Ivory Language Concepts

An Embedded Language

We will discuss how Ivory has several restrictions which make it less expressive than the C programming language. On their own, these restrictions would make it quite laborious to build programs in Ivory. However, Ivory has been built as an embedded language inside the Haskell programming language. This means Ivory programs can be constructed using the Haskell language as a macro language.

Rather than inventing its own syntax and type system, the Ivory language reuses the syntax and type system of Haskell. So, when we refer to programs in the Ivory language, we’re really talking about a Haskell value which is constructed using the Haskell library Ivory.Language. These values can then be interpreted by the Ivory interpreter, or compiled by an Ivory language backend. Currently, the Ivory language has a single backend which produces C source files.

Because Ivory programs use Haskell syntax and types, an Ivory programmer should first have basic familiarity with the Haskell programming language.

A Systems Language

Ivory is a systems language designed for a natural compilation to C. Most of the concepts familiar to a C programmer are present in Ivory: procedures, return values, machine-sized integers and floating point numbers, structures, arrays, and strings are all available in the Ivory language.

The Ivory language maps naturally to a restricted subset of C, and has a compiler backend to output C source code. Ivory also supports importing and calling external C code, and coercing Ivory types to C types.

Ivory is designed for implementing systems and application software for high assurance systems. Therefore, some language trade-offs have been made so that programs can have safety properties guaranteed by construction. Ivory’s feature restrictions eliminate many valid, correct programs which are possible to write in C. In general, Ivory eliminates many sources of dynamic behavior in favor of safety. Average case performance is often sacrificed in order to bound the worst case; the programmer can expect compiled Ivory programs to perhaps use more memory, code, or time than functionally equivalent safe programs written in C.

While this means Ivory may not be a good language for all applications, within the domain of creating high-assurance software, these trade-offs are what make Ivory ideal.

Differences from the C Language

One major difference between Ivory and C is the treatment of memory allocation and reference. Ivory does not allow nullable pointers, unbounded memory access, or heap allocation. These restrictions are made with safety and security in mind. Nullable pointers may complicate control flow, which makes it more difficult for the user to create a correct program. Unbounded memory access is difficult for both users and verification tools to reason about. Heap allocation is difficult to implement without nullable pointers, and may create problems reasoning about time (i.e. allocator complexity) and space (i.e. memory leaks, allocation bounds) of user code. Ivory permits global allocation and stack allocation, and enforces safety of stack allocated memory by preventing references from existing after the referent’s stack frame no longer exists.

In addition to treating memory more carefully than C, Ivory makes restrictions on loop control structures to ensure each loop has a fixed upper bound. We expect many Ivory users will want to use an external Worst-Case Execution Time (WCET) tool as part of safety or schedulability analysis, therefore, we have ensured that it will be trivial for external tools to discover loop bounds.

It is possible to create nonterminating programs in Ivory using the forever control flow primitive, which is designed for implementing programs which should never terminate. It is also possible to build nonterminating programs by call recursion. At this time, the use of forever and recursion are allowed by the Ivory compiler, but these features may be restricted or removed in the future.

Support for Verification

Ivory was created to improve safety for systems and application programmers. While the Ivory language does guarantee some safety properties by construction, it also supports specifying run-time properties using external provers.

add :: Def ('[Uint32,Uint32] :-> Uint32)
add  = proc "add"
     $ \ x y -> ensures (\r -> r ==? x + y)
     $ body
     $ ret (x + y)

A sample ivory program decorated with an ensures clause, checking the return value against a specification. This is a trivial case where the specification and implementation are identical.

The C language backend supports rendering Ivory assertions for static checking with the CBMC model checker. The SMACCMPilot project build system includes integration for CBMC verification of the SMACCMPilot source code.

We also provide our own symbolic simulator for verifying Ivory assertions using CVC4.