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Automating the Foundational Verification of C Code with Refined Ownership Types

Michael Sammler, Rodolphe Lepigre, Robbert Krebbers, Kayvan Memarian, Derek Dreyer, Deepak Garg.

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Given the central role that C continues to play in systems software, and the difficulty of writing safe and correct C code, it remains a grand challenge to develop effective formal methods for verifying C programs. In this paper, we propose a new approach to this problem: a type system we call RefinedC, which combines ownership types (for modular reasoning about shared state and concurrency) with refinement types (for encoding precise invariants on C data types and Hoare-style specifications for C functions).

RefinedC is both automated (requiring minimal user intervention) and foundational (producing a proof of program correctness in Coq), while at the same time handling a range of low-level programming idioms such as pointer arithmetic. In particular, following the approach of RustBelt, the soundness of the RefinedC type system is justified semantically by interpretation into the Coq-based Iris framework for higher-order concurrent separation logic. However, the typing rules of RefinedC are also designed to be encodable in a new “separation logic programming” language we call Lithium. By restricting to a carefully chosen (yet expressive) fragment of separation logic, Lithium supports predictable, automatic, goal-directed proof search without backtracking. We demonstrate the effectiveness of RefinedC on a range of representative examples of C code.

This paper was realized using Iris.