Detecting Undefined Behavior

Undefined behavior (and critical unspecified behavior, which we'll treat as undefined behavior) are the plague of C programs. Many rules in MISRA C are designed to avoid undefined behavior, as evidenced by the twenty occurrences of "undefined" in the MISRA C:2012 document.

MISRA C Rule 1.3 is the overarching rule, stating very simply:

"There shall be no occurrence of undefined or critical unspecified behaviour."

The deceptive simplicity of this rule rests on the definition of undefined or critical unspecified behaviour. Appendix H of MISRA:C 2012 lists hundreds of cases of undefined and critical unspecified behavior in the C programming language standard, a majority of which are not individually decidable.

It is therefore not surprising that a majority of MISRA C checkers do not make a serious attempt to verify compliance with MISRA C Rule 1.3.

Preventing Undefined Behavior in SPARK

Since SPARK is a subset of the Ada programming language, SPARK programs may exhibit two types of undefined behaviors that can occur in Ada:

  • bounded error: when the program enters a state not defined by the language semantics, but the consequences are bounded in various ways. For example, reading uninitialized data can lead to a bounded error, when the value read does not correspond to a valid value for the type of the object. In this specific case, the Ada Reference Manual states that either a predefined exception is raised or execution continues using the invalid representation.
  • erroneous execution: when when the program enters a state not defined by the language semantics, but the consequences are not bounded by the Ada Reference Manual. This is the closest to an undefined behavior in C. For example, concurrently writing through different tasks to the same unprotected variable is a case of erroneous execution.

Many cases of undefined behavior in C would in fact raise exceptions in SPARK. For example, accessing an array beyond its bounds raises the exception Constraint_Error while reaching the end of a function without returning a value raises the exception Program_Error.

The SPARK Reference Manual defines the SPARK subset through a combination of legality rules (checked by the compiler, or the compiler-like phase preceding analysis) and verification rules (checked by the formal analysis tool GNATprove). Bounded errors and erroneous execution are prevented by a combination of legality rules and the flow analysis part of GNATprove, which in particular detects potential reads of uninitialized data, as described in Detecting Reads of Uninitialized Data. The following discussion focuses on how SPARK can verify that no exceptions can be raised.

Proof of Absence of Run-Time Errors in SPARK

The most common run-time errors are related to misuse of arithmetic (division by zero, overflows, exceeding the range of allowed values), arrays (accessing beyond an array bounds, assigning between arrays of different lengths), and structures (accessing components that are not defined for a given variant).

Arithmetic run-time errors can occur with signed integers, unsigned integers, fixed-point and floating-point (although with IEEE 754 floating-point arithmetic, errors are manifest as special run-time values such as NaN and infinities rather than as exceptions that are raised). These errors can occur when applying arithmetic operations or when converting between numeric types (if the value of the expression being converted is outside the range of the type to which it is being converted).

Operations on enumeration values can also lead to run-time errors; e.g., T'Pred(T'First) or T'Succ(T'Last) for an enumeration type T, or T'Val(N) where N is an integer value that is outside the range 0 .. T'Pos(T'Last).

The Update procedure below contains what appears to be a simple assignment statement, which sets the value of array element A(I+J) to P/Q.

package Show_Runtime_Errors is type Nat_Array is array (Integer range <>) of Natural; -- The values in subtype Natural are 0 , 1, ... Integer'Last procedure Update (A : in out Nat_Array; I, J, P, Q : Integer); end Show_Runtime_Errors;
package body Show_Runtime_Errors is procedure Update (A : in out Nat_Array; I, J, P, Q : Integer) is begin A (I + J) := P / Q; end Update; end Show_Runtime_Errors;

However, for an arbitrary invocation of this procedure, say Update(A, I, J, P, Q), an exception can be raised in a variety of circumstances:

  • The computation I+J may overflow, for example if I is Integer'Last and J is positive.

    A (Integer'Last + 1) := P / Q;
    
  • The value of I+J may be outside the range of the array A.

    A (A'Last + 1) := P / Q;
    
  • The division P / Q may overflow in the special case where P is Integer'First and Q is -1, because of the asymmetric range of signed integer types.

    A (I + J) := Integer'First / -1;
    
  • Since the array can only contain non-negative numbers (the element subtype is Natural), it is also an error to store a negative value in it.

    A (I + J) := 1 / -1;
    
  • Finally, if Q is 0 then a divide by zero error will occur.

    A (I + J) := P / 0;
    

For each of these potential run-time errors, the compiler will generate checks in the executable code, raising an exception if any of the checks fail:

A (Integer'Last + 1) := P / Q;
--  raised CONSTRAINT_ERROR : overflow check failed

A (A'Last + 1) := P / Q;
--  raised CONSTRAINT_ERROR : index check failed

A (I + J) := Integer'First / (-1);
--  raised CONSTRAINT_ERROR : overflow check failed

A (I + J) := 1 / (-1);
--  raised CONSTRAINT_ERROR : range check failed

A (I + J) := P / 0;
--  raised CONSTRAINT_ERROR : divide by zero

These run-time checks incur an overhead in program size and execution time. Therefore it may be appropriate to remove them if we are confident that they are not needed.

The traditional way to obtain the needed confidence is through testing, but it is well known that this can never be complete, at least for non-trivial programs. Much better is to guarantee the absence of run-time errors through sound static analysis, and that's where SPARK and GNATprove can help.

More precisely, GNATprove logically interprets the meaning of every instruction in the program, taking into account both control flow and data/information dependencies. It uses this analysis to generate a logical formula called a verification condition for each possible check.

A (Integer'Last + 1) := P / Q;
--  medium: overflow check might fail

A (A'Last + 1) := P / Q;
--  medium: array index check might fail

A (I + J) := Integer'First / (-1);
--  medium: overflow check might fail

A (I + J) := 1 / (-1);
--  medium: range check might fail

A (I + J) := P / 0;
--  medium: divide by zero might fail

The verification conditions are then given to an automatic prover. If every verification condition can be proved, then no run-time errors will occur.

GNATprove's analysis is sound -- it will detect all possible instances of run-time exceptions being raised -- while also having high precision (i.e., not producing a cascade of "false alarms").

The way to program in SPARK so that GNATprove can guarantee the absence of run-time errors entails:

  • declaring variables with precise constraints, and in particular to specify precise ranges for scalars; and
  • defining preconditions and postconditions on subprograms, to specify respectively the constraints that callers should respect and the guarantees that the subprogram should provide on exit.

For example, here is a revised version of the previous example, which can guarantee through proof that no possible run-time error can be raised:

package No_Runtime_Errors is subtype Index_Range is Integer range 0 .. 100; type Nat_Array is array (Index_Range range <>) of Natural; procedure Update (A : in out Nat_Array; I, J : Index_Range; P, Q : Positive) with Pre => I + J in A'Range; end No_Runtime_Errors;
package body No_Runtime_Errors is procedure Update (A : in out Nat_Array; I, J : Index_Range; P, Q : Positive) is begin A (I + J) := P / Q; end Update; end No_Runtime_Errors;