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Title: Verification of asynchronous concurrency and the shaped stack constraint
Author: Kochems, Jonathan Antonius
ISNI:       0000 0004 5365 8869
Awarding Body: University of Oxford
Current Institution: University of Oxford
Date of Award: 2014
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In this dissertation, we study the verification of concurrent programs written in the programming language Erlang using infinite-state model-checking. Erlang is a widely used, higher order, dynamically typed, call-by-value functional language with algebraic data types and pattern-matching. It is further augmented with support for actor concurrency, i.e. asynchronous message passing and dynamic process creation. With decidable model-checking in mind, we identify actor communicating systems (ACS) as a suitable target model for an abstract interpretation of Erlang. ACS model a dynamic network of finite-state processes that communicate over a fixed, finite number of unordered, unbounded channels. Thanks to being equivalent to Petri nets, ACS enjoy good algorithmic properties. We develop a verification procedure that extracts a sound abstract model, in the form of an ACS, from a given Erlang program; the resulting ACS simulates the operational semantics of the input. Using this abstract model, we can conservatively verify coverability properties of the input program, i.e. a weak form of safety properties, with a Petri net model-checker. We have implemented this procedure in our tool Soter, which is the first sound verification tool for Erlang programs using infinite-state model-checking. In our experiments, we find that Soter is accurate enough to verify a range of interesting and non-trivial benchmarks. Even though ACS coverability is Expspace-complete, Soter's analysis of these verification problems is surprisingly quick. In order to improve the precision of our verification procedure with respect to recursion, we investigate an extension of ACS that allows pushdown processes: asynchronously communicating pushdown systems (ACPS). ACPS that satisfy the empty-stack constraint (a pushdown process may receive only when its stack is empty) are a popular subclass of ACPS with good decision and complexity properties. In the context of Erlang, the empty stack constraint is unfortunately not realistic. We introduce a relaxation of the empty-stack constraint for ACPS called the shaped stack constraint. Stacks that fit the shape constraint may reach arbitrary heights. Further, a process may execute any communication action (be it process creation, message send or retrieval) whether or not its stack is empty. We prove that coverability for shaped ACPS, i.e. ACPS that satisfy the shaped constraint, reduces to the decidable coverability problem for well-structured transition systems (WSTS). Thus, shaped ACPS enable the modelling and verification of a larger class of message passing programs. We establish a close connection between shaped ACPS and a novel extension of Petri nets: nets with nested coloured tokens (NNCT). Tokens in NNCT are of two types: simple and complex. Complex tokens carry an arbitrary number of coloured tokens. The rules of a NNCT can synchronise complex and simple tokens, inject coloured tokens into a complex token, and eject all tokens of a specified set of active colours to predefined places. We show that the coverability problem for NNCT is Tower-complete, a new complexity class for non-elementary decision problems introduced by Schmitz. To prove Tower-membership, we devise a geometrically inspired version of the Rackoff technique, and we obtain Tower-hardness by adapting Stockmeyer's ruler construction to NNCT. To our knowledge, NNCT is the first extension of Petri nets (belonging to the class of nets with an infinite set of token types) that is proven to have primitive recursive coverability. This result implies Tower-completeness of coverability for ACPS that satisfy the shaped stack constraint.
Supervisor: Ong, Luke Sponsor: Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: Computer science (mathematics) ; Computing ; Theory and automated verification ; Applications and algorithms ; Concurrent Pushdown Systems ; Asynchronous Message Passing ; Verification ; Infinite-State Model-Checking ; Petri Nets ; Well-Structured Transition Systems ; Erlang ; Infinite-State Systems Verification