Remote JTAG with Vivado

My FPGA development computer is a server in a datacenter. It stores lots of memory and CPU, but it’s impossible to connect it directly to my development boards. ISE has always supported remote JTAG servers, but the implementation has always been spotty. In some releases it has difficulty with some versions of Linux. With Vivado, things are much improved.

If your lab machine is on the same network as your development machine, simply start the hw_server program in the Vivado bin directory and open a target from the development machine Vivado window. Just specify a remote server host name and use the default port 3121. It couldn’t be simpler.

If your lab machine is behind a firewall, you may need to use SSH to tunnel the traffic through. First, make sure the hardware manager is not running on your development machine. From the lab machine, ssh into the development machine with the following command:

ssh -R 3121:localhost:3121

This will create an SSH tunnel from your lab machine to your development machine. If you get a warning saying that SSH can’t bind to the required port it means you are still running a local JTAG server on your development machine. Assuming all went well you should be logged in to your development machine from the lab machine. You can then open the target in the hardware manager in Vivado but tell it to connect to a local machine. Vivido will see a server already running on port 3121 (through your SSH tunnel), so it won’t try to start a new one.

If your lab machine is running Windows then you can use the open source PuTTY program to make the tunnel. If your development machine is running Windows, then you need to install an SSH server on the machine. That’s beyond the scope of this post.

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