School of Computing Science

PhD Theses

Enhancing the Usability of Rely-Guarantee Conditions for Atomicity Refinement (2009)

The full text of this thesis is available from the Newcastle University Library website:

Pierce, K.G., School of Computing Science, University of Newcastle upon Tyne

Formal methods are a useful tool for increasing the confidence in the correctness of computer programs with respect to their specifications. Formal methods allow designers to model specifications and these formal models can then be reasoned about in a rigorous way. Formal methods for sequential processes are well-understood, however formal methods for concurrent programs are more difficult, because of the interference which may arise when programs run concurrently. Rely-guarantee reasoning is a well-established formal method for modelling concurrent programs. Rely-guarantee conditions offer a tractable and compositional approach to reasoning about concurrent programs, by allowing designers to reason about the interference inherent in concurrent systems. While useful, there are certain weaknesses in rely-guarantee conditions. In particular, the requirement for rely-guarantee conditions to describe whole-state updates can make large specifications unwieldy. Similarly, it can be difficult to describe problems which exhibit distinct phases of execution. The main contribution of this thesis is to show ways in which these two weaknesses of rely-guarantee reasoning can be addressed. In turn, this enhances the usability of rely-guarantee conditions. Atomicity refinement is a potentially useful tool for simplifying the development of concurrent programs. The central idea is that designers can record (possibly unrealistic) atomicity assumptions about the eventual implementation of a program. This fiction of atomicity simplifies the design process by avoiding the difficult issue of interference. It is then necessary to identify ways in which this atomicity can be relaxed and concurrent execution introduced. This thesis also argues that the choice of data representation plays an important role in achieving atomicity refinement. In addition, this thesis presents an argument that rely-guarantee conditions and VDM offer a potentially fruitful approach to atomicity refinement. Specifically, rely-conditions can be used to represent assumptions about atomicity and the refinement rules of VDM allow different data representations to be introduced. To this end, a more usable approach to rely-guarantee reasoning would benefit the search for a usable form of atomicity refinement. All of these points are illustrated with a novel development of Simpson's Four-Slot, a mechanism for asynchronous communication between processes.