Abstract The paper suggests a novel method for implementing recursive algorithms in hardware. The required support for recursion has been provided through a modular and a hierarchical specification of a control unit that can be translated to an implementation of the respective hardware circuit on the basis of a recursive hierarchical finite state machine and through a mechanism that permits the contents of an execution unit to be stored/restored between hierarchical calls/returns. The paper describes all the details that are required to implement recursive algorithms in hardware. It begins with software (C++) models and finishes with synthesizable VHDL codes. Two practical applications of recursive algorithms in the data sorting and compression area have been studied in detail.