Latest updates of coq-of-ocaml for the Tezos protocol

🐓 February 17, 2020

We recently made a lot of progress on the formalization in Coq of the Tezos economic protocol, written in OCaml, using coq-of-ocaml. We present here some of the new features of coq-of-ocaml and the results on the formalization of Tezos.

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!


Previously, we were using dependent records to represent first-class modules. We now use dependent records whenever possible, even for non-first-class modules. This enables us to convert OCaml functors to Coq functions over dependent records. As an example, we translate this OCaml program:

(* Signature of the parameter of the functor *)
module type Source = sig
  type t
  val x : t

(* Signature of the result of the functor *)
module type Target = sig
  type t
  val y : t

(* Definition of the functor *)
module F (X : Source) : Target with type t = X.t = struct
  type t = X.t
  let y = X.x

(* Application to the module [M] *)
module M : Source = struct
  type t = int
  let x = 12

module N = F (M)

to the following Coq code:

Module Source.
  Record signature {t : Set} := {
    t := t;
    x : t;
  Arguments signature : clear implicits.
End Source.

Module Target.
  Record signature {t : Set} := {
    t := t;
    y : t;
  Arguments signature : clear implicits.
End Target.

Definition F :=
  fun (X : {t : _ & Source.signature t}) =>
    (let t := (|X|).(Source.t) in
    let y := (|X|).(Source.x) in
    existT (fun _ => _) tt
        Target.y := y
      |} : {_ : unit & Target.signature (|X|).(Source.t)}).

Definition M :=
  let t := Z in
  let x := 12 in
  existT _ _
      Source.x := x

Definition N :=
    (existT _ _
        Source.x := (|M|).(Source.x)

We note (|M|) the projection projT2 to get the second component of an existential type {x : A & P x}. We represent signatures by records parametrized by their abstract types. We wrap these records with existential types for the abstract types which are not precised by a with type t = ... construct. Functors are then plain Coq functions over dependent records. For more details, see the documentation on the module system in coq-of-ocaml.

Our convention is to represent a module as a dependent record if there exists a name for its signature. In this case, we use its signature name for its record’s type name. We consider the other modules as namespaces, and represent them with standard Coq modules.

GADTs and existential types

GADTs, an advanced form of algebraic datatypes, are used a lot in the Tezos protocol. They help to ensure safety properties, like the soundness of the type-checker of the smart-contracts.


As we did not find a general way to convert GADTs to Coq, we chose to erase the type annotations and introduce unsafe casts. Here is an example of OCaml code with a GADT:

type 'a int_or_string =
  | Int : int int_or_string
  | String : string int_or_string

let to_string (type a) (kind : a int_or_string) (x : a) : string =
  match[@coq_match_gadt] kind, x with
  | Int, (x : int) -> string_of_int x
  | String, (x : string) -> x

Note the [@coq_match_gadt] on the match and the type annotations on the variable x in the patterns. We import this code in Coq to:

Reserved Notation "'int_or_string".

Inductive int_or_string_gadt : Set :=
| Int : int_or_string_gadt
| String : int_or_string_gadt

where "'int_or_string" := (fun (_ : Set) => int_or_string_gadt).

Definition int_or_string := 'int_or_string.

Definition to_string {A : Set} (kind : int_or_string A) (x : A) : string :=
  match (kind, x) with
  | (Int, _ as x) =>
    let 'existT _ tt x := cast_exists (fun _ => Z) x in
    cast string (OCaml.Stdlib.string_of_int x)
  | (String, _ as x) =>
    let 'existT _ tt x := cast_exists (fun _ => string) x in
    cast string x

We convert the GADT int_or_string to an inductive int_or_string_gadt without annotations. We generate two axioms in each branch of the match, to cast:

  • the variables introduced by the pattern;
  • the result of the branch.

The axiom cast is the equivalent in Coq of the OCaml’s Obj.magic cast. It has the following signature:

Axiom cast : forall {A : Set} (B : Set), A -> B.

We say that:

  • cast behaves as the identity function when A is equal to B;
  • is undefined in other cases.

To specify this behavior, we use the following axiom:

Axiom cast_eval : forall {A : Set} {x : A}, cast A x = x.

While doing proofs, we must use the axiom cast_eval to evaluate cast by proving that the types A and B are the same. Doing so, we also verify that the type unifications of the type-checker of OCaml are indeed correct. The cast_exists axiom is like cast with the ability to introduce some existential variables when needed.

Existential variables

Types with existential variables are a special case of GADTs, where the type parameters are the same for all the constructors. For example, to represent a value which can be converted to a string, we can use:

type printable = Printable : 'a * ('a -> string) -> printable

let printable_to_string (x : printable) : string =
  let Printable (value, print) = x in
  print value

In this example, 'a is an existential variable. Coq also support existential variables in algebraic types. Here is what we generate for this example:

Inductive printable : Set :=
| Printable : forall {a : Set}, a -> (a -> string) -> printable.

Definition printable_to_string (x : printable) : string :=
  let 'Printable value print := x in
  let 'existT _ __Printable_'a [value, print] :=
      (fun __Printable_'a : Set =>
        [__Printable_'a ** (__Printable_'a -> string)]) _ [value, print] in
  print value.

We do not need any axioms. The let 'existT _ __Printable_'a [value, print] := block is there to rename the existential variables generated by Coq to the names of the OCaml compiler. We replace the forbidden symbol $ by __, so that:




Having well named existential variables helps to get:

  • cleaner error messages;
  • type annotations on sub-expressions using these existential variables.

Documentation website

We added a website for coq-of-ocaml to have a central place with documentation. We used Docusaurus to generate the website. We chose Docusaurus for the following reasons:

  • open-source;
  • good defaults;
  • generates static HTML;
  • we can write the documentation in Markdown.

We converted most of the protocol

At the time of writing, 57% of the Coq code generated by coq-of-ocaml for the Tezos protocol compiles. This includes the interpreter of the smart-contracts, and amounts to around 30.000 lines of valid Coq code. We still ignore many features, like the side-effects or the extensible types. The main missing files are the * files and the type-checker of smart-contracts (6.000 lines of OCaml, the largest file of the protocol).

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