Here's a good way to build formally verified correct software:
  • Write your program in an expressive language with a good proof theory (the Gallina language embedded in Coq's logic).
  • Prove it correct in Coq.
  • Extract it to ML and compile it with an optimizing ML compiler.
Unfortunately, for some applications you cannot afford to use a higher-order garbage-collected functional programming language such as Gallina or ML. Perhaps you are writing an operating-system kernel, or a bit-shuffling cryptographic primitive, or the runtime system and garbage-collector of your functional language! In those cases, you might want to use a low-level imperative systems programming language such as C.
But you still want your OS, or crypto, or GC, to be correct! So you should use machine-checked program verification in Coq. For that purpose, you can use Verifiable C, a program logic and proof system for C.
What is a program logic? One example of a program logic is the Hoare logic that you studied in the Programming Language Foundations volume of this series. (If you have not done so already, study the Hoare and Hoare2 chapters of that volume, and do the exercises.)
Verifiable C is based on a 21st-century version of Hoare logic called higher-order impredicative concurrent separation logic. Back in the 20th century, computer scientists discovered that Hoare Logic was not very good at verifying programs with pointer data structures; so separation logic was developed. Hoare Logic was clumsy at verifying concurrent programs, so concurrent separation logic was developed. Hoare Logic could not handle higher-order object-oriented programming patterns or function-closures, so higher-order impredicative program logics were developed.
This electronic book is Volume 5 of the Software Foundations series, which presents the mathematical underpinnings of reliable software. The principal novelty of Software Foundations is that it is one hundred percent formalized and machine-checked: the entire text is literally a script for Coq. It is intended to be read alongside an interactive session with Coq. All the details in the text are fully formalized in Coq, and the exercises are designed to be worked using Coq.
Before studying this volume, you should be a competent user of Coq:
  • Study Software Foundations Volume 1 (Logical Foundations), and do the exercises!
  • Study the Hoare and Hoare2 chapters of Software Foundations Volume 2 (Programming Language Foundations), and do the exercises!
  • Study the Sort, SearchTree, and ADT chapters of Software Foundations Volume 3 (Verified Functional Algorithms), and do the exercises!
You will also need a working knowledge of the C programming language.


System Requirements

Coq runs on Windows, Linux, and OS X. The Preface of Volume 1 describes the Coq installation you will need. This edition was built with Coq 8.12.0.
You will need VST installed. You can do that either by installing it as part of the standard "Coq Platform" that is released with each new version of Coq, or using opam (the package is named coq-vst). At the end of this chapter is a test to make sure you have the right version of VST installed.
IF YOU USE OPAM, the following opam commands may be useful:
  • opam repo add coq-released
  • opam pin coq 8.12.0
  • opam install coq-vst.2.6 (this will take 30 minutes or more)
  • (to use coqide:) opam pin lablgtk3 3.0.beta5
  • (to use coqide:) opam install coqide
You do not need to install CompCert clightgen to do the exercises in this volume. But if you wish to modify and reparse the .c files, or verify C programs of your own, install the CompCert verified optimizing C compiler. You can get CompCert from, or (starting with Coq 8.12) in the standard "Coq Package" or by opam (the package is named coq-compcert).

Downloading the Coq Files

A tar file containing the full sources for the "release version" of this book (as a collection of Coq scripts and HTML files) is available at
(If you are using the book as part of a class, your professor may give you access to a locally modified version of the files, which you should use instead of the release version.)


Unpack the vc.tgz tar file into a vc directory. In this vc directory, the make command builds it.


Each chapter includes exercises. Each is marked with a "star rating," which can be interpreted as follows:
  • One star: easy exercises that underscore points in the text and that, for most readers, should take only a minute or two. Get in the habit of working these as you reach them.
  • Two stars: straightforward exercises (five or ten minutes).
  • Three stars: exercises requiring a bit of thought (ten minutes to half an hour).
  • Four and five stars: more difficult exercises (half an hour and up).
Please do not post solutions to the exercises in any public place: Software Foundations is widely used both for self-study and for university courses. Having solutions easily available makes it much less useful for courses, which typically have graded homework assignments. The authors especially request that readers not post solutions to the exercises anyplace where they can be found by search engines.

Recommended Citation Format

If you want to refer to this volume in your own writing, please do so as follows:
   @book {Appel:SF5,
   author = {Andrew W. Appel and Qinxiang Cao},
   title = "Verifiable C",
   series = "Software Foundations",
   volume = "5",
   year = "2020",
   publisher = "Electronic textbook",
   note = {Version 0.9.7, \URL{} },

For Instructors and Contributors

If you plan to use these materials in your own course, you will undoubtedly find things you'd like to change, improve, or add. Your contributions are welcome! Please see the Preface to Logical Foundations for instructions.


Development of the Software Foundations series has been supported, in part, by the National Science Foundation under the NSF Expeditions grant 1521523, The Science of Deep Specification.

Check for the right version of VST

Require Import Coq.Strings.String.
Open Scope string.
Require Import VST.veric.version. (* If this line fails, it means
  you don't have a VST installed. *)

Goal release = "2.6".
reflexivity || fail "The wrong version of VST is installed".

(* 2020-09-18 15:39 *)