Computer Laboratory

Technical reports

Formal verification of machine-code programs

Magnus O. Myreen

December 2009, 109 pages

This technical report is based on a dissertation submitted December 2008 by the author for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy to the University of Cambridge, Trinity College.


Formal program verification provides mathematical means of increasing assurance for the correctness of software. Most approaches to program verification are either fully automatic and prove only weak properties, or alternatively are manual and labour intensive to apply; few target realistically modelled machine code. The work presented in this dissertation aims to ease the effort required in proving properties of programs on top of detailed models of machine code. The contributions are novel approaches for both verification of existing programs and methods for automatically constructing correct code.

For program verification, this thesis presents a new approach based on translation: the problem of proving properties of programs is reduced, via fully-automatic deduction, to a problem of proving properties of recursive functions. The translation from programs to recursive functions is shown to be implementable in a theorem prover both for simple while-programs as well as real machine code. This verification-after-translation approach has several advantages over established approaches of verification condition generation. In particular, the new approach does not require annotating the program with assertions. More importantly, the proposed approach separates the verification proof from the underlying model so that specific resource names, some instruction orderings and certain control-flow structures become irrelevant. As a result proof reuse is enabled to a greater extent than in currently used methods. The scalability of this new approach is illustrated through the verification of ARM, x86 and PowerPC implementations of a copying garbage collector.

For construction of correct code this thesis presents a new compiler which maps functions from logic, via proof, down to multiple carefully modelled commercial machine languages. Unlike previously published work on compilation from higher-order logic, this compiler allows input functions to be partially specified and supports a broad range of user-defined extensions. These features enabled the production of formally verified machine-code implementations of a LISP interpreter, as a case study.

The automation and proofs have been implemented in the HOL4 theorem prover, using a new machine-code Hoare triple instantiated to detailed specifications of ARM, x86 and PowerPC instruction set architectures.

Full text

PDF (0.8 MB)

BibTeX record

  author =	 {Myreen, Magnus O.},
  title = 	 {{Formal verification of machine-code programs}},
  year = 	 2009,
  month = 	 dec,
  url = 	 {},
  institution =  {University of Cambridge, Computer Laboratory},
  number = 	 {UCAM-CL-TR-765}