VHDL is commonly used to write text models that describe a logic circuit. Such a model is processed by a synthesis program, only if it is part of the logic design. A simulation program is used to test the logic design using simulation models to represent the logic circuits that interface to the design. This collection of simulation models is commonly called a .
The Synopsys Synthesis Example illustrates that the RTL synthesis is moreefficient than the behavior synthesis, although the simulation of previousone requires a few clock cycles.
Not all constructs in VHDL are suitable for synthesis. For example, most constructs that explicitly deal with timing such as are not synthesizable despite being valid for simulation. While different synthesis tools have different capabilities, there exists a common of VHDL that defines what language constructs and idioms map into common hardware for many synthesis tools. IEEE 1076.6 defines a subset of the language that is considered the official synthesis subset. It is generally considered a "best practice" to write very idiomatic code for synthesis as results can be incorrect or suboptimal for non-standard constructs.
A large subset of VHDL cannot be translated into hardware. This subset is known as the non-synthesizable or the simulation-only subset of VHDL and can only be used for prototyping, simulation and debugging. For example, the following code will generate a clock with the frequency of 50 MHz. It can, for example, be used to drive a clock input in a design during simulation. It is, however, a simulation-only construct and cannot be implemented in hardware. In actual hardware, the clock is generated externally; it can be scaled down internally by user logic or dedicated hardware.
In June 2006, the VHDL Technical Committee of (delegated by IEEE to work on the next update of the standard) approved so called Draft 3.0 of VHDL-2006. While maintaining full compatibility with older versions, this proposed standard provides numerous extensions that make writing and managing VHDL code easier. Key changes include incorporation of child standards (1164, 1076.2, 1076.3) into the main 1076 standard, an extended set of operators, more flexible syntax of and statements, incorporation of VHPI (interface to C/C++ languages) and a subset of PSL (). These changes should improve quality of synthesizable VHDL code, make testbenches more flexible, and allow wider use of VHDL for system-level descriptions.
The simulation-only constructs can be used to build complex waveforms in very short time. Such waveform can be used, for example, as test vectors for a complex design or as a prototype of some synthesizer logic that will be implemented in the future.