Sail is a language for expressing multiprocessor ISA descriptions. It is currently being used for ARM, RISC-V, CHERI, IBM Power, MIPS, and x86 descriptions, varying from full definitions to core user-mode fragments.

The Sail source and documentation, and some of those models, are available in a public github repository.


Detailed Models of Instruction Set Architectures: From Pseudocode to Formal Semantics. Alasdair Armstrong, Thomas Bauereiss, Brian Campbell, Shaked Flur, Kathryn E. Gray, Prashanth Mundkur, Robert M.~Norton, Christopher Pulte, Alastair Reid, Peter Sewell, Ian Stark, Mark Wassell. Two-page abstract, Automated Reasoning Workshop, 2018.
Processor instruction set architectures (ISAs) are typically specified using a mixture of prose and pseudocode. We present ongoing work on expressing such specifications rigorously and automatically translating them to interactive theorem prover definitions, making them amenable to mechanised proof. Our ISA descriptions are written in Sail - a custom ISA specification language designed to support idioms from various processor vendor's pseudocode, with lightweight dependent typing for bitvectors, targeting a variety of use cases including sequential and concurrent ISA semantics. From Sail we aim to portably generate usable theorem prover definitions for multiple provers, including Isabelle, HOL4, and Coq. We are focusing on the full ARMv8.3-A specification, CHERI-MIPS, and RISC-V, together with fragments of IBM POWER and x86.

Formalisation of MiniSail in the Isabelle Theorem Prover. Alasdair Armstrong, Neel Krishnaswami, Peter Sewell, Mark Wassell. Two-page abstract, Automated Reasoning Workshop, 2018.

Sail is a language used to model instruction set architectures. It has an imperative syntax and a dependent type system. We formalise a core calculus of the language in the Isabelle theorem prover describing the language syntax, substitution, the type system and operational semantics. A number of classic theorems such as preservation and progress are then proved. The purpose of this formalisation is to ensure that the full language is built on sound foundations and to provide a platform for the generation of the implementation of a type checker and evaluator for the language.

Simplifying ARM Concurrency: Multicopy-atomic Axiomatic and Operational Models for ARMv8. Christopher Pulte, Shaked Flur, Will Deacon, Jon French, Susmit Sarkar, and Peter Sewell. In POPL 2018. [ bib | project page | pdf ]

ARM has a relaxed memory model, previously specified in informal prose for ARMv7 and ARMv8. Over time, and partly due to work building formal semantics for ARM concurrency, it has become clear that some of the complexity of the model is not justified by the potential benefits. In particular, the model was originally non-multicopy-atomic: writes could become visible to some other threads before becoming visible to all --- but this has not been exploited in production implementations, the corresponding potential hardware optimisations are thought to have insufficient benefits in the ARM context, and it gives rise to subtle complications when combined with other ARMv8 features. The ARMv8 architecture has therefore been revised: it now has a multicopy-atomic model. It has also been simplified in other respects, including more straightforward notions of dependency, and the architecture now includes a formal concurrency model.

In this paper we detail these changes and discuss their motivation. We define two formal concurrency models: an operational one, simplifying the Flowing model of Flur et al., and the axiomatic model of the revised ARMv8 specification. The models were developed by an academic group and by ARM staff, respectively, and this extended collaboration partly motivated the above changes. We prove the equivalence of the two models. The operational model is integrated into an executable exploration tool with new web interface, demonstrated by exhaustively checking the possible behaviours of a loop-unrolled version of a Linux kernel lock implementation, a previously known bug due to unprevented speculation, and a fixed version.

[-] Shaked Flur, Susmit Sarkar, Christopher Pulte, Kyndylan Nienhuis, Luc Maranget, Kathryn E. Gray, Ali Sezgin, Mark Batty, and Peter Sewell. Mixed-size concurrency: ARM, POWER, C/C++11, and SC. In POPL 2017: The 44st Annual ACM SIGPLAN-SIGACT Symposium on Principles of Programming Languages, Paris, France, January 2017. [ bib | .pdf ]

Previous work on the semantics of relaxed shared-memory concurrency has only considered the case in which each load reads the data of exactly one store. In practice, however, multiprocessors support mixed-size accesses, and these are used by systems software and (to some degree) exposed at the C/C++ language level. A semantic foundation for software, therefore, has to address them.

We investigate the mixed-size behaviour of ARMv8 and IBM POWER architectures and implementations: by experiment, by developing semantic models, by testing the correspondence between these, and by discussion with ARM and IBM staff. This turns out to be surprisingly subtle, and on the way we have to revisit the fundamental concepts of coherence and sequential consistency, which change in this setting. In particular, we show that adding a memory barrier between each instruction does not restore sequential consistency. We go on to extend the C/C++11 model to support non-atomic mixed-size memory accesses.

This is a necessary step towards semantics for real-world shared-memory concurrent code, beyond litmus tests.

[-] Shaked Flur, Kathryn E. Gray, Christopher Pulte, Susmit Sarkar, Ali Sezgin, Luc Maranget, Will Deacon, and Peter Sewell. Modelling the ARMv8 architecture, operationally: concurrency and ISA. In POPL 2016: Proceedings of the 43rd Annual ACM SIGPLAN-SIGACT Symposium on Principles of Programming Languages, St. Petersburg, FL, USA, pages 608-621, 2016. [ bib | DOI | http | .pdf ]

In this paper we develop semantics for key aspects of the ARMv8 multiprocessor architecture: the concurrency model and much of the 64-bit application-level instruction set (ISA). Our goal is to clarify what the range of architecturally allowable behaviour is, and thereby to support future work on formal verification, analysis, and testing of concurrent ARM software and hardware.

Establishing such models with high confidence is intrinsically difficult: it involves capturing the vendor's architectural intent, aspects of which (especially for concurrency) have not previously been precisely defined. We therefore first develop a concurrency model with a microarchitectural flavour, abstracting from many hardware implementation concerns but still close to hardware-designer intuition. This means it can be discussed in detail with ARM architects. We then develop a more abstract model, better suited for use as an architectural specification, which we prove sound w.r.t. the first.

The instruction semantics involves further difficulties, handling the mass of detail and the subtle intensional information required to interface to the concurrency model. We have a novel ISA description language, with a lightweight dependent type system, letting us do both with a rather direct representation of the ARM reference manual instruction descriptions.

We build a tool from the combined semantics that lets one explore, either interactively or exhaustively, the full range of architecturally allowed behaviour, for litmus tests and (small) ELF executables. We prove correctness of some optimisations needed for tool performance.

We validate the models by discussion with ARM staff, and by comparison against ARM hardware behaviour, for ISA single-instruction tests and concurrent litmus tests.

[-] Kathryn E. Gray, Gabriel Kerneis, Dominic P. Mulligan, Christopher Pulte, Susmit Sarkar, and Peter Sewell. An integrated concurrency and core-ISA architectural envelope definition, and test oracle, for IBM POWER multiprocessors. In MICRO 2015: Proceedings of the 48th International Symposium on Microarchitecture, , Waikiki, HI, USA, pages 635-646, 2015. [ bib | DOI | http | .pdf ]

Weakly consistent multiprocessors such as ARM and IBM POWER have been with us for decades, but their subtle programmer-visible concurrency behaviour remains challenging, both to implement and to use; the traditional architecture documentation, with its mix of prose and pseudocode, leaves much unclear.

In this paper we show how a precise architectural envelope model for such architectures can be defined, taking IBM POWER as our example. Our model specifies, for an arbitrary test program, the set of all its allowable executions, not just those of some particular implementation. The model integrates an operational concurrency model with an ISA model for the fixed-point non-vector user-mode instruction set (largely automatically derived from the vendor pseudocode, and expressed in a new ISA description language). The key question is the interface between these two: allowing all the required concurrency behaviour, without overcommitting to some particular microarchitectural implementation, requires a novel abstract structure.

Our model is expressed in a mathematically rigorous language that can be automatically translated to an executable test-oracle tool; this lets one either interactively explore or exhaustively compute the set of all allowed behaviours of intricate test cases, to provide a reference for hardware and software development.



This work was partially supported by EPSRC grant EP/K008528/1 REMS: Rigorous Engineering for Mainstream Systems, an ARM iCASE award, and EPSRC IAA KTF funding. Approved for public release; distribution is unlimited. This research is sponsored by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL), under contracts FA8750-10-C-0237 ("CTSRD") and FA8650-18-C-7809 ("CIFV"). The views, opinions, and/or findings contained in these articles OR presentations are those of the author(s)/presenter(s) and should not be interpreted as representing the official views or policies of the Department of Defense or the U.S. Government.