this first installment, we begin simply with the classical definition of xor, which will allow us to circumvent the classical construction of a half-bit adder, We also include an infix version, *|, for ease of use. This implementation should be straight-forward; we simply dispatch on the input and produce the appropriate truth value.

xor :: Bool -> Bool -> Bool
xor False False = False
xor False True  = True
xor True  False = True
xor True  True  = False

(*|) :: Bool -> Bool -> Bool
a *| b = a `xor` b

We are now ready to construct a whole-bit adder from two half-bit adders with a bit of “glue” to connect the three inputs with the two outputs. I would refer the interested reader to this page to see how this works with circuitry; the idea is that we add the three bits through two half-bit adders, and then do an appropriate amount of math to construct the carry-out bit (that is, the carry that results from the addition):

bac :: Bool -> Bool -> Bool -> (Bool, Bool)
bac a b c = let ab = (a *| b)
            in (ab *| c, (a && b) || (ab && c))

We are almost ready to construct our ALU, but we have one last detail: we need some mechanism to encode and decode natural numbers to binary, representing a number a as a list of Booleans of length 32:

natToBits :: Int -> [Bool]
natToBits 0 = []
natToBits n = if even n
              then False : natToBits (div n 2)
              else True  : natToBits (div (n - 1) 2)

binToNat :: [Bool] -> Int
binToNat     [] = 0
binToNat (x:xs) = if x 
                  then (binToNat xs * 2) + 1 
                  else binToNat xs * 2

padTo32 :: [Bool] -> [Bool]
padTo32 ls = let len = length ls
             in if len < 32
                then ls ++ replicate (32 - len) False
                else ls

natToBin :: Int -> [Bool]
natToBin = padTo32 . natToBits

Next, we construct our entire ALU in one “fell swoop”, building a simple ripple-carry adder, to sum two numbers. This implementation will take both inputs as lists of Boolean values and iterate over them, rippling the carry bit through to compute the binary addition in terms of bac.

bitsAdd :: [Bool] -> [Bool] -> Bool -> [Bool]
bitsAdd [] [] c = []
bitsAdd (x:xs) (y:ys) cin =
  let (a, cout) = bac x y cin
    in a : bitsAdd xs ys cout

aluAdd :: [Bool] -> [Bool] -> [Bool]
aluAdd a b = bitsAdd a b False

This ALU starts with an empty carry-in and iteratively performs bac over each pair of inpus, threading the new carry bit through to the next computation until we are at the end. Notice that we throw the final carry bit away; overflowing is just find on a processor.

Even so, we have now constructed a 32-bit unsigned integer adder ALU from first principles: from and and or, or, perhaps more accurately, and, or, and xor. This ALU isn’t particularly useful right now, but extending it to feature a multiplexer is straight-forward. We will “cheat” here for simplicity, however. Constructing a full multiplexer from and and or requires a series of additional analog circuitry:

Analog Multiplexer

This construction is left as an exercise to the reader; instead, we will opt for the following digital multiplexer, and define our operations in terms of it.

multiplexer :: [[Bool]] -> [Bool] -> [Bool]
multiplexer ans [False, False] = map (!!0) ans
multiplexer ans [False, True]  = map (!!1) ans
multiplexer ans [True, False]  = map (!!2) ans
multiplexer ans [True, True]   = map (!!3) ans

ops = [("+",   [False, False]),
       ("and", [False, True]),
       ("or",  [True, False]),
       ("xor", [True, True])]

The output of our ALU now constructs a list of lists, where each inner list is the result of each operation on the appropriate bits, where the first is addition, the second is and, the third is or, and the fourth is xor. We select each one out, and construct that result as our final computational result for the operator. This requires a modification to our ALU, however, to return this shape in every step:

bitsALU :: [Bool] -> [Bool] -> Bool -> [[Bool]]
bitsALU [] [] c = []
bitsALU (x:xs) (y:ys) cin =
  let (a, cout) = bac x y cin
  in [a, x && y, x || y, x *| y] : bitsALU xs ys cout

Then our final ALU uses the multiplexer on the result of this bit ALU to build the final computational ALU we will use:

alu :: [Bool] -> [Bool] -> [Bool] -> [Bool]
alu a b = multiplexer (bitsALU a b False)

We now have something resembling a computer! But it is not enough to make this claim, so we will demonstrate that it is the case. To this end, we construct a small language for our ALU, with a simple test case:

data Op = Op String [Bool]
data End = End
data Program = Start [Bool] [Op] End

t1 = Start
       (natToBin 2)
       [Op "+" (natToBin 4),
        Op "and" (natToBin 6),
        Op "or" (natToBin 8)]

Finally, we build a small driver that peforms these programs, using our previous definition of operations to look up and dispatch to the multiplexer appropriately:

runALU1 :: Program -> [Int]
runALU1 (Start input prog End) = runHelper input prog
    runHelper input [] = toInts input
    runHelper input (Op s b:prog) =
      case lookup s ops of
        (Just opcode) -> let output = alu input b opcode
                         in runHelper output prog
        (Nothing)     -> error $ "Invalid operation " ++ s
*Circuits > runALU1 t1

The output is 14, which, it turns out, is the result of (2 + 4) && 6 || 8 (unsurprisingly). We now have a basic language—more of a calculator, but still! We can perform basic Boolean logic operations over our input, which lives in the “operator” register. But still, we’ve constructed the basics of computation out of and, or, xor, and small operator dispatch using a multiplexer, and built a language on top of it.

In our next installment, we will extend our language and framework with full registers and then branching operators, constructing a small instruction set for general computation on top of this ALU.

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