Tools and Techniques for the Sound Verification of Low Level Code
Candidate: Christopher L. Conway
Advisor: Clark Barrett


Software plays an increasingly crucial role in nearly every facet of modern life, from communications infrastructure to the control systems in automobiles, airplanes, and power plants. To achieve the highest degree of reliability for the most critical pieces of software, it is necessary to move beyond ad hoc testing and review processes towards verification---to prove using formal methods that a piece of code exhibits exactly those behaviors allowed by its specification and no others.

A significant portion of the existing software infrastructure is written in low-level languages like C and C++. Features of these language present significant verification challenges. For example, unrestricted pointer manipulation means that we cannot prove even the simplest properties of programs without first collecting precise information about potential aliasing relationships between variables.

In this thesis, I present several contributions. The first is a general framework for combining program analyses that are only conditionally sound. Using this framework, I show it is possible to design a sound verification tool that relies on a separate, previously-computed pointer analysis.

The second contribution of this thesis is Cascade, a multi-platform, multi-paradigm framework for verification. Cascade includes a support for precise analysis of low-level C code, as well as for higher-level languages such as SPL.

Finally, I describe a novel technique for the verification of datatype invariants in low-level systems code. The programmer provides a high-level specification for a low-level implementation in the form of inductive datatype declarations and code assertions. The connection between the high-level semantics and the implementation code is then checked using bit-precise reasoning. An implementation of this datatype verification technique is available as a Cascade module.