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Section: Research Program

Static Analysis and Transformation of programs

Participants : Laurent Hascoët, Valérie Pascual.


Glossary
abstract syntax tree

Tree representation of a computer program, that keeps only the semantically significant information and abstracts away syntactic sugar such as indentation, parentheses, or separators.

control flow graph

Representation of a procedure body as a directed graph, whose nodes, known as basic blocks, each contain a sequence of instructions and whose arrows represent all possible control jumps that can occur at run-time.

abstract interpretation

Model that describes program static analysis as a special sort of execution, in which all branches of control switches are taken concurrently, and where computed values are replaced by abstract values from a given semantic domain. Each particular analysis gives birth to a specific semantic domain.

data flow analysis

Program analysis that studies how a given property of variables evolves with execution of the program. Data Flow analysis is static, therefore studying all possible run-time behaviors and making conservative approximations. A typical data-flow analysis is to detect, at any location in the source program, whether a variable is initialized or not.


The most obvious example of a program transformation tool is certainly a compiler. Other examples are program translators, that go from one language or formalism to another, or optimizers, that transform a program to make it run better. AD is just one such transformation. These tools share the technological basis that lets them implement the sophisticated analyses  [14] required. In particular there are common mathematical models to specify these analyses and analyze their properties.

An important principle is abstraction: the core of a compiler should not bother about syntactic details of the compiled program. The optimization and code generation phases must be independent from the particular input programming language. This is generally achieved using language-specific front-ends, language-independent middle-ends, and target-specific back-ends. In the middle-end, analysis can concentrate on the semantics of a reduced set of constructs. This analysis operates on an abstract representation of programs made of one call graph, whose nodes are themselves flow graphs whose nodes (basic blocks) contain abstract syntax trees for the individual atomic instructions. To each level are attached symbol tables, nested to capture scoping.

Static program analysis can be defined on this internal representation, which is largely language independent. The simplest analyses on trees can be specified with inference rules  [17], [25], [15]. But many data-flow analyses are more complex, and better defined on graphs than on trees. Since both call graphs and flow graphs may be cyclic, these global analyses will be solved iteratively. Abstract Interpretation  [18] is a theoretical framework to study complexity and termination of these analyses.

Data flow analyses must be carefully designed to avoid or control combinatorial explosion. At the call graph level, they can run bottom-up or top-down, and they yield more accurate results when they take into account the different call sites of each procedure, which is called context sensitivity. At the flow graph level, they can run forwards or backwards, and yield more accurate results when they take into account only the possible execution flows resulting from possible control, which is called flow sensitivity.

Even then, data flow analyses are limited, because they are static and thus have very little knowledge of actual run-time values. Far before reaching the very theoretical limit of undecidability, one reaches practical limitations to how much information one can infer from programs that use arrays  [31], [19] or pointers. Therefore, conservative over-approximations must be made, leading to derivative code less efficient than ideal.