Memcached: VerifyThis Long-term Challenge

Specifying and Verifying a Real-life Remote Key-Value Cache

We propose the second VerifyThis long-term challenge: A verified drop-in replacement of the in-memory key-value cache memcached. Software like memcached is the backbone for fast response in cloud-native environment by storing and caching hot information. This particular software package is open source (BSD 3 clause license) and it is widely in use at major players like Google, Amazon, Microsoft, Facebook, and Twitter.

At the same time, much of the complexity of memcached is internal, i.e., its external interface is fairly straight-forward, which means that developing a (verified) drop-in replacement that supports a compatible subset of the protocol requires a reasonably low effort only.


The overarching goals and research directions of this long-term challenge are as follows:

  • Develop high-level behavioral models and contract specifications that abstractly capture the core functionality of a remote cache server, the protocol, and the client library

  • Characterize global properties of the entire system, e.g. temporal liveness and safety properties related to the lifecycle of cache entries

  • Design and verify an implementation that realizes these requirements and that may serve as a drop-in replacement for memcached with support of a significant subset of its features

  • Verify parts of the actual memcached implementation (written in C), using e.g. scalable software model checking methods or focused deductive techniques on critical routines

We emphasize that the challenges associated with these respective goals can be scaled in many dimensions (realistic interfaces, algorithms and data structures, features). It is therefore easy to get started, in fact, we provide two abstract but reasonably complete executable reference implementations that should help with the first steps.

System Description

memcached is an in-memory key-value store that acts as a cache. It offers operations to enter keys into the cache data structure with associated values and also a timeout for which the association is valid. In contrast to traditional databases, entries can implicitly be evicted from the cache due to memory pressure, which memcached resolves by a LRU protocol. The architecture of the main memcached application is that of a server which serves requests to clients by spawning multiple threads, which in turn access the shared internal data structure. The standard interface is a simple text and line-based over telnet with a small set of commands that include lookup, update, and also (atomic) replacement. memcached is supposed to serve multiple front-end applications at a time. Typically, memcached is used via a client library interface which offers a high-level API. Such libraries exist for a variety of programming languages (including Javascript and PHP). Besides setting up the telnet connection and realizing the simple communication protocol, client libraries may also support load-balancing queries over a pool of memcached servers, such that each server is made responsible for a subset of the keyspace in use by the application.


Please feel free to use the following resources to familiarize yourself with the functionality and internals of the memcached server and its behavior. Note that both implementations may be incomplete and/or not entirely be faithful to the reference memcached. If you spot such a difference that is not documented please contact the respective author or file a github issue.