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Background Information

First off; read the CProver manual. It describes how to get, build and use CBMC and SATABS. This document covers the internals of the system and how to get started on development.


Apart from the (user-orientated) CPROVER manual and this document, most of the rest of the documentation is inline in the code as doxygen and some comments. A man page for CBMC, goto-cc and goto-instrument is contained in the doc/ directory and gives some options for these tools. All of these could be improved and patches are very welcome. In some cases the algorithms used are described in the relevant papers.


CPROVER is structured in a similar fashion to a compiler. It has language specific front-ends which perform limited syntactic analysis and then convert to an intermediate format. The intermediate format can be output to files (this is what goto-cc does) and are (informally) referred to as “goto binaries” or “goto programs”. The back-end are tools process this format, either directly from the front-end or from it’s saved output. These include a wide range of analysis and transformation tools, implemented in directory goto-instrument/.

Coding Standards

CPROVER is written in a fairly minimalist subset of C++; templates and meta- programming are avoided except where necessary. The standard library is used but in many cases there are alternatives provided in util/ which are preferred. Boost is not used.

Patches should be formatted so that code is indented with two space char- acters, not tab and wrapped to 75 or 72 columns. Headers for doxygen should be given (and preferably filled!) and the author will be the person who first created the file.

Identifiers should be lower case with underscores to separate words. Types (classes, structures and typedefs) names must 1 end with a t. Types that model types (i.e. C types in the program that is being interpreted) are named with typet. For example ui message handlert rather than UI message handlert or UIMessageHandler and union typet.

How to Contribute

Fixes, changes and enhancements to the CPROVER code base should be devel- oped against the trunk version and submitted to Daniel as patches produced by diff -Naur or svn diff. Entire applications are best developed independently (git svn is a popular choice for tracking the main trunk but also having local development) until it is clear what their utility, future and maintenance is likely to be.

Other Useful Code

The CPROVER subversion archive contains a number of separate programs. Others are developed separately as patches or separate branches.Interfaces are have been and are continuing to stablise but older code may require work to compile and function correctly. In the main archive:

  • CBMC A bounded model checking tool for C and C++. See Section cbmc/.
  • goto-cc A drop-in, flag compatible replacement for GCC and other compilers that produces goto-programs rather than executable binaries.
  • goto-instrument A collection of functions for instrumenting and modifying goto-programs. See goto-instrument/

Model checkers and similar tools:

  • DeltaCheck: a differential program analyser
  • FShell: a test-input generation tool that allows the user to specify the desired coverage using a custom language (which includes regular expressions over paths). It uses incremental SAT and is thus faster than the naıve “add assertions one at a time and use the counter-examples” approach. Is developed in its own subversion.
  • Impara: A path-based analyser of concurrent and sequential programs based on interpolation.
  • Summariser: a synthesis-based static analysis engine

Source Walkthrough

This section walks through the code bases in a rough order of interest / comprehensibility to the new developer.


At the moment just contains the CBMC man page.


The regression/ directory is grouped into directories for each of the tools. Each of these contains a directory per test case, containing a C, C++ or Java file that triggers the bug and a .dsc file that describes the tests, expected output and so on. There is a Perl script, that is used to invoke the tests as:


The –help option gives instructions for use and the format of the descrip- tion files.


The source code is divided into a number of sub-directories, each containing the code for a different part of the system. In the top level files there are only a few files:

  • The user-editable configuration parameters for the build process. The main use of this file is setting the paths for the various external SAT solvers that are used. As such, anyone building from source will likely need to edit this.
  • Makefile The main systems Make file. Parallel builds are supported and encouraged; please don’t break them!
  • common System specific magic required to get the system to build. This should only need to be edited if porting CBMC to a new platform / build environment.
  • doxygen.cfg The config file for doxygen.cfg



util/ contains the low-level data structures and manipulation functions that are used through-out the CPROVER code-base. For almost any low-level task, the code required is probably in util/. Key files include: irep.h This contains the definition of irept, the basis of many of the data structures in the project. They should not be used directly; one of the derived classes should be used. For more information see irept.


The parent class for all of the expressions. Provides a number of generic functions, exprt can be used with these but when creating data, subclasses of exprt should be used.

  • irep.h This contains the definition of irept, the basis of many of the data structures in the project. They should not be used directly; one of the derived classes should be used. For more information see Section irept/.
  • expr.h The parent class for all of the expressions. Provides a number of generic functions, exprt can be used with these but when creating data, subclasses of exprt should be used.
  • std_expr.h Provides subclasses of exprt for common kinds of expression for example plus exprt, minus exprt, dereference exprt. These are the intended interface for creating expressions.
  • std_types.h Provides subclasses of typet (a subclass of irept) to model C and C++ types. This is one of the preferred interfaces to irept. The front-ends handle type promotion and most coercision so the type system and checking goto-programs is simpler than C.
  • dstring.h The CPROVER string class. This enables sharing between strings which significantly reduces the amount of memory required and speeds comparison. dstring should not be used directly, irep idt should be

used instead, which (dependent on build options) is an alias for dstring.

  • mp_arith.h The wrapper class for multi-precision arithmetic within CPROVER. Also see arith tools.h.
  • ieee_float.h The arbitrary precision float model used within CPROVER. Based on mp_integers.
  • context.h A generic container for symbol table like constructs such as namespaces. Lookup gives type, location of declaration, name, ‘pretty name’, whether it is static or not.
  • namespace.h The preferred interface for the context class. The key function is lookup which converts a string (irep idt) to a symbol which gives the scope of declaration, type and so on. This works for functions as well as variables.


This contains the basic interfaces and support classes for programming language front ends. Developers only really need look at this if they are adding support for a new language. It’s main users are the two (in trunk) language front-ends; ansi-c/ and cpp/.


ansi-c/ contains the front-end for ANSI C, plus a variety of common extensions. This parses the file, performs some basic sanity checks (this is one area in which the UI could be improved; patches most welcome) and then produces a goto-program (see below). The parser is a traditional Flex / Bison system. internal addition.c contains the implementation of various ‘magic’ func- tions that are that allow control of the analysis from the source code level. These include assertions, assumptions, atomic blocks, memory fences and rounding modes. The library/ subdirectory contains versions of some of the C standard header files that make use of the CPROVER built-in functions. This allows CPROVER programs to be ‘aware’ of the functionality and model it correctly. Examples include stdio.c, string.c, setjmp.c and various threading inter- faces.


The directory cpp/ contains the C++ front-end. It supports the subset of C++ commonly found in embedded and system applications. Consequentially it doesn’t have full support for templates and many of the more advanced and obscure C++ features. The subset of the language that can be handled is being ex- tended over time so bug reports of programs that cannot be parsed are useful. The functionality is very similar to the ANSI C front end; parsing the code and converting to goto-programs. It makes use of code from langapi and ansi-c.


Goto programs are the intermediate representation of the CPROVER tool chain. They are language independent and similar to many of the compiler intermedi- ate languages. Section ?? describes the goto programt and goto functionst data structures in detail. However it useful to understand some of the basic con- cepts. Each function is a list of instructions, each of which has a type (one of 18 kinds of instruction), a code expression, a guard expression and potentially some targets for the next instruction. They are not natively in static single- assign (SSA) form. Transitions are nondeterministic (although in practise the guards on the transitions normally cover form a disjoint cover of all possibili- ties). Local variables have non-deterministic values if they are not initialised. Variables and data within the program is commonly one of three types (param- eterised by width): unsignedbv typet, signedbv typet and floatbv typet, see util/std types.h for more information. Goto programs can be serialised in a binary (wrapped in ELF headers) format or in XML (see the various serialization files). The cbmc option –show-goto-programs is often a good starting point as it outputs goto-programs in a human readable form. However there are a few things to be aware of. Functions have an internal name (for example c::f00) and a ‘pretty name’ (for example f00) and which is used depends on whether it is internal or being presented to the user. The main method is the ‘logical’ main which is not necessarily the main method from the code. In the output NONDET is use to represent a nondeterministic assignment to a variable. Likewise IF as a beautified GOTO instruction where the guard expression is used as the condition. RETURN instructions may be dropped if they precede an END FUNCTION instruction. The comment lines are generated from the locationt field of the instructiont structure. goto-programs/ is one of the few places in the CPROVER codebase that templates are used. The intention is to allow the general architecture of pro- gram and functions to be used for other formalisms. At the moment most of the templates have a single instantiation; for example goto functionst and goto function templatet and goto programt and goto program templatet.


This directory contains a symbolic evaluation system for goto-programs. This takes a goto-program and translates it to an equation system by traversing the program, branching and merging and unwinding loops as needed. Each reverse goto has a separate counter (the actual counting is handled by cbmc, see the –unwind and –unwind-set options). When a counter limit is reach, an asser- tion can be added to explicitly show when analysis is incomplete. The symbolic execution includes constant folding so loops that have a constant number of it- erations will be handled completely (assuming the unwinding limit is sufficient). The output of the symbolic execution is a system of equations; an object con- taining a list of symex target elements, each of which are equalities between expr expressions. See symex target equation.h. The output is in static, sin- gle assignment (SSA) form, which is not the case for goto-programs.


To perform symbolic execution on programs with dereferencing of arbitrary pointers, some alias analysis is needed. pointer-analysis contains the three levels of analysis; flow and context insensitive, context sensitive and flow and context sensitive. The code needed is subtle and sophisticated and thus there may be bugs.


The solvers/ directory contains interfaces to a number of different decision procedures, roughly one per directory.


The basic and common functionality. The key file is prop conv.h which defines prop convt. This is the base class that is used to interface to the decision procedures. The key functions are convert which takes an exprt and converts it to the appropriate, solver specific, data structures and dec solve (inherited from decision proceduret) which invokes the ac- tual decision procedures. Individual decision procedures (named * dect) objects can be created but prop convt is the preferred interface for code that uses them.


A library that converts operations to bit-vectors, including call- ing the conversions in floatbv as necessary. Is implemented as a simple conversion (with caching) and then a post-processing function that adds extra constraints. This is not used by the SMT or CVC back-ends.


Provides the dplib dect object which used the decision procedure library from “Decision Procedures : An Algorithmic Point of View”.


Provides the cvc dect type which interfaces to the old (pre SMTLib) input format for the CVC family of solvers. This format is still supported by depreciated in favour of SMTLib 2.


Provides the smt1 dect type which converts the formulae to SMTLib version 1 and then invokes one of Boolector, CVC3, OpenSMT, Yices, MathSAT or Z3. Again, note that this format is depreciated.


Provides the smt2 dect type which functions in a similar way to smt1 dect, calling Boolector, CVC3, MathSAT, Yices or Z3. Note that the interac- tion with the solver is batched and uses temporary files rather than using the interactive command supported by SMTLib 2. With the –fpa op- tion, this output mode will not flatten the floating point arithmetic and instead output the proposed SMTLib floating point standard.


Back-ends for a variety of QBF solvers. Appears to be no longer used or maintained.


Back-ends for a variety of SAT solvers and DIMACS output.


This contains the first full application. CBMC is a bounded model checker that uses the front ends (ansi-c, cpp, goto-program or others) to create a goto- program, goto-symex to unwind the loops the given number of times and to produce and equation system and finally solvers to find a counter-example (technically, goto-symex is then used to construct the counter-example trace).


The goto-instrument/ directory contains a number of tools, one per file, that are built into the goto-instrument program. All of them take in a goto- program (produced by goto-cc) and either modify it or perform some analysis. Examples include nondet static.cpp which initialises static variables to a non- deterministic value, nondet volatile.cpp which assigns a non-deterministic value to any volatile variable before it is read and weak memory.h which per- forms the necessary transformations to reason about weak memory models.

The exception to the “one file for each piece of functionality” rule are the pro- gram instrumentation options (mostly those given as “Safety checks” in the goto-instrument help text) which are included in the goto-program/ direc- tory. An example of this is goto-program/stack depth.h and the general rule seems to be that transformations and instrumentation that cbmc uses should be in goto-program/, others should be in goto-instrument. goto-instrument is a very good template for new analysis tools. New de- velopers are advised to copy the directory, remove all files apart from main.*, parseoptions.* and the Makefile and use these as the skeleton of their appli- cation. The doit() method in parseoptions.cpp is the preferred location for the top level control for the program.


This code emulates a linker. This allows multiple ‘object files’ (goto- programs) to be linked into one ‘executable’ (another goto-program), thus allow- ing existing build systems to be used to build complete goto-program binaries.


CPROVER is distributed with its own multi-precision arithmetic library; mainly for historical and portability reasons. The library is externally developed and thus big-int contains the source as it is distributed. This should not be used directly, see util/mp arith.h for the CPROVER interface.


CPROVER has optional XML output for results and there is an XML format for goto-programs. It is used to interface to various IDEs. The xmllang/ directory contains the parser and helper functions for handling this format.


This library contains the code that is used to convert floating point variables (floatbv) to bit vectors (bv). This is referred to as ‘bit-blasting’ and is called in the solver code during conversion to SAT or SMT. It also contains the abstraction code described in the FMCAD09 paper.

Data Structures

This section discusses some of the key data-structures used in the CPROVER codebase.


There are a large number of kind of tree structured or tree-like data in CPROVER. irept provides a single, unified representation for all of these, allowing struc- ture sharing and reference counting of data. As such irept is the basic unit of data in CPROVER. Each irept contains 2 a basic unit of data (of type dt) which contains four things: data A string 3 , which is returned when the id() function is used. named sub A map from irep namet (a string) to an irept. This is used for named children, i.e. subexpressions, parameters, etc. comments Another map from irep namet to irept which is used for annota- tions and other ‘non-semantic’ information sub A vector of irept which is used to store ordered but unnamed children. The irept::pretty function outputs the contents of an irept directly and can be used to understand an debug problems with irepts. On their own irepts do not “mean” anything; they are effectively generic tree nodes. Their interpretation depends on the contents of result of the id function (the data) field. util/irep ids.txt contains the complete list of id values. During the build process it is used to generate util/irep ids.h which gives constants for each id (named ID *). These can then be used to identify what kind of data irept stores and thus what can be done with it. To simplify this process, there are a variety of classes that inherit from irept, roughly corresponding to the ids listed (i.e. ID or (the string “or’’) corresponds to the class or exprt). These give semantically relevant accessor functions for the data; effectively different APIs for the same underlying data structure. None of these classes add fields (only methods) and so static casting can be used. The inheritance graph of the subclasses of irept is a useful starting point for working out how to manipulate data. There are three main groups of classes (or APIs); those derived from typet, codet and exprt respectively. Although all of these inherit from irept, these are the most abstract level that code should handle data. If code is manipulating plain irepts then something is wrong with the architecture of the code. Many of the key descendent of exprt are declared in std expr.h. All ex- pressions have a named subfield / annotation which gives the type of the expres- sion (slightly simplified from C/C++ as unsignedbv typet, signedbv typet, floatbv typet, etc.). All type conversions are explicit with an expression with id() == ID typecast and an ‘interface class’ named typecast exprt. One key descendent of exprt is symbol exprt which creates irept instances with the id of “symbol”. These are used to represent variables; the name of which can be found using the get identifier accessor function. codet inherits from exprt and is defined in std code.h. They represent executable code; statements in C rather than expressions. In the front-end there are versions of these that hold whole code blocks, but in goto-programs these have been flattened so that each irept represents one sequence point (almost one line of code / one semi-colon). The most common descendents of codet are code assignt so a common pattern is to cast the codet to an assignment and then recurse on the expression on either side.


The common starting point for working with goto-programs is the read goto binary function which populates an object of goto functionst type. This is defined in goto functions.h and is an instantiation of the template goto functions templatet which is contained in goto functions template.h. They are wrappers around a map from strings to goto programt’s and iteration macros are provided. Note that goto function templatet (no s) is defined in the same header as goto functions templatet and is gives the C type for the function and Boolean which indicates whether the body is available (before linking this might not always be true). Also note the slightly counter-intuitive naming; goto functionst instances are the top level structure representing the program and contain goto programt instances which represent the individual functions. At the time of writing goto functionst is the only instantiation of the tem- plate goto functions templatet but other could be produced if a different data-structures / kinds of models were needed for functions. goto programt is also an instantiation of a template. In a similar fashion it is goto program templatet and allows the types of the guard and expression used in instructions to be parameterised. Again, this is currently the only use of the template. As such there are only really helper functions in goto program.h and thus goto program template.h is probably the key file that describes the representation of (C) functions in the goto-program format. It is reasonably stable and reasonably documented and thus is a good place to start looking at the code. An instance of goto program templatet is effectively a list of instructions (and inner template called instructiont). It is important to use the copy and insertion functions that are provided as iterators are used to link instructions to their predecessors and targets and careless manipulation of the list could break these. Likewise there are helper macros for iterating over the instructions in an instance of goto program templatet and the use of these is good style and strongly encouraged. Individual instructions are instances of type instructiont. They represent one step in the function. Each has a type, an instance of goto program instruction typet which denotes what kind of instruction it is. They can be computational (such as ASSIGN or FUNCTION CALL), logical (such as ASSUME and ASSERT) or infor- mational (such as LOCATION and DEAD). At the time of writing there are 18 possible values for goto program instruction typet / kinds of instruction. Instructions also have a guard field (the condition under which it is executed) and a code field (what the instruction does). These may be empty depending on the kind of instruction. In the default instantiations these are of type exprt and codet respectively and thus covered by the previous discussion of irept and its descendents. The next instructions (remembering that transitions are guarded by non-deterministic) are given by the list targets (with the corresponding list of labels labels) and the corresponding set of previous instructions is get by incoming edges. Finally instructiont have informational function and location fields that indicate where they are in the code.

cprover_beginner_s_guide.txt · Last modified: 2017/07/15 12:14 by kroening