Verif_sumarrayIntroduction to Verifiable C

Verified Software Toolchain

The Verified Software Toolchain is a toolset for proving the functional correctness of C programs, with
  • a program logic called Verifiable C, based on separation logic.
  • a proof automation system called VST-Floyd that assists you in applying the program logic to your program.
  • a soundness proof in Coq, guaranteeing that whatever properties you prove about your program will actually hold in any execution of the C source-language operational semantics. And this proof composes with the correctness proof of the CompCert verified optimizing C compiler, so you can also get a guarantee about the behavior of the assembly language program.
This volume of Software Foundations teaches you how to use Verifiable C and VST-Floyd to prove C programs correct. In the process you'll learn some key concepts of Hoare Logic and Separation Logic. This book does not cover VST's soundness proof (which is described in the book Program Logics for Certified Compilers [Appel 2014]).

How to use this textbook

The first two chapters (this one and Verif_reverse) are a feature-by-feature introduction to Verifiable C, demonstrated on two example C programs: adding up an array and reversing a linked list. These chapters are best understood if you step through them in Coq, where you can see the proof goals at each stage; they are less useful to read in HTML. These two chapters closely follow the first 48 mini-chapters of the Verifiable C Reference Manual, VC.pdf, that is distributed with VST -- and you can find a copy distributed with this volume of Software Foundations. The first two chapters have no exercises.
This Verifiable C volume of Software Foundations is self-contained, so you should not need to look things up in the reference manual VC.pdf. But to use features of Verifiable C beyond what's needed for this textbook, VC.pdf can be very useful. The words SEE ALSO suggest which chapters of the reference manual cover the features discussed in this text.
The remaining 7 chapters are mainly exercises. The best way to learn is by doing it yourself -- so each chapter presents a little C program, and guides you through verifying it yourself. The "capstone exercise" is the verification of a hash table with external chaining.

A C program to add up an array

Here is a little C program, sumarray.c:
    #include <stddef.h>

    unsigned sumarray(unsigned a[], int n) {
      int i; unsigned s;
      while (i<n) {
      return s;

    unsigned four[4] = {1,2,3,4};

    int main(void) {
      unsigned int s;
      s = sumarray(four,4);
      return (int)s;


SEE ALSO: VC.pdf Chapter 3 (Workflow), Chapter 4 (Verifiable C and clightgen), Chapter 5 (ASTs)
To verify a C program, such as sumarray.c, use the CompCert front end to parse it into an Abstract Syntax Tree (AST). For all the chapters in this volume of Software Foundations we've done that for you, so you don't have to install clightgen; but generally what you would do is,
   clightgen -normalize sumarray.c
You would have installed clightgen as part of the CompCert tools, by mentioning the -clightgen option when you run ./configure when building CompCert.
The output of clightgen would be a file sumarray.v that contains the Coq inductive data structure describing the syntax trees of the source program. You can open sumarray.v in the current directory and inspect it.

Let's verify!

SEE ALSO: VC.pdf Chapter 7 (Functional model, API spec)
This file, Verif_sumarray.v, contains a specification of the functional correctness of the program sumarray.c, followed by a proof that the program satisfies its specification.
For larger programs, one would typically break this down into three or more files:
  • Functional model (often in the form of a Coq function)
  • API specification
  • Function-body correctness proofs, one per file.

Make sure you have the right version of VST installed

Require VC.Preface. (* Check for the right version of VST *)

Standard boilerplate

Every API specification begins with the same standard boilerplate; the only thing that changes is the name of the program -- in this case, sumarray.
Require Import VST.floyd.proofauto.
Require Import VC.sumarray.
#[export] Instance CompSpecs : compspecs. make_compspecs prog. Defined.
Definition Vprog : varspecs. mk_varspecs prog. Defined.
The first line imports Verifiable C and its Floyd proof-automation library. The second line imports the AST of the program to be verified. The third line processes all the struct and union definitions in the AST, and the fourth line processes global variable declarations.

Functional model

To prove correctness of sumarray.c, we start by writing a functional model of adding up a sequence. We can use a list-fold to express the sum of all the elements in a list of integers:
Definition sum_Z : list Z Z := fold_right Z.add 0.
Then we prove properties of the functional model: in this case, how sum_Z interacts with list append.
Lemma sum_Z_app:
   a b, sum_Z (a++b) = sum_Z a + sum_Z b.
  intros. induction a; simpl; lia.
The data types used in a functional model can be any kind of mathematics at all, as long as we have a way to relate them to the integers, tuples, and sequences used in a C program. But the mathematical integers Z and the 32-bit modular integers are often relevant. Notice that this functional spec does not depend on sumarray.v or on anything in the Verifiable C libraries. This is typical, and desirable: the functional model is about mathematics, not about C programming.

API spec for the sumarray.c program

The Application Programmer Interface (API) of a C program is expressed in its header file: function prototypes and data-structure definitions that explain how to call upon the modules' functionality. In Verifiable C, an API specification is written as a series of function specifications (funspecs) corresponding to the function prototypes.
Definition sumarray_spec : ident × funspec :=
DECLARE _sumarray
 WITH a: val, sh : share, contents : list Z, size: Z
 PRE [ tptr tuint, tint ]
  PROP (readable_share sh; 0 size Int.max_signed;
         Forall (fun x ⇒ 0 x Int.max_unsigned) contents)
  PARAMS (a; Vint (Int.repr size))
  SEP (data_at sh (tarray tuint size) (map Vint (map Int.repr contents)) a)
 POST [ tuint ]
  PROP () RETURN (Vint (Int.repr (sum_Z contents)))
  SEP (data_at sh (tarray tuint size) (map Vint (map Int.repr contents)) a).
This DECLARE statement has type ident×funspec. That is, it associates the name of a function (the identifier _sumarray) with a function-specification. The identifier _sumarray comes directly from the C program, as parsed by clightgen. If you are curious, you can look in sumarray.v (the output of clightgen) for Definition _sumarray := .... Later in sumarray.v, you can see Definition f_sumarray that is the C-language function body (represented as a syntax tree).
A function is specified by its precondition and its postcondition. The WITH clause quantifies over Coq values that may appear in both the precondition and the postcondition. The precondition has access to the function parameters (in this case a and size) and the postcondition has access to the return value (sum_Z contents).
Function preconditions, postconditions, and loop invariants are assertions about the state of variables and memory at a particular program point. In an assertion PROP(P) LOCAL(Q) SEP(R), the propositions in the sequence P are all of Coq type Prop. They describe things that are true independent of program state. In the precondition above, the statement 0 size Int.max_signed is true just within the scope of the quantification of the variable size; that variable is bound by WITH, and spans the PRE and POST assertions.
The LOCAL clause, describing what's in C local variables, takes different forms depending on context:
  • In a function-precondition, we write PROP/PARAMS/SEP, that is, the PARAMS lists the values of C function parameters (in order).
  • In a function-postcondition, we write RETURN(v) to indicate the return value of the function.
  • Within a function body (in assertions and invariants) we write LOCAL to describe the values of local variables (including parameters).
Whether it is PARAMS or RETURN or LOCAL, we are talking about the values contained in parameters or local variables. In general, a C scalar variable holds something of type val; this type is defined by CompCert as,
Print val.
 Inductive val: Type :=
 | Vundef: val
 | Vint: int -> val
 | Vlong: int64 -> val
 | Vfloat: float -> val
 | Vsingle: float32 -> val
 | Vptr: block -> ptrofs -> val. *)

In an assertion PROP(P) LOCAL(Q) SEP(R), the SEP conjuncts R are spatial assertions in separation logic. In our example precondition, there's just one SEP conjunct, a data_at assertion saying that at address a in memory, there is a data structure of type
  array[size] of unsigned int;
with access-permission sh, and the contents of that array is the sequence map Vint (map Int.repr contents).
The postcondition is introduced by POST [ tuint ], indicating that this function returns a value of type unsigned int. There are no PROP statements in this postcondition--no forever-true facts hold now, that weren't already true on entry to the function.
RETURN(v) gives the return value v; RETURN() for void functions.
The postcondition's SEP clause mentions all the spatial resources from the precondition, minus ones that have been freed (deallocated), plus ones that have been malloc'd (allocated).
So, overall, the specification for sumarray is this: "At any call to sumarray, there exist values a, sh, contents, size such that sh gives at least read-permission; size is representable as a nonnegative 32-bit signed integer; function-parameter _a contains value a and _n contains the 32-bit representation of size; and there's an array in memory at address a with permission sh containing contents. The function returns a value equal to sum_int(contents), and leaves the array in memory unaltered."

Function specification for main()

The function-spec for main has a special form, which we discuss below in the section called Global variables and main. In particular, its precondition is defined using main_pre.
Definition main_spec :=
 DECLARE _main
  WITH gv : globals
  PRE [] main_pre prog tt gv
  POST [ tint ]
     RETURN (Vint (Int.repr (1+2+3+4)))
This postcondition says we have indeed added up the global array four.

Integer overflow

In Verifiable C's signed integer arithmetic, you must prove (if the system cannot prove automatically) that no overflow occurs. For unsigned integers, arithmetic is treated as modulo-2^n (where n is typically 32 or 64), and overflow is not an issue. The function Int.repr: Z int truncates mathematical integers into 32-bit integers by taking the (sign-extended) low-order 32 bits. Int.signed: int Z injects back into the signed integers.
The sumarray program uses unsigned arithmetic for s and the array contents; it uses signed arithmetic for i.
The postcondition guarantees that the value returned is Int.repr (sum_Z contents). But what if the sum of all the s is larger than 2^32, so the sum doesn't fit in a 32-bit signed integer? Then Int.unsigned(Int.repr (sum_Z contents)) sum_Z contents. In general, for a claim about Int.repr(x) to be useful one also needs to know that 0 x Int.max_unsigned or Int.min_signed x Int.max_signed. The caller of sumarray will probably need to prove 0 sum_Z contents Int.max_unsigned in order to make much use of the postcondition.

Packaging the Gprog and Vprog

SEE ALSO: VC.pdf Chapter 8 (Proof of the sumarray program)
To prove the correctness of a whole program,
  • 1. Collect the function-API specs together into Gprog.
  • 2. Prove that each function satisfies its own API spec (with a semax_body proof).
  • 3. Tie everything together with a semax_func proof.
The first step is easy:
(* Packaging the API specs all together. *)
Definition Gprog := [sumarray_spec; main_spec].
What's in Gprog are the funspecs that we built using DECLARE. (In multi-module programs we would also include imported funspecs.)
In addition to Gprog, the API spec contains Vprog, the list of global-variable type-specs. This was computed automatically by the mk_varspecs tactic, in the "boilerplate" code above.
Print Vprog.
(*   = (_four, tarray tuint 4)  : varspecs *)
Print varspecs.
(*   = list (ident * type) *)
That is, for each C language global variable, Vprog gives its name and its C-language type.

Proof of the sumarray program

Now comes the proof that f_sumarray, the body of the sumarray() function, satisfies sumarray_spec, in global context (Vprog,Gprog).
Lemma body_sumarray: semax_body Vprog Gprog f_sumarray sumarray_spec.
Here, f_sumarray is the actual function body (AST of the C code) as parsed by clightgen; you can read it in sumarray.v. You can read body_sumarray as claiming: In the context of Vprog and Gprog, the function body f_sumarray satisfies its specification sumarray_spec. We need the context in case the sumarray function refers to a global variable (Vprog provides the variable's type) or calls a global function (Gprog provides the function's API spec).
Now, the proof of body_sumarray.
If you are reading this as a static document, you should consider switching to your favorite Coq development environment, in which you can step through the rest of this chapter, tactic by tactic, and examine the proof state at each point.


SEE ALSO: VC.pdf Chapter 9 (start_function)
The predicate semax_body states the Hoare triple of the function body, Delta {Pre} c {Post}, where Pre and Post are taken from the funspec, c is the body of the function, and the type-context Delta is calculated from the global type-context overlaid with the parameter- and local-types of the function.
To prove this, we begin with the tactic start_function, which takes care of some simple bookkeeping and expresses the Hoare triple to be proved.
start_function. (* Always do this at the beginning of a semax_body proof *)
Some of the assumptions you now see above the line are,
  • a, sh, contents, size, taken directly from the WITH clause of sumarray_spec;
  • Delta_specs, the context in which Floyd's proof tactics will look up the specifications of global functions;
  • Delta, the context in which Floyd will look up the types of local and global variables;
  • SH,H,H0, taken exactly from the PROP clauses of sumarray_spec's precondition.
There are also two abbreviations above the line, POSTCONDITION and MORE_COMMANDS, discussed below.

Forward symbolic execution

SEE ALSO: VC.pdf Chapter 10 (forward).
We do Hoare logic proof by forward symbolic execution. At the beginning of this function body, our proof goal is a Hoare triple about the statement (i=0; ...more commands...). In a forward Hoare logic proof of {P}(i=0;...more...){R} we might first apply the sequence rule,
    {P}(i=0;){Q}  {Q}(...more...){R}
assuming we could derive some appropriate assertion Q. For many kinds of statements (assignments, return, break, continue) Q is derived automatically by the forward tactic, which applies a strongest-postcondition style of proof rule. Let us now apply the forward tactic:
forward. (* i = 0; *)
Look at the precondition of the current proof goal, that is, the second argument of semax; it has the form PROP(...) LOCAL(...) SEP(...). That precondition is also the postcondition of i=0;. It's much like the precondition of i=0; except for one change: we now know that i is equal to 0, which is expressed in the LOCAL part as temp _i (Vint (Int.repr 0)).
Check 0. (* : Z,   the mathematical integer zero. *)
Check (Int.repr 0). (* : int,   the 32-bit integer representing 0. *)
Check (Vint (Int.repr 0)). (* : val,   the type of CompCert values *)
Check (temp _i (Vint (Int.repr 0))). (* : localdef,  the type of LOCAL assertions *)


When doing forward symbolic execution (forward Floyd/Hoare proof) through a large function, you don't usually want to see the entire function-body in your proof subgoal. Therefore the system abbreviates some things for you, using the magic of Coq's implicit arguments.
Check @abbreviate.
(*   : forall A : Type, A -> A *)
About abbreviate.
(*   Arguments A, x are implicit and maximally inserted  . . . *)
We see here that abbreviate is just the identity function, with both of its arguments implicit!
To examine the actual contents of MORE_COMMANDS, just do this:
unfold abbreviate in MORE_COMMANDS.
or alternately,
subst MORE_COMMANDS; unfold abbreviate.
Similarly, to see the POSTCONDITION, just do,
unfold abbreviate in POSTCONDITION.


In any VST proof state, the hint tactic will print a suggestion (if it can) that will help you make progress in the proof. In stepping through the case study in this chapter, insert hint at any point to see what it says.
Then delete the hints! (They slow down replay of your proof.)
The hint here suggests using abbreviate_semax, which will undo the unfold abbreviate that we did above. Really this is optional; if we don't do abbreviate_semax, the next forward tactic will do it for us.
This time, the hint suggests that we try 'forward'.

Forward through another assignment statement.

forward. (* s = 0; *)
The forward tactic works on assignment statements, break, continue, and return.

While loops, forward_while

SEE ALSO: VC.pdf Chapter 12 (if, while, for) and Chapter 13 (while loops).
To do symbolic execution through a while loop, use the forward_while tactic; you must supply a loop invariant.
 (EX i: Z,
   PROP (0 i size)
   LOCAL (temp _a a;
          temp _i (Vint (Int.repr i));
          temp _n (Vint (Int.repr size));
          temp _s (Vint (Int.repr (sum_Z (sublist 0 i contents)))))
   SEP (data_at sh (tarray tuint size) (map Vint (map Int.repr contents)) a)).
A loop invariant is an assertion, almost always in the form of an existential quantifier, EX...PROP(...)LOCAL(...)SEP(...). Each iteration of the loop has a state characterized by a different value of some iteration variable(s), the EX binds that value.
forward_while leaves four subgoals; here we label them with the - bullet.
- hint.
The first subgoal is to prove that the current assertion (precondition) entails the loop invariant.

Proving separation-logic entailments

SEE ALSO: VC.pdf Chapter 14 (PROP LOCAL SEP) and Chapter 15 (Entailments)
This proof goal is an entailment, ENTAIL Delta, P |-- Q, meaning "in context Delta, any state that satisfies P will also satisfy Q."
In this case, the right-hand-side of this entailment is existentially quantified; it says: there exists a value i such that (among other things) temp _i (Vint (Int.repr i)), that is, the C variable _i contains the value i. But the left-hand-side of the entailment says temp _i (Vint (Int.repr 0)), that is, the C variable _i contains 0.
This is analogous to the following situation:
Set Nested Proofs Allowed.
Goal (f: ZZ) (x: Z), f(x)=0 i:Z, f(x)=i.
To prove such a goal, one uses Coq's "exists" tactic to demonstrate a value for i:
In a separation logic entailment, one can prove an EX on the right-hand side by using the Exists tactic to demonstrate a value for the quantified variable:
  Exists 0. (* Instantiate the existential on the right-side of |--   *)
Notice that i has now been replaced with 0 on the right side.
To prove entailments, we usually use the entailer! tactic to simplify the entailment as much as possible--or in many cases, to prove it entirely.
In this case, it solves entirely; in other cases, entailer! leaves subgoals for you to prove.

Type-checking the loop test

- hint.
The second subgoal of forward_while is always to prove that the loop-test expression can evaluate without crashing--that is, all the variables it references exist and are initialized, it doesn't divide by zero, et cetera.
We call this a "type-checking condition", the predicate tc_expr. In this case, it's the while-loop test i<n that must execute, so we see tc_expr Delta (! (_i < _n)) on the right-hand side of the entailment.
Very often, these tc_expr goals solve automatically by entailer!.
and indeed, this subgoal is solved.

Proving that the loop body preserves the loop invariant

- hint.
The third subgoal of forward_while is to prove that the loop body preserves the loop invariant. We must forward-symbolic-execute through the loop body.
SEE ALSO: VC.pdf Chapter 16 (Array subscripts)
Examine the proof goal at the beginning of the loop body. Above the line is the variable i, introduced automatically by forward_while from the existential EX i:Z in the loop invariant.
The first C command in the loop body is the array subscript, _x = a[_i]; . In order to prove this statement, the forward tactic needs to be able to prove that i is within bounds of the array. When we try forward, it fails:
Fail forward. (* x = ai *)
forward fails and tells us to first make 0 i < Zlength contents provable. This auxiliary fact will help it prove that the array subscript i is within the bounds of the array a. It asks us to assert and prove some fact strong enough to imply this.
Above the line we have 0<=i and i<size, so if we could prove Zlength contents = size that would be enough. Unfortunately, it won't work to do assert (Zlength contents = size) because there is not enough information above the line to prove that.
SEE ALSO: VST.pdf, Chapter "assert_PROP"
The required information to prove Zlength contents = size comes from the precondition of the current semax goal. In the precondition, we have
   data_at sh (tarray tuint size) (map Vint (map Int.repr contents)) a
The data_at predicate always enforces that the "contents" list for an array is exactly the same length as the size of the array.
To make use of precondition facts in an assertion, use assert_PROP.
assert_PROP (Zlength contents = size). {

The proof goal is an entailment, with the current precondition on the left, and the proposition to be proved on the right. As usual, to prove an entailment, we use the entailer! tactic to simplify the proof goal:

Indeed, entailer! has done almost all the work. If you want to see how entailer! did it, undo the last step and use these two tactics: go_lower. saturate_local. The job of go_lower is to process the PROP and LOCAL parts of the entailment; and saturate_local derives all the propositional facts derivable from the mpreds on the left-hand-side, and puts those facts above the line. In this case, above the line is, Zlength (unfold_reptype (map Vint (map Int.repr contents))) = size which is the fact we need.
The hint suggests that list_solve solves this goal, Zlength contents = Zlength (map Vint (map Int.repr contents)). Indeed, list_solve knows a lot of things about the interaction of list operators: Zlength, map, sublist, etc.
Or, we can solve the goal "by hand":
  do 2 rewrite Zlength_map. reflexivity.
Now that we have Zlength contents = size above the line, we can go forward through the array-subscript statement.
forward. (* x = a[i]; *)
Now forward through the rest of the loop body.
forward. (* s += x; *)
forward. (* i++; *)
SEE ALSO: VC.pdf Chapter 17 (At the end of the loop body)
We have reached the end of the loop body, and it's time to prove that the current precondition (which is the postcondition of the loop body) entails the loop invariant.
 Exists (i+1).
 f_equal. f_equal.
Here the proof goal is,
   sum_Z (sublist 0 (i + 1) contents) =
   sum_Z (sublist 0 i contents) + Znth i contents
We will prove this in stages:
   sum_Z (sublist 0 (i + 1) contents) =
   sum_Z (sublist 0 i contents ++ sublist i (i+1) contents) =
   sum_Z (sublist 0 i contents) + sum_Z (sublist i (i+1) contents) =
   sum_Z (sublist 0 i contents) + sum_Z (Znth i contents :: nil) =
   sum_Z (sublist 0 i contents) + Znth i contents
 rewrite (sublist_split 0 i (i+1)) by lia.
 rewrite sum_Z_app. rewrite (sublist_one i) by lia.
 simpl. lia.
After the loop, our precondition is the conjunction of the loop invariant and the negation of the loop test.
SEE ALSO: VC.pdf Chapter 18 (Returning from a function)
- hint.
You can always go forward through a return statement. The resulting proof goal is an entailment, that the current precondition implies the function's postcondition.
forward. (* return s; *)
Here we prove that the postcondition of the function body entails the postcondition demanded by the function specification.
autorewrite with sublist in *⊢.
autorewrite with sublist.

Global variables and main()

SEE ALSO: VC.pdf Chapter 19 (Global variables and main)
(* Contents of the extern global initialized array "_four" *)
Definition four_contents := [1; 2; 3; 4].

Lemma body_main: semax_body Vprog Gprog f_main main_spec.
C programs may have extern global variables, either with explicit initializers or implicitly initialized to zero. Because they live in memory, they need to be described by a separation logic predicate, a "resource" that gets passed from one function to another via the SEP part of funspec preconditions and postconditions. Initially, all the global-variable resources are passed into the main function, as its precondition. The built-in operator main_pre calculates this precondition of main by examining all the global declarations of the program.
In this program, there is one global variable,
    unsigned four[4] = {1,2,3,4};
and we can see its SEP assertion in the precondition of the current proof goal:
   data_at Ews (tarray tuint 4)
           (map Vint [Int.repr 1; Int.repr 2; Int.repr 3; Int.repr 4])
           (gv _four)
SEE ALSO: VC.pdf Chapter 20 (Function calls)
We are ready to prove the function-call, s = sumarray(four,4); We use the forward_call tactic, and for the argument we must supply a tuple of values that instantiates the WITH clause of the called function's funspec. In DECLARE _sumarray, the WITH clause reads, WITH a: val, sh : share, contents : list Z, size: Z. Therefore the argument to forward_call must be a four-tuple of type, (val × share × list Z × Z).
forward_call (*  s = sumarray(four,4); *)
  (gv _four, Ews, four_contents, 4).
The subgoal of forward_call is that we have to prove the PROP part of the sumarray function's precondition.
repeat constructor; computable.
Now we are after the function-call, and we can go forward through the return statement.
forward. (* return s; *)

Tying all the functions together

SEE ALSO: VC.pdf Chapter 21 (Tying all the functions together)
The C program may do input/output, affecting the state of the outside world. This state is described (abstractly) by the Espec, the "external specification." The sumarray program does not do any input/output, so we can use a trivial Espec. We provide this to the semax_prog proofs (below, in the prog_correct lemma) as follows:
#[export] Existing Instance NullExtension.Espec.
This is a typeclass instance. If you're not familiar with typeclasses, don't worry, just treat this as "boilerplate" that you can ignore.
An entire C program is proved correct if all the functions satisfy their funspecs. We listed all those functions (upon whose specifications we depend) in the Gprog definition. The judgment semax_prog prog Vprog Gprog says, "In the program prog, whose varspecs are Vprog and whose funspecs are Gprog, every function mentioned in Gprog does satisfy its specification."
Lemma prog_correct: semax_prog prog tt Vprog Gprog.

semax_func_cons body_sumarray.
semax_func_cons body_main.

Additional recommended reading

Recommended: read VC.pdf Chapters 22-47 (up to Pointer comparisons)
(* 2023-03-25 11:30 *)