NetkAT: Semantic foundations for networks

Carolyn Jane Anderson, Nate Foster, Arjun Guha, Jean Baptiste Jeannin, Dexter Kozen, Cole Schlesinger, David Walker

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contribution

162 Scopus citations


Recent years have seen growing interest in high-level languages for programming networks. But the design of these languages has been largely ad hoc, driven more by the needs of applications and the capabilities of network hardware than by foundational principles. The lack of a semantic foundation has left language designers with little guidance in determining how to incorporate new features, and programmers without a means to reason precisely about their code. This paper presents NetKAT, a new network programming language that is based on a solid mathematical foundation and comes equipped with a sound and complete equational theory. We describe the design of NetKAT, including primitives for filtering, modifying, and transmitting packets; union and sequential composition operators; and a Kleene star operator that iterates programs. We show that NetKAT is an instance of a canonical and well-studied mathematical structure called a Kleene algebra with tests (KAT) and prove that its equational theory is sound and complete with respect to its denotational semantics. Finally, we present practical applications of the equational theory including syntactic techniques for checking reachability, proving non-interference properties that ensure isolation between programs, and establishing the correctness of compilation algorithms.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationPOPL 2014 - Proceedings of the 41st Annual ACM SIGPLAN-SIGACT Symposium on Principles of Programming Languages
Number of pages14
StatePublished - 2014
Event41st Annual ACM SIGPLAN-SIGACT Symposium on Principles of Programming Languages, POPL 2014 - San Diego, CA, United States
Duration: Jan 22 2014Jan 24 2014

Publication series

NameConference Record of the Annual ACM Symposium on Principles of Programming Languages
ISSN (Print)0730-8566


Other41st Annual ACM SIGPLAN-SIGACT Symposium on Principles of Programming Languages, POPL 2014
Country/TerritoryUnited States
CitySan Diego, CA

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Software


  • domain-specific languages
  • frenetic
  • kleene algebra with tests
  • netkat
  • network programming languages
  • software-defined networking


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