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Understanding Linear Feedback Shift Registers The Easy Way
Written by Dan Healy for UCSCs CMPE125 class.

This tutorial will teach you how to use LFSRs, why other tutorials on the subject are so confusing, and
how you can go about understanding the underlying mathematics if you really want to know.

First, a glossary.

Linear Feedback Shift Register (LFSR):
An n-bit shift register which pseudo-randomly scrolls between 2
n
-1 values, but does it very
quickly because there is minimal combinational logic involved. Once it reaches its final state, it will
traverse the sequence exactly as before. It has many applications you should already be familiar with if

Primitive polynomial:
(very basically) A polynomial of degree n that has the form: 1 + + x
n
, where () are zero or
more terms with a coefficient of 1. x
n
and 1 are always present. For each degree, there can be many
different primitive polynomials. These polynomials also must satisfy other mathematical conditions, if
youre really interested see http://mathworld.wolfram.com/PrimitivePolynomial.html or google it. One
important property to note is that their reciprocals also form primitive polynomials (that is, they come in
pairs). Example: 1 + x
3
+ x
4
is Degree 4, its reciprocal is 1 + x + x
4
(10011 and 11001), and both are
primitive.

Taps:
Lines that run from the output of one register within the LFSR into XOR gates that determine
input to another register within the LFSR. These are chosen based on the primitive polynomial.

Type 1 or External LFSRs:
One way of implementing LFSRs; all XOR gates are fed sequentially into one another and end
up as the input to the least (or most, either is correct) significant bit of the LFSR. Simply put, the XORs
are external from the shift register.

Type 2 or Internal LFSRs:
Another LFSR implementation; XOR gates feed into different registers within the LFSR, and are
not sequential. Simply put, the XORs are inside the shift register.

Other tutorials on this subject are confusing because they only address one type of implementation, dont
explain how they got the taps, or they show the implementation of an LFSR and then in a table show the taps
corresponding to a different primitive polynomial of the same degree. Keep all of this in mind if you look
elsewhere.

Consider a simple 3-bit LFSR. The only primitive polynomials for degree 3 are 1 + x
2
+ x
3
and 1 + x +
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x
3
(they are reciprocals of each other, 1011 and 1101). Since we have two primitive polynomials, and we have
two different implementation strategies, we therefore have four unique ways of implementing the LFSR. In fact,
each of these implementations can differ according to which register is the most significant bit (either way will
have 2
n
-1 states, but with different sequences).

A and B illustrate a Type 1 / External LFSR.
C and D illustrate a Type 2 / Internal LFSR.

A and C illustrate the implementation of 1 + x
2
+ x
3
B and D illustrate the implementation of 1 + x + x
3

Since x
n
and 1 are always present in primitive polynomials, you can think of them as being used as the
output of the shift register and the input of the shift register, respectively.

For an n-bit LFSR, you need to discover a primitive polynomial associated with it to implement it. Tap
tables on the internet will list taps as such:

N = 3, Taps at 0, 1, 3 (this corresponds to 1 + x + x
3
)

This tutorial uses the 0 and 3 as taps because they correspond to the powers of x in the primitive
polynomial. Sometimes Tap tables will omit the 0 and 3, since they must be present. Other times, they may use
0 to mean the output of the least significant register (so for N = 3, their taps would be listed as "0, 2" instead of
"1, 3"). They usually only list the taps associated with one primitive polynomial, but more than one exists. All of
this explains why different tap tables will sometimes show you different numbers!

Heres another pair of examples, for n = 8 and using the primitive polynomial 1 + x
2
+ x
3
+ x
4
+ x
8
:
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Internal:

External:

Warning! The images above show the Reset line used incorrectly. The registers should be seeded to a non-
zero value; all-zeroes is called the lock-up state and will not change. Therefore, at least one register must be
preset. Your choice in seed value determines the order of states, and ultimately the value at the 2
n
-1 state.
Note that it is also possible to design LFSRs to have an all-ones lock-up state instead, but this will not be
discussed here for brevity. Special thanks to all those who have pointed out this omission.

Here is a good tap table provided by Scott R. Gravenhorst! In this link, the taps listed omit "0." Again, keep in
mind that other polynomials do exist.

Good luck!

Images blatantly stolen from
http://www.ee.ualberta.ca/~elliott/ee552/studentAppNotes/1999f/Drivers_Ed/lfsr.html and
http://www.edacafe.com/books/ASIC/Book/CH14/CH14.7.php