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Technical Perspective: Ironfleet Simplifies Proving Safety and Liveness Properties

By Fred B. Schneider

Communications of the ACM, Vol. 60 No. 7, Page 82

As with claims about beauty, claims about system correctness are relative to expectations. Such expectations for a computing system are called specifications. And while claims about beauty are necessarily subjective ("in the eye of the beholder"), claims about correctness need not be—they can be conveyed as proofs in a formal logic, which can be communicated to anyone and then independently checked.

Whether a given correctness claim is useful will depend on how completely the specification characterizes a system's behaviors. Obviously, we are limited by what can be said using our specification language and what specifications can be proved using our formal logic. Over the last half-century, a consensus has emerged that specifying sets of behaviors called trace properties is a sweet spot. Trace properties suffice for describing most of the important aspects of a system's behaviors. Moreover, trace properties for a system are straightforward to deduce from trace properties for its components, so we can reason about trace properties compositionally.


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