Department of Computer Science and Technology

Technical reports

TCP, UDP, and Sockets: rigorous and experimentally-validated behavioural specification
Volume 1: Overview

Steve Bishop, Matthew Fairbairn, Michael Norrish, Peter Sewell, Michael Smith, Keith Wansbrough

March 2005, 88 pages

DOI: 10.48456/tr-624


We have developed a mathematically rigorous and experimentally-validated post-hoc specification of the behaviour of TCP, UDP, and the Sockets API. It characterises the API and network-interface interactions of a host, using operational semantics in the higher-order logic of the HOL automated proof assistant. The specification is detailed, covering almost all the information of the real-world communications: it is in terms of individual TCP segments and UDP datagrams, though it abstracts from the internals of IP. It has broad coverage, dealing with arbitrary API call sequences and incoming messages, not just some well-behaved usage. It is also accurate, closely based on the de facto standard of (three of) the widely-deployed implementations. To ensure this we have adopted a novel experimental semantics approach, developing test generation tools and symbolic higher-order-logic model checking techniques that let us validate the specification directly against several thousand traces captured from the implementations.

The resulting specification, which is annotated for the non-HOL-specialist reader, may be useful as an informal reference for TCP/IP stack implementors and Sockets API users, supplementing the existing informal standards and texts. It can also provide a basis for high-fidelity automated testing of future implementations, and a basis for design and formal proof of higher-level communication layers. More generally, the work demonstrates that it is feasible to carry out similar rigorous specification work at design-time for new protocols. We discuss how such a design-for-test approach should influence protocol development, leading to protocol specifications that are both unambiguous and clear, and to high-quality implementations that can be tested directly against those specifications.

This document (Volume 1) gives an overview of the project, discussing the goals and techniques and giving an introduction to the specification. The specification itself is given in the companion Volume 2 (UCAM-CL-TR-625), which is automatically typeset from the (extensively annotated) HOL source. As far as possible we have tried to make the work accessible to four groups of intended readers: workers in networking (implementors of TCP/IP stacks, and designers of new protocols); in distributed systems (implementors of software above the Sockets API); in distributed algorithms (for whom this may make it possible to prove properties about executable implementations of those algorithms); and in semantics and automated reasoning.

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BibTeX record

  author =	 {Bishop, Steve and Fairbairn, Matthew and Norrish, Michael
          	  and Sewell, Peter and Smith, Michael and Wansbrough, Keith},
  title = 	 {{TCP, UDP, and Sockets: rigorous and
         	   experimentally-validated behavioural specification : Volume
         	   1: Overview}},
  year = 	 2005,
  month = 	 mar,
  url = 	 {},
  institution =  {University of Cambridge, Computer Laboratory},
  doi = 	 {10.48456/tr-624},
  number = 	 {UCAM-CL-TR-624}