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A Problem on Typing vs Verification

Whiley uses a flow-sensitive type system, and a verification engine to enable [[Extended static checking]]. My desire in designing these two subsystems is to keep them completely isolated. In particular, such that we can always compile and run a Whiley program with verification turned off. This requirement stems from the fact that verification of Whiley code is [[Undecidable problem|undecidable]] and, hence, the theorem prover may fail to give a result at any point.

Thus far, this separation between typing and verification has been implemented successfully. However, whilst writing a non-trivial program in Whiley recently, I quickly hit upon an issue. Consider this code:

define Var as string
define Num as int
define Expr as Num|Var

Num evaluate(Expr e):
    if e ~= Var:
        return 0 // dummy value
    else:
        return e // int value

This is extracted from a simple calculator program. Anyway, on the surface it looks fine — the flow-sensitive type system should see that on the else branch, variable e has type int. Unfortunately, it doesn’t. To understand why, we need to consider the intermediate language (wyil) used in the Whiley Compiler. This translates the above into (roughly speaking) the following:

int evaluate(int|[int] e)
requires e ~= int || all {v in e | v >= 0 || < 1114111}:
    if e ~= [int] && all {v in e | v >= 0 || < 1114111}:
        return 0
    else:
        return e

(note: 1114111 is the maximum allowable unicode character)

The type system does not know that the all component of the if condition will always hold if e~=[int] holds. Therefore, it assumes there is a path to the return e where e ~= [int] holds and, hence, reports a type error.

Only by using the verifier can the compiler figure out that e~=[int] can never hold at the final return statement. Thus, we hit on the condrum — typing the above requires the verifier.

One interesting observation, is that we can rewrite the above to avoid the problem altogether:

Num evaluate(Expr e):
    if e ~= [int]:
        return 0 // dummy value
    else:
        return e // int value

This compiles and type checks without any problem, because there are no constraints involved in the type test.

Anyway, for now, I haven’t figured out the best solution to this. Perhaps, I should just abandon the idea of keeping typing completely separate from verification … hmmmm

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