Beginning of verification for the parsing of smart-contracts

🐓 February 22, 2021

In this blog post, we will show how we formally verify in Coq some properties about the parser of smart-contracts for the crypto-currency Tezos. The proofs of this formal verification are hosted in our project coq-tezos-of-ocaml.

To reason about the implementation of the parser, written in OCaml, we use the tool coq-of-ocaml to convert it automatically to Coq. We will talk about the tricks we used to get this conversion to work, in particular for the GADTs and the mutually recursive functions. We will also present the properties which we verified and how we did it.

We develop coq-of-ocaml at 🐙 Nomadic Labs with the aim to formally verify OCaml programs, and in particular the implementation of the crypto-currency Tezos. If you want to use this tool for your own projects, please do not hesitate to look at our website or contact us!

How do we convert the OCaml code to Coq

The code which interests us is in the file This is a long file, containing in particular the parser and type-checker of the Michelson language for smart-contracts. We are interested into the functions “parse something” and “unparse something” to show that there are compatible. We use the tool coq-of-ocaml to convert the code of this file. Since it depends on other files of the code of Tezos (for type definitions or primitives), we need to have the Coq definition of all its dependencies too. This is done in the project coq-tezos-of-ocaml. The translation of is in src/Proto_alpha/Script_ir_translator.v.

Mutually recursive functions

Mutually recursive functions are a challenge in Coq because of the syntactic constraints to make sure that each function terminates. Indeed, termination is important for Coq because a non-terminating functions would make the whole system logically inconsistent. Moreover, OCaml programs may not follow the syntactic constraints for termination of Coq as the OCaml compiler does not check for termination. Thus we use several techniques to translate the OCaml code to Coq without modifying too much the source:

There are two main attributes useful to translate recursive functions:

  • @coq_struct "ident" to specify the {struct ident} parameter of the Fixpoint command of Coq;
  • @coq_mutual_as_notation to force some mutual functions to be defined as notations.

For example, let us we take the function parse_ty to parse types, defined in OCaml as:

let rec parse_ty =
 fun ctxt
    node ->
  Gas.consume ctxt Typecheck_costs.parse_type_cycle
  >>? fun ctxt ->
  match node with
  | Prim (_loc, T_unit, [], _annot) ->
      ok (Ex_ty Unit_t, ctxt)
  | Prim (_loc, T_int, [], _annot) ->
      ok (Ex_ty Int_t, ctxt)
  | Prim (_loc, T_nat, [], _annot) ->
      ok (Ex_ty Nat_t, ctxt)
  | Prim (_loc, T_string, [], _annot) ->
      ok (Ex_ty String_t, ctxt)
  | Prim (_loc, T_bytes, [], _annot) ->
      ok (Ex_ty Bytes_t, ctxt)
  | Prim (_loc, T_mutez, [], _annot) ->
      ok (Ex_ty Mutez_t, ctxt)
  | Prim (_loc, T_bool, [], _annot) ->
      ok (Ex_ty Bool_t, ctxt)

and parse_parameter_ty =
 fun ctxt ~legacy ->

and parse_any_ty =

We have one main function parse_ty iterating over the parameter node and several auxiliary functions such as parse_parameter_ty which are exposed at top-level. We represent these auxiliary functions as notations in Coq, so that they are simpler to reason about compared to mutual fixpoints. We annotate the parse_parameter_ty function by the @coq_mutual_as_notation attribute so that we generate in Coq:

Reserved Notation "'parse_parameter_ty".
Reserved Notation "'parse_any_ty".

Fixpoint parse_ty
  (ctxt : Alpha_context.context) (legacy : bool) (allow_lazy_storage : bool)
  (allow_operation : bool) (allow_contract : bool) (allow_ticket : bool)
  (node : Alpha_context.Script.node) {struct node}
  : M? (ex_ty * Alpha_context.context) :=
  let parse_parameter_ty := 'parse_parameter_ty in
  let parse_any_ty := 'parse_any_ty in
  let? ctxt := Alpha_context.Gas.consume ctxt Typecheck_costs.parse_type_cycle
      match node with
      | Micheline.Prim loc Michelson_v1_primitives.T_big_map args _annot =>
      | _ => false
      match node with
        Micheline.Prim _loc Michelson_v1_primitives.T_sapling_state
          (cons memo_size []) _annot => allow_lazy_storage
      | _ => false
      end) with
  | (Micheline.Prim _loc Michelson_v1_primitives.T_unit [] _annot, _, _) =>
    return? ((Ex_ty Script_typed_ir.Unit_t), ctxt)
  | (Micheline.Prim _loc Michelson_v1_primitives.T_int [] _annot, _, _) =>
    return? ((Ex_ty Script_typed_ir.Int_t), ctxt)
  | (Micheline.Prim _loc Michelson_v1_primitives.T_nat [] _annot, _, _) =>
    return? ((Ex_ty Script_typed_ir.Nat_t), ctxt)
  | (Micheline.Prim _loc Michelson_v1_primitives.T_string [] _annot, _, _) =>
    return? ((Ex_ty Script_typed_ir.String_t), ctxt)

where "'parse_parameter_ty" :=
  (fun (ctxt : Alpha_context.context) (legacy : bool) =>
    parse_ty ctxt legacy true false true true)

and "'parse_any_ty" :=

Definition parse_parameter_ty := 'parse_parameter_ty.
Definition parse_any_ty := 'parse_any_ty.

We define parse_parameter_ty as a notation 'parse_parameter_ty. We introduce an alias parse_parameter_ty as a standard definition at the end, so that the code depending on parse_parameter_ty does not need to know that this is actually a notation. Using the notation, we consider parse_parameter_ty as a shorthand to call parse_ty rather than a whole new function. This can also simplifies our proofs as parse_ty is now a single recursive function. With the @coq_struct attribute, we specify that the parameter node is the one to recurse on. Even if the function parse_ty is not syntactically terminating for Coq (due to some flattening when parsing pair elements), it is important for the proofs to have a “resonable” struct parameter. This prevents the simpl tactic to diverge when doing proofs by symbolic evaluation. Here we choose the parameter node as it is different on each recursive call.


Our current approach to translate GADTs to Coq is to:

  • erase the type parameters;
  • use OCaml attributes to force the generation of dynamic casts in Coq when needed (these dynamic casts are axioms).

Fortunately, for our experiment we did not need to use dynamic casts and the code generated without the type parameters for the GADTs was compiling just fine!

The proofs

All the proofs are accessible online on coq-tezos-of-ocaml/src/Proto_alpha/Proofs/Script_ir_translator. We wanted to verify the following property:

 forall term, parse (unparse term) = term

for the terms of type comparable_ty and ty. For the type ty, we express this property as:

Lemma parse_unparse_ty
  allow_lazy_storage allow_operation allow_contract allow_ticket
    : Script_typed_ir.Ty.is_valid
        allow_lazy_storage allow_operation allow_contract allow_ticket
        ty =
  : let unlimited_ctxt := Raw_context.with_unlimited_gas ctxt in
    (let? '(node, ctxt) := Script_ir_translator.unparse_ty unlimited_ctxt ty in
      allow_lazy_storage allow_operation allow_contract allow_ticket
      node) =
    return? (Script_ir_translator.Ex_ty ty, unlimited_ctxt).

The parameters legacy, allow_lazy_storage, allow_operation, allow_contract, allow_ticket are boolean flags of the parsing function. They are mainly there to allow or forbid some elements, such as the contracts or the tickets. The context ctxt represents the current state, and in particular contains a reference to the block-chain state. We replace it by:

let unlimited_ctxt := Raw_context.with_unlimited_gas ctxt in

which is the same context with an unlimited gas value. The gas is there to compute the execution cost for smart-contracts. By setting the gas as unlimited, we avoid having to reason about failures due to gas exhaustion, without too much loss of generality. The unparse_ty and parse_ty functions are in the error monad, whose basic operators are return? to return a success value and let? to bind two operations.

We recursively express the pre-condition Script_typed_ir.Ty.is_valid on the type ty. This pre-condition depends on the same flags as the parsing function. It checks that the forbidden operations are not present, and that all the integers are in the expected intervals.

We do the proof by induction on the value ty. The most complex case is the case of pairs because we flatten the pairs to lists of elements, so the induction is not direct. Apart from that case, most of the proof is dedicated to handling the error monad and unfolding the definitions. To get an idea, here is an extract of the Coq proof to handle the general case:

destruct ty; unfold simple_unparse_ty; simpl; try reflexivity;
  repeat (rewrite simple_unparse_ty_eq; simpl);
  repeat (rewrite Comparable_ty.parse_unparse_comparable_ty; simpl);
  repeat (rewrite (parse_simple_unparse_ty ctxt); simpl);
  simpl in H_ty; try (rewrite Bool.andb_true_iff in H_ty; destruct H_ty);

For each case, we try to do some symbolic evaluation with simpl, and apply the inductive hypothesis parse_simple_unparse_ty or lemma such as parse_unparse_comparable_ty. We also do some basic boolean manipulations with andb_true_iff for the pre-condition.

Finally, we check that the pre-condition Script_typed_ir.Ty.is_valid is true for all the terms parsed by the function parse_ty. We express this property as follows:

Lemma parse_is_valid
  allow_lazy_storage allow_operation allow_contract allow_ticket
  : let result :=
        allow_lazy_storage allow_operation allow_contract allow_ticket
        node in
    match result with
    | Pervasives.Ok (Script_ir_translator.Ex_ty ty, _) =>
        allow_lazy_storage allow_operation allow_contract allow_ticket
        ty =
    | _ => True

The proof proceeds by induction on the parameter node.


We have seen that we can write basic formal proofs about the parser of smart-contracts of Tezos. We do that first by automatically translating the OCaml code to Coq, and then by doing the proofs in Coq.

We will next focus on writing proofs on the parsing functions for the data of smart-contracts. These functions are slightly more involved than the parsing functions on the types, but follow the same structure.

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