SPEF Files Explained

Standard Parasitic Exchange Format(SPEF) is an IEEE format for specifying chip parasitics. The specification for SPEF is a part of standard 1481-1999 IEEE Standard for Integrated Circuit (IC) Delay and Power Calculation System . Latest version of SPEF is part of 1481-2009 IEEE Standard for Integrated Circuit (IC) Open Library Architecture (OLA) . The SPEF provides a standard medium to pass parasitic information between EDA tools during any stage in the design process.


  1. All keywords in SPEF start with an asterisk (*), followed by all capital or underscore. e.g. `*D_NET`
  2. Keywords, identifiers, characters, and numbers are delimited by syntax characters, white_space, or newline.
  3. Any character other than alphanumerics and underscore (_) shall be escaped when used in an identifier in a SPEF file. However there are exceptions to the escape rule as follows:
    1. The pin_delim (*DELIMITER) between an instance and pin name, such as : in I\$481:X
    2. The heir_delim (*DIVIDER) character, such as / in /top/coreblk/cpu1/inreg0/I\$481
    3. A prefix_bus_delim or suffix_bus_delim (*BUS_DELIMITER) being used to denote a bit of a logical bus or an arrayed instance, such as DATAOUT[12]
  4. SPEF file synatx is `SPEF_file ::= header_def [name_map] [power_def] [external_def] [define_def] [variation_def] internal_def`
    A spef file can have the follwing sections

    • Header Section : header_def
    • Name map definition : [name_map]
    • Power & Ground Nets definition : [power_def]
    • External definition : [external_def]
    • Hierarchical SPEF (entities) definition : [define_def]
    • Process and temperature variation definition : [variation_def]
    • Internal definition : internal_def

    Not all of these are mandatory, and I will be talking in detail about a typical SPEF file that has a header section, name_map, ports section(external_def) and the parasitic definition section(internal_def).

  5. // begins a single-line comment anywhere on the line, which is terminated by a newline. /* begins a multiline comment, terminated by */

Header Section
The header section has information on design_name, extrcation tool, units etc. Some of the keywords in header are given below.
– Spef version : `*SPEF`
– Design Name: `*DESIGN`
– RC EXtrcation tool : `*PROGRAM`
– Hierarchy delimiter : `*DIVIDER`
– Bus delimiter : `*DELIMITER`
– Units : `*T_UNIT ,*C_UNIT , *R_UNIT, *L_UNIT`

Name map definition
Name map section starts with the Keyword “*NAME_MAP”. This is an optional section, and is used to reduce the filesize by mapping the long names into shorter numbers preceeded by an asterisk. (*).


	*1 o_vcm0_s[0]
	*2 o_vcm0_b[2]
	*3 o_vcm0_b[1]
	*214 i_comp_lat_ehpf
	*215 i_comp_etot
	*5916 U67

Subsequently in the parasitic definition sections, `o_vcm0_s[0]` will be referred by `*1` and so on.

External definitions (`*PORTS`)
We are interested in the ports as defined by the SPEF. Search for `*PORTS` in the spef file.


	*1   O
	*2   O
	*214 I
	*215 I

When read together with the name map section, this means `o_vcm0_s[0] & o_vcm0_b[2]` are output ports, whereas `i_comp_etot & i_comp_lat_ehpf` are an input ports of the design as specified by the `*DESIGN` construct.

Internal Definition
This section gives detailed net definition OR reduced net definition. After the `*PORTS` section, you will usually have a `*D_NET` statement. If it is an `*R_NET` , you have a reduced net definition. I am going to explain the `*D_NET` in this section, as it is the most common in design flow.

The syntax for `*D_NET` specification is `d_net ::= *D_NET net_ref total_cap [routing_conf] [conn_sec] [cap_sec] [res_sec] [induc_sec] *END`

A typical example is

*D_NET *214 9.90410

*P *214 I *C 0.00000 91.0500
*I *5916:A I *C 61.5500 92.7500 *L 7.70000

1 *214 7.56297
2 *5916:A 2.34113

1 *214 *5916:A 20.1528
  • The *D_NET *214 9.90410 line refers to the netname and the total cap of the net. Looking up `*214` in name_map section gives the net name as `i_comp_lat_ehpf`.
  • The `*CONN` section gives the external & internal connection to the net. Connection to a port is an external connection and is denoted by `*P`. An internal connection is to the pin of a cell and start with an `*I`.
    Syntaxc: `conn_def ::= *P external_connection direction {conn_attr} | *I internal_connection direction {conn_attr}`

    • `*P *214 I` : This means the direction is input. Can have `I, O or B`, depending on whther the port/pin is input, output or bidirectional.
    • `*C 0.00000 91.0500` : Gives the coordinates
    • `*L` gives the capacitance load value. If a driver, `*D` will give the driving cell name.

    The snippet

    *P *214 I *C 0.00000 91.0500
    *I *5916:A I *C 61.5500 92.7500 *L 7.70000

    gives the connections of the D_NET `*214` as port `*214` and `*5916:A`. From name_map section, `*5916` is mapped to the instance `U67`. So are looking at the parasitics of net `i_comp_lat_ehpf` which has port `i_comp_lat_ehpf` as the driver and a single fanout of `U67/A`. The load cap as seen by the net at pin `U67/A` is `7.70000`(unit as specified in *C_UNIT).

  • The *CAP definition gives detailed capacitance of the net. If lumped to ground, the `cap_elem` has only one node, but can have two nodes if coupled capacitance. The example above is for capacitance lumped to ground.
    1 *214 7.56297

    Cap element 1 is for the node `*214` (i_comp_lat_ehpf) , and it has a capacitance of `7.56297units`. The capacitance section will grow with the number of fanouts.

  • *RES Section
    The `*RES` section provides the resistance for the net. `1 *214 *5916:A 20.1528` specifies that between the nodes `*214` and `*5916:A`, the resiatnce is `20.1528units`(as specified by *R_UNIT). The resiatnce section will grow with the number of fanouts.
  • `*END` denotes the end of parasitic definition for the `*D_NET`. The `*D_NET` section for the next net starts after the `*END` statement.

19 comments on “SPEF Files Explained

  1. Nandish

    In my SPEF file, I’m getting below mentioned lines:
    0 CLK_BAR:16 M0:g 2.646e-05
    1 CLK_BAR:2 VDD:33 2.47461e-05

    But, in my SPICE file, there are no nodes with numbers 16 and 2. I’m using MentorGrahics IC PEX to extract parasitic. You have given such a great article. I hope you would help me out here.

  2. Pratik

    Hi Sini,

    Thanks for explaining in details.
    I have a question, In my SPEF I have:

    *D_NET *563502 14.7389
    *P clk_cpu I *C 2453.7 694.4
    *I *2393:I I *C 2454.1 611.6 *D CKBD16
    *I *2392:I I *C 2455.1 652.2 *D CKND16
    *I *2394:I I *C 2456.9 690.4 *D CKBD12

    So why input instance has *D information, As per I understood from blog, it should be *L.

    Would you please let me know about this?
    Pratik Shah.

    1. Sini Mukundan Post author

      I have seen these with QRC extraction tool and StarRC writes out the format with *L. Maybe dependent on the tool you use.

      In “*I *2393:I I *C 2454.1 611.6 *D CKBD16″, the load cap is not explicitly mentioned, but if you trace, *2393 will be of type CKBD16. It is the case for all these *D statements. I haven’t verified the numbers in STA, but I bet the “capacitance” value in the .lib for the pin “I” of this cell will be used as the load capacitance.

  3. Aalok

    hello Siri, following your pages from quite sometime, and it is of great help for someone like me who has just started his career in VLSI industry 🙂
    i have got a doubt regarding the content of SPEF file.
    under *CAP and *RES, i see something like this.

    1 *19:shift 0.0203868
    2 *20:shift *19:q 0.00208171
    3 *20:shift *20:d 0.0744220
    4 *20:shift 0.103023

    1 *9 *20:shift 1.36540
    2 *19:shift *20:shift 3.72776
    3 *19:shift *9:36 0.00100000
    4 *20:shift *9:42 0.00100000

    can you tell me what these ‘shift’ really mean?
    we use StarXT for parasitic extraction. thanks in advance 🙂

  4. Aalok

    *P *9 I *C 5.36489 0.424889
    *I *19:shift I *C 3.27489 0.449889
    *I *20:shift I *C 10.3049 0.449889

    now it is clear 🙂 ‘shift’ is after all a pin of instace *19 and *20… i hadn’t given enough thought on this i suppose 🙂 thanks again

  5. Sanath Ali

    Hello Sini,

    1 *1:2 0.459127
    2 *1:3 2.50345

    In the above statement, I understand it is a lumped cap of *1 node. I want to know what is *1:2 or *1:3 refers to?

    1. Sini Mukundan Post author

      *1 above is a net. Look in the *NAME_MAP section for the name of *1.

      *1:2 and *1:3 are the nodes(or branches) created by the extraction tool for net *1.Most of the times these are actual routing layer changes. Or fractured by the tool.

  6. Sophia


    Thanks for your explanation. It’s clear and helpful.
    Meanwhile, could you please also share *|S and *|N ?

    I saw them in my SPEF file

  7. Himanshu Gautam

    If I have a netlist of a design which I have made, now I want to have a spef of that design. My first question is, if that could be done? Second, if yes then how could it be done?

  8. kartus

    While fixing erc in primetime, i got an error that {{ ” Expected boolean value but got “false false”. }}. Please can you tell me what may be the issue?


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