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Plan for backward compatibility verification

ยท 5 min read
Guillaume Claret

The backward compatibility is an important property to maintain between two releases of the protocol of Tezos. For example, this ensures that existing smart contracts still work after a protocol upgrade. That property can be hard to ensure by the protocol developers as the codebase's size increases. At the time of writing, there are 86,346 lines of code in src/proto_alpha/lib_protocol in the master branch of Tezos, counting all the .ml and .mli files.

We propose using formal verification to check that the backward compatibility is preserved after each protocol release, with a mathematical degree of certainty. More precisely, we show that for every inputs and storage contexts, a smart contract working with version Jakarta of Tezos will generate the exact same output running on the next version K. Even if there are infinitely many possible inputs, we can verify all of them by writing a mathematical proof in the formal system Coq.

In this blog post, we describe our plan for this verification effort.


The property to verifyโ€‹

The general property we are showing is the following commutative diagram:

input & storage J โ”€โ”€โ”€ smart contract J โ”€โ”€โ”€โ”€โ–บ output J
โ”‚ โ”‚ โ”‚
โ”‚ โ”‚ โ”‚
migrate migrate migrate
โ”‚ โ”‚ โ”‚
โ”‚ โ”‚ โ”‚
โ–ผ โ–ผ โ–ผ
input & storage K โ”€โ”€โ”€ smart contract K โ”€โ”€โ”€โ”€โ–บ output K

Given a migration function migrate migrating values from the version J of the protocol to the version K, we show that the two computations:

  1. executing a smart contract in version J and then migrating the result;
  2. migrating a smart contract and its input to version K and then executing it;

yield the same result.

For that, we plan to import the two protocol versions to Coq in two different folders Proto_J and Proto_K. We use the translator coq-of-ocaml to do this import, converting the OCaml code of the implementation of Tezos to Coq.

Michelson's implementationโ€‹

The Michelson interpreter in the Tezos protocol contains the three following main files:

These three files amount to around 10,000 lines of code in total and are calling various auxiliary files. A difficulty with the verification of the Michelson implementation, apart from its size, is the use of GADTs in OCaml. Unfortunately, we do not have a clean translation of GADTs to Coq. Instead, we:

  1. Erase all the type parameters of the GADTs of OCaml, and add dynamic casts in the match operations. These casts are unsafe but verified by the type-checker of OCaml. They are necessary as we lost information by erasing the type parameters from the GADTs. This step is done automatically by coq-of-ocaml.
  2. Define a new Michelson implementation in Coq using dependent types. We do this step manually. To make this new definition, we start from the code generated by coq-of-ocaml and add dependent types to it. We describe this process in detail in our Guide on Michelson. We then prove this transformation to be correct by writing a simulation proof between the code with dependent types and the translated code with dynamic casts.

We will prove the backward compatibility working on the dependent version of the Michelson's implementation.

Shared definitionsโ€‹

We define most of the types twice for protocol J and protocol K. For example, we have two abstract syntax trees for Michelson in version J and K, even if the two are almost the same. To have a conversion between all of these types, we will make a migrate function for each type, going from the version J to the version K. For the case of the Michelson tree, this function will associate each constructor of the tree in version J to the corresponding constructor in version K.

Having different types for the two protocol versions will force us to duplicate many of our proofs. Fortunately, we can share primitive types such as integers and lists. We do so by sharing the implementation of the environment of the two protocols, as it is already done in OCaml. The environments of the protocols define all the primitives that a protocol can access. It includes a part of the standard library of OCaml, plus additional primitives for cryptography and access to the database.

Sharing the definitions and the proofs over the environment should help to simplify many of the proofs.

What we have todayโ€‹

Today we are defining the dependent version of the Michelson's implementation of protocol J. We have a complete definition of the abstract syntax tree, a mostly complete definition for the interpreter, and a partial definition for the type-checker/printer. We are writing the proofs of equivalence between the dependent version and the version translated by coq-of-ocaml as we write the dependent definitions.


Next week, we will start translating the development protocol proto_alpha to Coq usingย coq-of-ocaml. This development version should become the protocol K in a few weeks, so it is a good idea for us to start working with it. Then we will:

  • port our proofs and dependent implementation of Michelson to the version K;
  • write migration functions between the data types of version J and K;
  • express the theorem of backward compatibility, stating that the interpreter of K is backward compatible with J;
  • make the actual proof; this will include showing that the various interpreter sub-functions are compatible.

An example of change planned for version K is the removal of the kinfo payload from most of the instructions. This change should improve the performance of the Michelson interpreter as the kinfo payload is not used in most cases. We will show that this global refactorization is safe and preserves the semantics of Michelson.