I'm implementing logic on an FPGA (programmable chip) that does the key verification part of ECDSA on the curve secpk256k1, in which all operations are mod p where $p = 2^{256} - 2^{32} - 2^9 - 2^8 - 2^7 - 2^6 - 2^4 - 1$ (a Mersenne prime).

I'm starting with building a circuit to do the modular reduction, I know about Barret's and Montgomery's algorithm, but I have been reading in several guides that because of the $2^n - c$ form, as well as it being a Mersenne prime that there are simpler ways to do the modulo reduction.

But I'm getting stuck on understanding the actual logic underneath this, I was wondering if any one have any good example or pointers to understand how to do this modulo operation a bit better?

There was a similar question here (except I'm doing this on FPGA not CPU, so the word size is irrelevant) but I don't totally understand the answers reply, so even just some helpful comments explaining the same thing would be a huge help. Fast modular reduction

This paper also has a fast implementation on page 7 (http://cse.iitkgp.ac.in/~debdeep/osscrypto/psec/downloads/PSEC-KEM_prime.pdf) which looks like it came from one of these optimizations above, but I would like to try understand how to get there myself.

  • $\begingroup$ When I have a prime modulo, you are simply just running your XOR sums of registers and then adding them with a programmable overflow. You just MUX out some of the upper bits and add them to the lower bits. $\endgroup$
    – b degnan
    Commented Mar 17, 2019 at 18:59
  • $\begingroup$ Note that $2^{256} - 2^{32} - 977$ is not a Mersenne prime, though to varying degrees it might be considered a generalized Mersenne prime. (Exactly where the boundary between generalized Mersenne primes and mere primes lies has never been clear to me.) $\endgroup$ Commented Mar 17, 2019 at 19:04

1 Answer 1


Let $p = 2^n - c$. Then $2^n - c \equiv 0 \pmod p$, so $2^n \equiv c \pmod p$. Suppose you have an integer $$x = 2^n x_{\mathrm{hi}} + x_{\mathrm{lo}}.$$ Then $$x \equiv c\cdot x_{\mathrm{hi}} + x_{\mathrm{lo}} \pmod p.$$ In other words, you can compute a reduction step by shift/multiply/add: shift right by $n$, multiply by $c$, and add to the low $n$ bits.

The best case is when $c = 1$, so $p$ is a Mersenne prime: then you can skip the multiplication altogether. But you can generalize this further for $p = 2^n - 2^m - d$, since $2^n \equiv 2^m + d \pmod p$, so $$2^n x_{\mathrm{hi}} + x_{\mathrm{lo}} \equiv 2^m x_{\mathrm{hi}} + d \cdot x_{\mathrm{hi}} + x_{\mathrm{lo}} \pmod p.$$ That is, you can compute a reduction step by an $n$-bit shift, an $m$-bit shift, a multiply by $d$, and two adds.

Similarly, if $p = 2^{2m} - 2^m - 1$, like Ed448-Goldilocks uses, then you can compute a reduction step $$2^{2m} x_{\mathrm{hi}} + x_{\mathrm{lo}} \equiv 2^m x_{\mathrm{hi}} + x_{\mathrm{hi}} + x_{\mathrm{lo}}$$ with two $n$-bit shifts and two additions.

Obviously, you can always write any modulus as a sum of powers of two; the more terms there are, the more costly the reduction step is to write as a series of shifts and adds. In software implementations, at some point it may be faster to use the CPU's multiplier than your own shift-and-add steps. For instance, in secp256k1, I'd guess that it is fastest to write it as $2^{256} - 2^{32} - 977$ if you can take advantage of a CPU's 32x32->64-bit multiplier, but you should consult libsecp256k1 for the state of the art in arithmetic modulo this prime.


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