PhD Dissertation

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Looking Good, Behaving Well

Behavioural Verification and Visualisation of Formal Models of Concurrent Systems

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Abstract (Danish)

Når man skal starte med at bygge et hus starter man ikke hovedløst med at bygge mure og håber på det bedste. I stedet tegner en arkitekt en tegning efter kundens specifikation, hvorefter en ingeniør regner på om huset kan bære sig selv og overholder loven. Hvis der er tale om et kompliceret byggeri laves måske en tre-dimensionel model af byggeriet så kunden kan få et indtryk af hvad der bygges.

I denne PhD arbejdes med metoder og værktøjer til at gøre det samme for computerprogrammer. Selvom computerprogramer kan være mere kritiske end hus — tag et system på et hospital som eksempel — springes det, der i computer-verdenen svarer til arkitektens tegning, nemlig ofte over, og så har det, der svarer til ingeniøren, ikke noget at arbejde med. Vi foreslår derfor at man konstruerer en matematisk model af et computersystem før det implementeres. Denne kan så automatisk vises korrekt af en computer, og vi kan lave en grafisk repræsentation af den matematiske model, så kunden kan eksperimentere med det endelige system før det er færdigt og se hvorvidt det lever op til kravene. På denne måde kan man måske undgå endnu et Amanda.


Computer systems are so complex and crucial to our lives that we need to verify that they are correct and do not fail or risk facing enormous economical consequences, like in the case of the European Space Agency’s Ariane 5 rocket, which self-destructed 37 seconds after launch because of a software malfunction, or loss of human lives, like the Therac-25 radiation therapy machine, which caused at least six deaths due to overdoses of radiation because the machine was not able to detect a human error. We would like to reduce the number of such errors or even prove their absence.

Many errors stem from incomplete and inconsistent specifications of the systems to construct, as they are often written in natural language text. We would instead like to create a formal specification. In order to do that, we create a formal model of the system we wish to construct, much like how an architect creates a blueprint of a house that is to be constructed.

A specification, in the form of a formal model, can then be verified using formal analysis methods. One such method is the reachability graph method, which basically explores all possible executions of the formal model by creating a graph where each node is a state of the formal model and each edge indicates that it is possible to go from the source to the destination state. Such a graph is called a reachability graph. The reachability graph method has the advantage that is can be implemented in a computer and made almost completely automatic. Unfortunately, the behaviour of a formal model can be very complex, so we will often need a reduction technique, which tries to explore only part of the behaviour or represent the behaviour more efficiently in the computer memory. This thesis presents two such reduction techniques. One reduction technique, the sweep-line method, uses a user-specified notion of progress to remove states that will never be encountered again from memory. This method has the disadvantage that the structure of the reachability graph is not preserved, so certain properties cannot be verified. In order to overcome that, we have extended the sweep-line method to also store the structure of the reachability graph in a memory-wise nearly-optimal manner. Another method, the ComBack method, avoids storing the states of the reachability graph altogether, by exploiting that any state can be reconstructed if we know how to get to it from the initial state. By storing a spanning tree of the reachability graph, rooted in the initial state, the ComBack method manages to represent the reachability graph very efficiently.

While a specification written as a formal model makes it possible to verify desired properties, it is often difficult or even impossible for domain experts, who know about the system we wish to construct, to validate that the formal model indeed corresponds to the desired system. In order to facilitate communication of the formal model, we create a visualisation of the behaviour of the formal model. The behaviour of the visualisation is completely defined by the formal model, and the visualisation makes it possible to provide input to the formal model. This thesis presents three papers on this topic. One presents a tool, the BRITNeY Suite, which makes it possible to create visualisations of formal models. Another paper describes an industrial case study where formal models and visualisations have been used to create a prototype of a network protocol facilitating communication between computers moving from one wireless network to another. The third paper provides a formal game-theoretic framework for tying visualisations to formal models.

This thesis deals with making formal models look good and behave well. By creating a domain specific visualisation, we can make the model look good, and allow domain experts to understand them. By verifying the model using the reachability graph method, we can make the model behave well, by removing errors in the model, making the model better suited as specification. This thesis consists of two parts. Part I gives an overview of formal models, their analysis, and visualisation of them. Additionally, Part I describes the five papers, which are re-printed in Part II. Four of these papers have been published at conferences and one is submitted to a workshop.


Entire thesis: [PDF (9.8 MiB)]

Slides: [PDF with builds (26.0 MiB), PDF (10.6 MiB), Keynote (18.2 MiB)]


Abstract (pp. v-vi)
Contents (pp. ix-xi)

Part I: Overview

Chapter 1: Introduction (pp. 3-24)
Chapter 2: Behavioural Verification by Means of Reachability Graphs (pp. 25-44)
Chapter 3: Behavioural Visualisation of Formal Models (pp. 45-67)
Chapter 4: Summary (pp. 69-74)

Part II: Papers

Chapter 5: Obtaining Memory-Efficient Reachability Graph Representations Using the Sweep-Line Method (pp. 77-90)
Chapter 6: The ComBack Method — Extending Hash Compaction with Backtracking (pp. 91-110)
Chapter 7: The BRITNeY Suite Animation Tool (pp. 111-120)
Chapter 8: Model-based Prototyping of an Interoperability Protocol for Mobile Ad-hoc Networks (pp. 121-140)
Chapter 9: A Game-theoretic Approach to Behavioural Visualisation (pp. 141-157)


Bibliography (pp. 161-171)