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Programming pearls: Writing correct programs

By Jon Bentley

Communications of the ACM, Vol. 26 No. 12, Pages 1040-1045

In the late 1960s people were talking about the promise of programs that verify the correctness of other programs. Unfortunately, it is now the middle of the 1980s, and, with precious few exceptions, there is still little more than talk about automated verification systems. Despite unrealized expectations, however, the research on program verification has given us something far more valuable than a black box that gobbles programs and flashes “good” or “bad”—we now have a fundamental understanding of computer programming. The purpose of this column is to show how that fundamental understanding can help programmers write correct programs. But before we get to the subject itself, we must keep it in perspective. Coding skill is just one small part of writing correct programs. The majority of the task is the subject of the three previous columns: problem definition, algorithm design, and data structure selection. If you perform those tasks well, then writing correct code is usually easy.

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