Proving Safety Properties using Types

We next discuss general techniques for proving absence of errors in programs

This also tells us how to prove that our type systems are meaningul (sound)

Safety Properties of Programs

Given a one-step reduction relation $\leadsto$, as in Operational Semantics of Lambda with Letrec, a finite execution is a sequence of states

   s_1  \leadsto s_2 \leadsto \ldots \leadsto s_n

where $s_1$ is one of the possible initial states of the program.

(We have seen an example of finite execution trace of lambda calculus with letrec.)

A safety property of a program is a property of finite executions of this program

In addition to safety, there are other kinds of properties, in particular liveness

  • require reasoning about infinite executions
  • example: the program always reaches a given program point
  • explained in the EPFL course Model Checking taught by Prof. Thomas Henzinger
  • in this compilers course we talk only about safety

Important kind of safety properties: program does not crash with a run-time error

We represent run-time errors using a predicate error(s) which is true iff s is a run-time error

  • we do not wish to reach state s such that error(s)

A finite execution trace $s_1 \leadsto \ldots \leadsto s_n$ is error-free iff $\lnot error(s_i)$ for all $1 \le i \le n$

  • this definition shows that “program cannot reach a run-time error” is a safety property

Examples of Run-Time Errors

Depending on the programming language, run-time errors can include

  • null dereference in Java
  • array bounds error in Java
  • failed type cast in Java
  • division by zero in Java
  • attempt to multiply integer with a string
  • attempt to invoke a non-existing method on an object in Smalltalk

Example Error in Python Program

Example program in the Python (programming language)

i = 40000000
while i > 0:
  i = i - 1
width = 30
height = 20
important = "learning"
area = width * height
fishy = important / height

Call this program ''

If you run it, you will first have to wait for a bit, and then you will get a result like this:

If you ask me:

  • this is not very good, so if you invent a new python, add at least basic type checks
  • some languages, like C, are even worse, because error may not be visible even at run-time
  • whenever you read about vulnerability caused by buffer overflow, remember this is to large extend because C makes it impossible to detect errors even at run-time

If you did not play with python before, for your amusement evaluate in the python interpreter the expression

100*"I will not design bad languages. "

Example Error in Untyped Lambda Calculus

(% x. (ite x 7 8)) (+ (+ 5 3) 2) ->
(% x. (ite x 7 8)) (+ 8 2) ->
(% x. (ite x 7 8)) 10 ->
ite 10 7 8

The last state is an error state, because the argument of 'ite' is not a boolean but a number

Proving Safety by Induction

Usually we use mathematical induction to prove safety (including absence of run-time errors)

  • show a property for all traces of length zero
  • show that if property holds for all traces of length $n$, it holds for traces of length $n+1$

Problem: if $\lnot error(s)$, it does not mean that there won't be error in $s_{n+1}$

  • example: no error by step $n$, but then program calls a method that will cause a run-time error in step $n+k$
  • see above examples

As in many other examples, we typically need to strengthen the induction hypothesis

Example: straight-line program that uses int and boolean types

     x = 3;
     y = bool;
     z = 70;
-->  z = z / x;
     x = x + 1;
     z = z / x;

Just because there was no error so far, it does not mean that later there will not be e.g. 'x = z / x' when x=0

We need a stronger induction hypothesis. For example, perhaps we can prove that all values of variables used after '/' are positive

We call a stronger induction hypothesis inductive invariant and denote it $I$. It is property for which inductive proof works:

  • for each initial state $s_1$, we have $I(s_1)$
  • if $s_1 \leadsto \ldots \leadsto s_n$ and $I(s_1),\ldots,I(s_n)$, then $I(s_{n+1})$

To prove absence of errors, we find an inductive invariant $I$ that ensures absence of errors: for all configurations $s$, $I(s)$ implies $\lnot error(s)$.

All states $s$ in execution sequence satisfy $I(s)$, so they satisfy $\lnot error(s)$

Ensuring Safety Using Types

One of the goals of static type systems is to ensure absence of crashes due to certain run-time type errors

We say that type system is sound if $\Gamma_0 \vdash p:t$ for program $p$ implies that execution of $p$ causes no run-time type errors of certain kind

  • example of errors prevented: adding int and bool values, calling non-existing method in Java
  • some errors may remain: division by zero, null dereference

Because absence of errors is a safety property, we can prove it using an inductive invariant

Soundness theorem for a type system shows that if program type checks, then there is a property $I$ or program configurations such that

  • $I$ is an inductive invariant
  • $I$ implies that there are no run-time errors

If program configuration $s$ is a program itself, then $I(s)$ usually says that $s$ type checks

  • if there is state, then it must talk about type checking in a given program state
  • we can typically represent states as certain 'map' expressions

Summary of Type Soundness Proofs

To prove type soundness, we need to do the following:

  • define program configurations and operational semantics $\leadsto$
  • show how to define property $I$ for a given program that type checks
  • show that every such $I$ is an inductive invariant
  • show that if $I$ holds, then certain run-time errors will not happen

We next see an example