Lindsey Kuper (lindseykuper) wrote,
Lindsey Kuper

Now I'm a real person!

Last week, I wrote down some stuff sketching out what I'm working on and what I want to accomplish with my research project this semester. Herewith:

Program equivalence in multi-language systems

Contextual equivalence

We often care about proving that two programs are contextually equivalent -- meaning that those programs, when dropped into the same context, have the same observable behavior. (A context can be thought of as simply a program with a "hole" in it; we get a runnable program by filling the hole. For instance, "if [.] then 5 else 500" is a context.) Contextual equivalence is important for, for instance, proving the correctness of compiler transformations (we want to show that the program being operated on has the same behavior as it would have had before a particular compiler pass runs), or for proving that we can refactor a component of a software system and drop in the refactored component as a safe replacement for the old one.

If programs e1 and e2 are contextually equivalent, it means that if we drop e1 and e2 into the same context C, the resulting two expressions will evaluate to the same result. For the context "if ([.] > 0) then 5 else 500", e1 and e2 can be different; as long as they're both greater than 0, they'll produce the same result. For our "if [.] then 5 else 500" example, though, e1 and e2 both have to be either "true" or "false". Contextual equivalence is extremely difficult to prove, because it requires us to quantify over all program contexts: "For all contexts C, program C[e1] and C[e2] are equivalent." (We write C[e] to mean a context C plugged with expression e.)

Logical equivalence

Because of the difficulty of proving contextual equivalence, we choose to instead define a different notion of equivalence of programs, which we call logical equivalence.

Logical equivalence of expressions is defined inductively on the structure of their types. Here are a few examples:

  • As a base case, we say that two expressions e and e' of type Nat are logically equivalent if they're equal. We write e ~ e' : Nat, which is read "e is logically equivalent to e' at the type Nat". Since logical equivalence is a relation, sometimes we just say "e is related to e' at the type Nat".
  • The pairs (e1, e2) and (e1', e2'), each of type Nat * Nat, are related at the type Nat * Nat if their first and second components, respectively, are related at the type Nat.
  • For the functions (lambda x : T1.e) and (lambda x: T1.e'), each of type T1 -> T2, we say that they are related at the type T1 -> T2 if, when applied to the same argument of type T1, produce related results at type T2. (Notice that this is an operational definition of relatedness; it relies on knowledge of the evaluation semantics of the language.)

Soundness and completeness

Once we've defined the logical equivalence relation, we can prove that it is sound with respect to contextual equivalence. That is, if programs e1 and e2 are logically equivalent, they're contextually equivalent, too.

(Soundness wrt contextual equivalence) If e1 and e2 are logically equivalent, they're also contextually equivalent.

Often, we will also want to prove completeness wrt contextual equivalence:

(Completeness wrt contextual equivalence) If e1 and e2 are contextually equivalent, they're logically equivalent.

Finally, we can establish that the two programs that we wish to prove contextual equivalence of are actually logically equivalent, and therefore contextually equivalent. (You might wonder why we actually need completeness in those circumstances -- don't we only need soundness? For that particular situation, sure. But there are situations where completeness really comes in handy. For instance, suppose we have two programs that we know are not logically equivalent. By taking the contrapositive of the completeness implication, we can say with certainty that they are not contextually equivalent, either.)

The Fundamental Property and other important properties

In order to prove soundness of logical equivalence wrt contextual equivalence, we have to prove a property of the logical equivalence relation that is usually known as the Fundamental Property: we must show that every expression is logically equivalent to itself. This property is exactly the reflexivity property that must be true of all equivalence relations.

Aside from reflexivity, we also need to prove that the logical equivalence relation is symmetric (if e1 ~ e2 : T, then e2 ~ e1 : T) and transitive (if e1 ~ e2 : T and e2 ~ e3 : T, then e1 ~ e3 : T). Symmetry follows easily from the definition of logical equivalence, but proving transitivity of a logical relation can be quite hard. Typically we proceed by proving both soundness and completeness with respect to contextual equivalence, and then, since contextual equivalence is easily shown to be transitive, we know that the logical relation is transitive.

Back to proving program equivalence

We've reduced the problem of proving program equivalence to defining a logical equivalence relation that has the Fundamental Property and is sound and complete. After doing so, proving that a pair of programs is contextually equivalent is simply a matter of showing that that pair of programs is, in fact, a member of the relation.

Polymorphism and other fancy stuff

The logical equivalence relation becomes much harder to define when dealing with types that are fancier than the ones we've discussed here so far. Adding polymorphism to our type system, for instance, requires us to introduce more mathematical machinery and some auxiliary relations to the definition of logical equivalence. For one thing, polymorphism makes it harder to know the type at which two expressions should be related, so we have to introduce an environment that "remembers" the types with which a program is actually instantiated as it is being evaluated.

The need for stratification

Moreover, though, the problem with polymorphic and recursive types is that they introduce a kind of circularity. Our logical equivalence relation is defined inductively on types, but in a system with the kind of polymorphism known as impredicative polymorphism, when we have a type like "forall A. T", occurrences of A in the "T" portion of the type can be instantiated with any type, such as "forall A. T" itself, or even a larger type like "forall A. T * T". Therefore, the induction is no longer well-founded: there's no guarantee that we'll reach a base case. We therefore have to find some way of stratifying membership in the relation that will allow it to be defined inductively in a well-founded way.

Of the proposed solutions to this problem, one of the most promising is the recently developed step-indexing technique, which allows the relation to be defined inductively not only on the types of programs, but by the number of steps remaining for future execution of programs. The idea is that we can approximate logical equivalence by running a program only for a given number of steps. (It's worth noting that when run for 0 steps, all programs are logically equivalent and thus contextually equivalent!)

Multi-language programs

The particular challenge of the setting in which I'm working is that we have something called "lump" types, which allow us to embed programs written in a dynamically-typed language inside programs written in a statically-typed host language. (I'll call the combined system the "lump language".) Proving equivalence of programs in this setting presents some additional challenges that not even the step-indexed model can handle without the addition of yet more proof machinery. We think that the even more recently invented indirection theory approach might simplify the job, though.


  • Given a logical equivalence relation for a simple language like System F (simply typed lambda calculus plus polymorphism), be able to prove the Fundamental Property and soundness/completeness properties. Understand the extra machinery necessary to handle polymorphic types. Gain enough fluency in Coq to be able to formalize these proofs in Coq, possibly using libraries intended for proving properties of programming languages.
  • Understand the step-indexed model for defining logical relations, and why we need step-indexing for dealing with recursive and quantified types.
  • Understand the lump embedding (in particular, understand the relationship between the lump type system and contracts). Understand why step-indexing is insufficient for defining a well-founded logical relation on terms in the lump language (it's probably related to the way in which embedding dynamically typed code in a statically typed language allows us to "smuggle values past the type system").
  • Define a well-founded logical equivalence relation for the lump language and prove the Fundamental Property, the soundness property, and hopefully the completeness property. First, try to do it without the addition of indirection theory; then use indirection theory. (Maybe try to show that the two models are equivalent.) Formalize these proofs in Coq using the Mechanized Semantic Library, which implements the axioms of indirection theory.
  • Fame, fortune, publications, etc.

I'm not necessarily expecting to achieve all of this stuff this semester, but I'm going to get as far as I can.

I also made a new website for my research group. It was about time someone updated the website, since our old one hadn't changed since sometime in the 90s -- I figured we should change it before it became older than some of the people in the group.

Regarding both the website and the research plan, there isn't a lot there yet. But it's a start.

Tags: grad school, research

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