Online Discussion

June 23, 12:00 UTC - 14:00 UHR UTC
June 23, 14:00 CEST -16:00 UHR CEST
June 23, 08:00 EDT - 10:00 UHR EDT

Information for participating are below.

The VerifyThis Collaborative Large Scale Challenge aims at proving that deductive program verification can produce relevant results for real systems with acceptable effort. We selected HAGRID, a recently developed PGP-keyserver, for the challenge. Its development became necessary as the old keyserver had serious data protection and security issues.

In April 2020 four approaches to the verification challenge have been submitted to and presented during an online workshop, and in November 2020, a follow-up online discussion revealed interesting new ideas regarding specification and verifiation of interacting systems like Hagrid.

Aggregated Materials

Who can join the meeting?

Everybody who is interested in the challenge, formal verification, the proposed solutions or VerifyThis is cordially invited to join the meeting!

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The online event takes place with Zoom.

In protection against spammers, we require a short registration beforehand. The login credentials will be sent via your provided email address. Please register yourself with an email to

Note: If you had already registered for the Online Event in November or Feburary, we will send you the required login credentials automatically. Another registration is not required in this case.

Minutes of the Meeting: Contracts Discussion

VerifyThis discussion June 23, 2021
Marieke Huisman, Raúl Monti, Mattias Ulbrich, Alexander Weigl

The discussion starts with a presentation by Christian Lidström about different formalisms to specify automata-like properties (slides attached).

The presentation contains the following formalisms: - Finite state machines describe finite traces of events. Such FSMs can be described in different formats, e.g. NuSMV style models). - Regular expressions - Context-free grammars - Interval temporal logic, which is typically used to described sequences of states, rather than events. - TimedCSP: one important take-away is that we even forget to think about time. With explanation by Paula Herber: can be used to describe external behaviour, by abstracting away from the internal details. The specification formalisms also allows to distinguish between external and internal choice. - Model-based specifications in VerCors (with brief explanation by Wytse Oortwijn)

Afterwards, we discuss what this tells us about specifications.

In particular, considering the CSP-like specifications, how does this come together with classical deductive verification approaches (design by contract, program verification). Could the CSP-actions correspond to methods?

Combining the two is very challenging: it is possible to show that certain actions or methods are called in a specific order, but incorporating reasoning about the internal state is difficult (but desirable). The VerCors approach with process algebras is an attempt to do this, but the difference is that it works more at an internal level, while the CSP-style of specifications is more external.

What we would need is some way to specify state changes in an abstract way. Often we wish to talk about events that happen, and about state dependencies and updates in a mixed way, and we would need a single logic that supports both.

Daniel Grahl did something in this direction with adding temporal logic specifications to KeY (see his PhD thesis).

Another typical use case where this would be welcome would be protocol specifications (both sequential and concurrent).

Also TLA (+) is mentioned as a maybe suitable all-in-one specification language, but it also has limitations, because it does not allow to describe how programs are connected to actions. We could maybe use deductive verification to see how the program changes the state (a bit a la what is done in VerCors), and then derive the TLA+ specifications. This could be an extension to the VerCors approach, which would make it less specific to the VerCors style of specifications.

TLA* is mentioned. This is an extension of TLA+ that allows one to say that an action has been taken. It could be worth looking more into this.

We continue the discussion about the other formalisms that Christian mentioned. Some are just subsets of more complex ones. The advantage of using them would be that they might be easier to automate (because less expressive), and might be easier to use.

It might be interesting to think about such specifications as interface-level specifications. They describe possible orders of calls, the user has to check for protocol adherence. Thus, the combination may enable a separation of concerns: The automata-based specification describes the order of events/calls whereas the contract-based languages are used to specify the effects of individual events.

The code would only look at a single automaton, and the automata exchange messages for communication, from which global properties could be derived. Distributed programs might be a good use case for this.

We also should think about the direction in which we would like to go. Do we want to start with a model, and then synthesise the code, or do we want to start with a program, and then construct a model. It seems there are use cases for both of them. It also depends on what is your starting point: sometimes this will be a protocol description, sometimes the code is the main artifact.

Inferring the automaton from the code is still a major challenge. Some work has been done in this direction on process mining, or using automata learning for protocols. A major problem is that the resulting model does not have any abstraction (at least, you don’t get this for free). Getting the intent of the code as a model is a major challenge.

What is the best formalisms depends on what is verifiable, and on what sort of properties we want to capture.

We end with a short discussion about follow up discussions. The attendants like it if the discussion is concrete, about a particular case (the long term challenge, or some other challenge). It would be good if concrete programs or properties are the starting point for the discussion, so we could talk for example about how a certain property could be specified (as a community effort).