Abstraction and subsumption in modular verification of C programs

Lennart Beringer, Andrew W. Appel

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


The type-theoretic notions of existential abstraction, subtyping, subsumption, and intersection have useful analogues in separation-logic proofs of imperative programs. We have implemented these as an enhancement of the verified software toolchain (VST). VST is an impredicative concurrent separation logic for the C language, implemented in the Coq proof assistant, and proved sound in Coq. For machine-checked functional-correctness verification of software at scale, VST embeds its expressive program logic in dependently typed higher-order logic (CiC). Specifications and proofs in the program logic can leverage the expressiveness of CiC—so users can overcome the abstraction gaps that stand in the way of top-to-bottom verification: gaps between source code verification, compilation, and domain-specific reasoning, and between different analysis techniques or formalisms. Until now, VST has supported the specification of a program as a flat collection of function specifications (in higher-order separation logic)—one proves that each function correctly implements its specification, assuming the specifications of the functions it calls. But what if a function has more than one specification? In this work, we exploit type-theoretic concepts to structure specification interfaces for C code. This brings modularity principles of modern software engineering to concrete program verification. Previous work used representation predicates to enable data abstraction in separation logic. We go further, introducing function-specification subsumption and intersection specifications to organize the multiple specifications that a function is typically associated with. As in type theory, if ϕ is a [InlineMediaObject not available: see fulltext.] of ψ, that is ϕ< : ψ, then x: ϕ implies x: ψ, meaning that any function satisfying specification ϕ can be used wherever a function satisfying ψ is demanded. Subsumption incorporates separation-logic framing and parameter adaptation, as well as step-indexing and specifications constructed via mixed-variance functors (needed for C’s function pointers).

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)322-345
Number of pages24
JournalFormal Methods in System Design
Issue number1-2
StatePublished - Oct 2021

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Software
  • Theoretical Computer Science
  • Hardware and Architecture


  • Foundational program verification
  • Intersection specifications
  • Separation logics
  • Specification subsumption


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