Overall Objectives
Research Program
Application Domains
Highlights of the Year
New Software and Platforms
New Results
Bilateral Contracts and Grants with Industry
Partnerships and Cooperations
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Section: Overall Objectives

Overall Objectives

The general objective of the Toccata project is to promote formal specification and computer-assisted proof in the development of software that requires high assurance in terms of safety and correctness with respect to the intended behavior of the software.


The importance of software in critical systems increased a lot in the last decade. Critical software appears in various application domains like transportation (e.g., aviation, railway), communication (e.g., smartphones), banking, etc. The number of tasks performed by software is quickly increasing, together with the number of lines of code involved. Given the need of high assurance of safety in the functional behavior of such applications, the need for automated (i.e., computer-assisted) methods and techniques to bring guarantee of safety became a major challenge. In the past and at present, the most widely used approach to check safety of software is to apply heavy test campaigns. These campaigns take a large part of the costs of software development, yet they cannot ensure that all the bugs are caught.

Generally speaking, software verification approaches pursue three goals: (1) verification should be sound, in the sense that no bugs should be missed, (2) verification should not produce false alarms, or as few as possible (3) it should be as automated as possible. Reaching all three goals at the same time is a challenge. A large class of approaches emphasizes goals (2) and (3): testing, run-time verification, symbolic execution, model checking, etc. Static analysis, such as abstract interpretation, emphasizes goals (1) and (3). Deductive verification emphasizes (1) and (2). The Toccata project is mainly interested in exploring the deductive verification approach, although we also consider the others in some cases.

In the past decade, there has been significant progress made in the domain of deductive program verification. They are emphasized by some success stories of application of these techniques on industrial-scale software. For example, the Atelier B system was used to develop part of the embedded software of the Paris metro line 14  [41] and other railroad-related systems; a formally proved C compiler was developed using the Coq proof assistant  [96] ; Microsoft's hypervisor for highly secure virtualization was verified using VCC  [75] and the Z3 prover  [114] ; the L4-verified project developed a formally verified micro-kernel with high security guarantees, using analysis tools on top of the Isabelle/HOL proof assistant  [92] . Another sign of recent progress is the emergence of deductive verification competitions (e.g., VerifyThis [12] , VScomp  [86] ).

Finally, recent trends in the industrial practice for development of critical software is to require more and more guarantees of safety, e.g., the upcoming DO-178C standard for developing avionics software adds to the former DO-178B the use of formal models and formal methods. It also emphasizes the need for certification of the analysis tools involved in the process.

Deductive verification

There are two main families of approaches for deductive verification. Methods in the first family build on top of mathematical proof assistants (e.g., Coq, Isabelle) in which both the model and the program are encoded; the proof that the program meets its specification is typically conducted in an interactive way using the underlying proof construction engine. Methods from the second family proceed by the design of standalone tools taking as input a program in a particular programming language (e.g., C, Java) specified with a dedicated annotation language (e.g., ACSL  [40] , JML  [59] ) and automatically producing a set of mathematical formulas (the verification conditions) which are typically proved using automatic provers (e.g., Z3, Alt-Ergo  [42] , CVC3  [39] , CVC4).

The first family of approaches usually offers a higher level of assurance than the second, but also demands more work to perform the proofs (because of their interactive nature) and makes them less easy to adopt by industry. Moreover, they do not allow to directly analyze a program written in a mainstream programming language like Java or C. The second kind of approaches has benefited in the past years from the tremendous progress made in SAT and SMT solving techniques, allowing more impact on industrial practices, but suffers from a lower level of trust: in all parts of the proof chain (the model of the input programming language, the VC generator, the back-end automatic prover), potential errors may appear, compromising the guarantee offered. Moreover, while these approaches are applied to mainstream languages, they usually support only a subset of their features.