Abstract: We present a new approach to automated reasoning about higher-order programs by endowing symbolic execution with a notion of higher-order, symbolic values. Our approach is sound and relatively complete with respect to a first-order solver for base type values. Therefore, it can form the basis of automated verification and bug-finding tools for higher-order programs.
To validate our approach, we use it to develop and evaluate a system for verifying and refuting behavioral software contracts of components in a functional language, which we call soft contract verification. In doing so, we discover a mutually beneficial relation between behavioral contracts and higher-order symbolic execution.
Our system uses higher-order symbolic execution, leveraging contracts as a source of symbolic values including unknown behavioral values, and employs an updatable heap of contract invariants to reason about flow-sensitive facts. Whenever a contract is refuted, it reports a concrete counterexample reproducing the error, which may involve solving for an unknown function. The approach is able to analyze first-class contracts, recursive data structures, unknown functions, and control-flow-sensitive refinements of values, which are all idiomatic in dynamic languages. It makes effective use of an off-the-shelf solver to decide problems without heavy encodings. The approach is competitive with a wide range of existing tools—including type systems, flow analyzers, and model checkers—on their own benchmarks. We have built a tool which analyzes programs written in Racket, and report on its effectiveness in verifying and refuting contracts.