Engineering a Formally Verified Automated Bug Finder

Arthur Correnson, Dominic Steinhoefel

Symbolic execution is a program analysis technique executing programs with symbolic instead of concrete inputs. This principle allows for exploring many program paths at once. Despite its wide adoption—in particular for program testing–little effort was dedicated to studying the semantic foundations of symbolic execution. Without these foundations, critical questions regarding the correctness of symbolic executors cannot be satisfyingly answered: Can a reported bug be reproduced, or is it a false positive (soundness)? Can we be sure to find all bugs if we let the testing tool run long enough (completeness)? This paper presents a systematic approach for engineering provably sound and complete symbolic execution-based bug finders by relating a programming language’s operational semantics with a symbolic semantics. In contrast to prior work on symbolic execution semantics, we address the correctness of critical implementation details of symbolic bug finders, including the search strategy and the role of constraint solvers to prune the search space. We showcase our approach by implementing WiSE, a prototype of a verified bug finder for an imperative language, in the Coq proof assistant and proving it sound and complete. We demonstrate that the design principles of WiSE survive outside the ecosystem of interactive proof assistants by (1) automatically extracting an OCaml implementation and (2) transforming WiSE to PyWiSE, a functionally equivalent Python version.

31st ACM Joint European Software Engineering Conference and Symposium on the Foundations of Software Engineering (ESEC/FSE 2023).

FSE Best Artifact Award.

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