Section: Application Domains
Certification of Safety Critical Software
Absence of runtime error, Abstract interpretation, Certified compilation, Static analysis, Translation validation, Verifier.
Safety critical software may incur great damage in case of failure, such as human casualties or huge financial losses. These include many kinds of embedded software, such as fly-by-wire programs in aircrafts and other avionic applications, control systems for nuclear power plants, or navigation systems of satellite launchers. For instance, the failure of the first launch of Ariane 5 (flight Ariane 501) was due to overflows in arithmetic computations. This failure caused the loss of several satellites, worth up to $ 500 millions.
This development of safe and secure critical software requires formal methods so as to ensure that they do not go wrong, and will behave as specified. In particular, testing, bug finding methods, checking of models but not programs do not provide any guarantee that no failure will occur, even of a given type such as runtime errors; therefore, their scope is limited for certification purposes. For instance, testing can usually not be performed for all possible inputs due to feasibility and cost reasons, so that it does not prove anything about a large number of possible executions.
By contrast, program analysis methods such as abstract-interpretation-based static analysis are not subject to unsoundness, since they can formally prove the absence of bugs directly on the program, not on a model that might be erroneous. Yet, these techniques are generally incomplete since the absence of runtime errors is undecidable. Therefore, in practice, they are prone to false alarms (i.e., they may fail to prove the absence of runtime errors for a program which is safe). The objective of certification is to ultimately eliminate all false alarms.
It should be noted that, due to the size of the critical codes (typically from 100 to 1000 kLOCs), only scalable methods can succeed (in particular, software model checking techniques are subject to state explosion issues). As a consequence, this domain requires efficient static analyses, where costly abstractions should be used only parsimoniously.
Furthermore, many families of critical software have similar features, such as the reliance on floating-point intensive computations for the implementation of control laws, including linear and non-linear control with feedback, interpolations, and other DSP algorithms. Since we stated that a proof of absence of runtime errors is required, very precise analyses are required, which should be able to yield no false alarm on wide families of critical applications. To achieve that goal, significant advantages can be found in the design of domain specific analyzers, such as Astrée  ,  , which has been initially designed specifically for synchronous embedded software.
Last, some specific critical software qualification procedures may require additional properties being proved. As an example, the DO-178 regulations (which apply to avionics software) require a tight, documented, and certified relation to be established between each development stage. In particular, compilation of high level programs into executable binaries should also be certified correct.
The Abstraction project-team has been working on both proof of absence of runtime errors and certified compilation over the decade, using abstract interpretation techniques. Successful results have been achieved on industrial applications using the Astrée analyzer. Following this success, Astrée has been licensed to AbsInt Angewandte Informatik GmbH to be industrialized, and the Abstraction project-team has strong plans to continue research on this topic.