Lecture 16
Case Study in Verification:
Development and Proof of the Euclidean Algorithm for GCD

If we are trying to prove the correctness of a function with respect to a formal specification, the task can often be broken down into two separate activities: proving partial correctness with respect to a precondition and postcondition, and proving total correctness (halting).

Partial Correctness, Preconditions and Postconditions

A partial correctness specification for a function is a pair of properties φ (the precondition) and ψ (the postcondition) describing a relation between the inputs and outputs. The precondition φ is a restriction on the inputs. It is the caller's responsibility to ensure that the function is only ever called on inputs satisfying φ. The function then may assume that the inputs satisfy φ (and may wish to check that they do). The postcondition ψ is the function's responsibility. The function must ensure that ψ holds when the function returns, provided the input satisfies φ. Thus the precondition/postcondition pair is like a contract between the caller and the function. A program is partially correct with respect to a partial correctness specification φ, ψ if, whenever the input satisfies the precondition φ, the postcondition ψ holds when the function returns. It does not say that the function must return; but only that if it does, then ψ holds upon return.

Total Correctness, Well-Foundedness

In addition to partial correctness, we would also like to ensure that the program halts. The combination of partial correctness and halting is called total correctness. We usually separate the two tasks of proving partial correctness and halting because different techniques are used. For halting, one usually identifies a data value that decreases strictly with each step or each recursive call, but for which it is impossible to decrease infinitely. For example, in the Fibonacci program

let rec fib n = if n <= 1 then n else fib (n - 1) + fib (n - 2)
the value of n decreases strictly with each recursive call, but can only decrease finitely many times before the halting condition n <= 1 becomes true. The property that something can only decrease finitely many times is known as well-foundedness. Most of the time the natural numbers suffice for this purpose, but sometimes it is necessary to use more complicated well-founded relations.

Tools of the Verification Process

The verification process typically uses many tools:

We have seen propositional and predicate logic and natural deduction in previous lectures. The laws of equality, implicitly universally (∀) quantified, are The laws of partial orders ≤ are Sometimes but not always, depending on f, we might also have: Our example below will exercise all these classes of tools.

An Example: the Euclidean Algorithm for Integer GCD

GCD stands for greatest common divisor. The GCD of two integers m and n, denoted GCD(m,n), exists and is unique for all pairs of integers m, n such that m, n ≥ 0 and not both m, n = 0 (this will actually be our precondition on the inputs). We would like to develop a program to compute the GCD of two given integers. We will first develop a formal partial correctness specification φ, ψ. After that, there are two approaches we can take:

Here we will focus on the latter approach. You will see that that structure of the correctness proof and the structure of the program are quite strongly related.

Our formal partial correctness specification is

Here are some properties of the integers we will use:

  1. If m, n satisfies the precondition (that is, m, n ≥ 0 and not both m, n = 0), then GCD(m,n) exists and is unique.
  2. If g = GCD(m,n), then g divides m and n (notation: g | m and g | n) and is the greatest integer that does so; that is, for all k, if k | m and k | n, then k ≤ g.
  3. Stronger: if g = GCD(m,n), then g | m and g | n, and for all k, if k | m and k | n, then k | g.
  4. For all m,n ≥ 0 such that n > 0, there exist unique q and r such that m = nq + r and 0 ≤ r < n. The numbers q and r are the (integer) quotient q = m/n and remainder r = m mod n, respectively.
Let's prove some of these so that we can see some of the tools mentioned above at work. First, we should be a little more precise about the meaning of the divisibility relation. We write k | m and say k divides m if k > 0 and ∃a ka = m. Here the existential quantifier ranges over the natural numbers (nonnegative integers).

With this definition, we can show that the divisibility relation is a partial order on positive integers as defined above; that is, it is

Surely x | x, since x1 = x, therefore ∃a xa = x (note that we have just used the ∃-intro rule of natural deduction), therefore divisibility is reflexive. For transitivity, if x | y and y | z, say xa = y and yb = z, then xab = yb = z, therefore ∃c xc = z, therefore x | z. We have used associativity of multiplication in this argument, as well as the ∃-intro and -elim rules of natural deduction.

In this view of divisibility as a partial order, property 3 above says that GCD(m,n) is the greatest lower bound of m and n with respect to the partial order of divisibility.

Lemma 1. Let m ≥ 0 and n > 0. Let q = m/n (integer division), r = m mod n. Then for all k,

k | m  and  k | n    if and only if      k | n  and  k | r.

Proof. Suppose k | m and k | n. Then for some a and b, ka = m and kb = n. Using property 4 above, r = m − qn = ka − qkb = k(a − qb), therefore k | r, and also k | n by assumption. Conversely, if k | n and k | r, then for some c and d, kc = n and kd = r. Again using property 4, m = qn + r = qkc + kd = k(qc + d), therefore k | m, and also k | n by assumption. QED

Lemma 2. Let m ≥ 0 and n > 0. Let q = m/n (integer division), r = m mod n. Then GCD(m,n) = GCD(n,r).

Proof. We have GCD(n,r) | n and GCD(n,r) | r by property 3. Taking k = GCD(n,r) in Lemma 1, we have GCD(n,r) | m and GCD(n,r) | n. Since by property 3 GCD(m,n) is the greatest lower bound of m and n in the order of divisibility, GCD(n,r) | GCD(m,n). A symmetric argument (note the symmetry of Lemma 1) shows that GCD(m,n) | GCD(n,r). Therefore by antisymmetry, GCD(m,n) = GCD(n,r). QED

Now our main constructive existence theorem that will give us the algorithm almost for free is the following.

Theorem. Let m, n ≥ 0, not both = 0. There exist integers s,t such that GCD(m,n) = sm + tn.

Proof. By induction on n. Basis: n = 0. Then GCD(m,n) = GCD(m,0) = m, and we can take s = 1 and t = 0, giving g = m = 1m + 0n.

Induction step: n > 0. Let q = m/n and r = m mod n. By property 4, m = qn + r and 0 &le r < n, thus the precondition holds for n and r. By the induction hypothesis, there exist s' and t' such that GCD(m,n) = GCD(n,r) = s'n + t'r = s'n + t'(m − qn) = t'm + (s' − t'q)n, so we can take s = t' and t = s' − t'q. QED

The program can now be read off directly from the proof of the Theorem.

let rec gcd m n =
  if n = 0 then (m, 1, 0) else (* from the basis *)
  let q = m/n in (* n > 0 if we get here *)
  let r = m mod n in
  let (g, s', t') = gcd n r in (* from the induction step *)
  (g, t', s' − t' * q)
We have essentially extracted a recursive program from a constructive proof of the existence of an output satisfying the postcondition. The nice thing about this approach is that the program already comes with a proof of partial correctness!

For total correctness, we need only observe that the program always halts for the same reason that the induction in the proof of the Theorem is sound—the second argument to the gcd function decreases strictly with each recursive call and is never negative, therefore must eventually be 0.