Folder CBMC

Martin Brain

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).


CBMC operates in three phases:

  1. Parse command-line options; convert passed source files into a GOTO model (for more detail see AST).
  2. Run goto-symex to turn the GOTO model into a SAT or SMT equation (for more detail see goto-symex).
  3. Solve the equation and report results (described here, but see Bounded model checking for more information).

The GOTO model is generated using initialize_goto_model; see documentaton in the goto-programs/ directory. Goto-symex is similarly documented in its own directory.

Equation solving

The class bmct is responsible for solving the equation, generated by goto-symex, which represents the assertions or goals it is being asked to show can be hit or satisfied (or prove that can't be done).

For example, given an input program f(int x, int y) { assert(x + y % 3 == 1); assert(x % y == 0); } then goto- symex would produce a formula something like F1 + F2 % 3 != 1 OR (F1 + F2 % 3 == 1 AND F1 % F2 != 0), where F-variables are free. The precise expression of that formula depends on CBMC's command-line configuration: for some backends it will lower the arithmetic operations into bitwise operations; other backends understand arithmetic and so they will remain as-is. See cbmc_solverst for details of how a backend solver is selected, constructed and configured.

Whatever precise backend representation is used, CBMC controls solving the formula using two different possible procedures:

  1. When --stop-on-fail is passed on the command-line, the formula is solved once to find any violated assertion. This is implemented directly in class bmct. If the formula is satisfiable, a counter-example trace is generated.
  2. When --stop-on-fail is not passed, BMC is run in "all-properties" mode. This categorises the assertions into groups that represent the same property, and the solver is run repeatedly to try to satisfy each property at least once. This is implemented in bmc_all_propertiest.

For example, in the all-properties case, if the provided formula had five assertions, A1 ... A5, and A1 and A2 were instances of the same property as were A4 and A5, then initially the solver would simply be asked to satisfy A1 | A2 | A3 | A4 | A5, but if its first solution gave an answer for A1 only, then the solver would be called again asking for a solution to A3 | A4 | A5, A1 having been satisfied and A2 being considered irrelevant because it is an instance of the same property as A1. If the solver came back with a solution hitting A3 then it would be asked again to solve for A4 | A5, and so on until either every property is satisfied or the solver responds that a solution is impossible.

Generally assertions are considered instances of the same property if they are derived from the same source code statement: for example, assert(x == 1); assert(x == 2); would be considered two distinct properties, while for(int i = 1; i <= 2; ++i) assert(x == i); would generate two instances of the same property. This is because assertions are categorised by their source_location->get_property_id() field, which in turn is set per static instruction by goto-programs/set_properties.cpp. Assertions that are generated by other mechanism may categorise their properties differently.

Coverage mode

There is one further BMC mode that differs more fundamentally: when --cover is passed, assertions in the program text are converted into assumptions (these must hold for control flow to proceed past them, but are not goals for the equation solver; In cases where this behaviour is undesirable you can pass the --cover-failed-assertions which makes coverage checking continue even for paths where assertions fail), while new assert(false) statements are added throughout the source program representing coverage goals. The equation solving process then proceeds the same as in all-properties mode. Coverage solving is implemented by bmc_covert, but is structurally practically identical to bmc_all_propertiest– only the reporting differs (goals are called "covered" rather than "failed").


By default CBMC will report its findings by listing which assertions passed (could not be violated) or failed (could be violated), or which coverage goals were satisfiable or unsatisfiable, depending on its mode of operation. However if --trace is passed then it will print a full program trace indicating how each assertion was violated. This is constructed using build_goto_trace, which queries the backend asking what value was chosen for each program variable on the path from the start of the program to the relevant assertion. For more details on how the trace is populated see the documentation for build_goto_trace for prop_convt::get, the function used to query the backend.


CBMC supports running goto-symex in "path explorer" mode, which alters the simple GOTO model, goto-symex, equation solving sequence described above by incrementally running goto-symex to produce a formula describing part of a program, trying to solve that partial formula to satisfy some properties (or achieve some coverage, as appropriate), before re-entering symex to examine other properties. For example, given a simple program if(x) assert(y); else assert(z);, standard CBMC would generate a single formula of the form (x && !y) || (!x && !z), while in path-explorer mode it might generate a partial formula x && !y and try solving that before even considering the !x case. This should have the same end result as without the special path-explorer mode, but could achieve the result faster in --stop-on-fail mode or allow salvaging a partial result from an otherwise excessively time- or memory-consuming run in all-properties mode.

For more details on path-symex see the classes goto_symext and path_explorert.