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VeriML: A Dependently-Typed, User-Extensible, and Language-Centric Approach to Proof Assistant

Last modified: Mon Dec 10 05:15:21 2012 GMT.


Antonis Stampoulis


Software certification is a promising approach to producing programs which are virtually free of bugs. It requires the construction of a formal proof which establishes that the code in question will behave according to its specification --- a higher-level description of its functionality. The construction of such formal proofs is carried out in tools called proof assistants. Advances in the current state-of-the-art proof assistants have enabled the certification of a number of complex and realistic systems software.

Despite such success stories, large-scale proof development is an arcane art that requires significant manual effort and is extremely time-consuming. The widely accepted best practice for limiting this effort is to develop domain-specific automation procedures to handle all but the most essential steps of proofs. Yet this practice is rarely followed or needs comparable development effort as well. This is due to a profound architectural shortcoming of existing proof assistants: developing automation procedures is currently overly complicated and error-prone. It involves the use of an amalgam of extension languages, each with a different programming model and a set of limitations, and with significant interfacing problems between them.

This thesis posits that this situation can be significantly improved by designing a proof assistant with extensibility as the central focus. Towards that effect, I have designed a novel programming language called VeriML, which combines the benefits of the different extension languages used in current proof assistants while eschewing their limitations. The key insight of the VeriML design is to combine a rich programming model with a rich type system, which retains at the level of types information about the proofs manipulated inside automation procedures. The effort required for writing new automation procedures is significantly reduced by leveraging this typing information accordingly.

I show that generalizations of the traditional features of proof assistants are a direct consequence of the VeriML design. Therefore the language itself can be seen as the proof assistant in its entirety and also as the single language the user has to master. Also, I show how traditional automation mechanisms offered by current proof assistants can be programmed directly within the same language; users are thus free to extend them with domain-specific sophistication of arbitrary complexity.

In this dissertation I present all aspects of the VeriML language: the formal definition of the language; an extensive study of its metatheoretic properties; the details of a complete prototype implementation; and a number of examples implemented and tested in the language.


  • Ph.D. Dissertation. Dept. of Computer Science, Yale University, November 2012.

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