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In a previous post, key topics on class handles and objects were discussed which is essential to understand how shallow copy and deep copy works.

Click here to refresh concepts in class handles and objects !

Shallow Copy

Contents in pkt will be copied into pkt2 when pkt is used along with the new() constructor for the new object.

 
Packet pkt, pkt2;
 
pkt = new;
pkt2 = new pkt;
 

This method is known as a shallow copy, because all of the variables are copied across integers, strings, instance handles, etc but nested objects are not copied entirely. Only their handles will be assigned to the new object and hence both the packets will point to the same nested object instance. To illustrate this point let's look at an example.

class Header;
	int id;
	function new (int id);
		this.id = id;
	endfunction
	
	function showId();
		$display ("id=0x%0d", id);
	endfunction
endclass

class Packet;
	int 	addr;
	int 	data;
	Header 	hdr;
	
	function new (int addr, int data, int id);
		hdr = new (id);
		this.addr = addr;
		this.data = data;
	endfunction
	
	function display (string name);
		$display ("[%s] addr=0x%0h data=0x%0h id=%0d", name, addr, data, hdr.id);
	endfunction
endclass

module tb;
	Packet p1, p2;
	initial begin
		// Create a new pkt object called p1
		p1 = new (32'hface_cafe, 32'h1234_5678, 26);
		p1.display ("p1");
		
		// Shallow copy p1 into p2; p2 is a new object with contents in p1
		p2 = new p1;
		p2.display ("p2");
		
		// Now let's change the addr and id in p1
		p1.addr = 32'habcd_ef12;
		p1.data = 32'h5a5a_5a5a;
		p1.hdr.id = 17;
		p1.display ("p1");
		
		// Print p2 and see that hdr.id points to the hdr in p1, while
		// addr and data remain unchanged.
		p2.display ("p2");
	end
endmodule

The class Packet contains a nested class called Header. First we created a packet called p1 and assigned it with some values. Then p2 was created as a copy of p1 using the shallow copy method. To prove that only handles and not the entire object is copied, members of the p1 packet is modified including members within the nested class. When the contents in p2 are printed, we can see that the id member in the nested class remains the same.

Simulation Log
ncsim> run
[p1] addr=0xfacecafe data=0x12345678 id=26
[p2] addr=0xfacecafe data=0x12345678 id=26

[p1] addr=0xabcdef12 data=0x5a5a5a5a id=17
[p2] addr=0xfacecafe data=0x12345678 id=17
ncsim: *W,RNQUIE: Simulation is complete.

Deep Copy

A deep copy is where everything (including nested objects) is copied and typically custom code is required for this purpose.

 
Packet p1 = new;
Packet p2 = new;
p2.copy (p1);
 

Let's add in a custom function called copy() within the Packet class to the example given above.

class Packet;
	...
   function copy (Packet p);
      this.addr = p.addr;
      this.data = p.data;
      this.hdr.id = p.hdr.id;
   endfunction
	...
endclass

module tb;
	Packet p1, p2;
	initial begin
		p1 = new (32'hface_cafe, 32'h1234_5678, 32'h1a);
		p1.display ("p1");
		
		p2 = new (1,2,3);  // give some values
		p2.copy (p1);
		p2.display ("p2");
		
		// Now let's change the addr and id in p1
		p1.addr = 32'habcd_ef12;
		p1.data = 32'h5a5a_5a5a;
		p1.hdr.id = 32'h11;
		p1.display ("p1");
		
		// Now let's print p2 - you'll see the changes made to hdr id 
		// but not addr
		p2.display ("p2");
	end
endmodule

Note that we have invoked the custom copy() function here instead of the shallow copy method, and hence Header object contents are expected to be copied into p2 as well.

Simulation Log
ncsim> run
[p1] addr=0xfacecafe data=0x12345678 id=26
[p2] addr=0xfacecafe data=0x12345678 id=26

[p1] addr=0xabcdef12 data=0x5a5a5a5a id=17
[p2] addr=0xfacecafe data=0x12345678 id=26
ncsim: *W,RNQUIE: Simulation is complete.

Note that id of object p2 still holds onto the previous value even though p1's id field was changed.

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