author: Freark van der Berg
title: Model checking LLVM using LTSmin
keywords: intermediate representation, relaxed memory models,
topics: Languages
committee: Jaco van de Pol ,
Stefan Blom ,
Alfons Laarman
started: July 2013
end: December 2013


Advancements in computer architectures have resulted in an exponential increase in the speed of processors and memory capacity. However, memory latencies have not improved to the same extent, thus access times are increasingly limiting peak performance. To address this, several layers of cache are added to computer architectures to speed up apparent memory access and instruction are reordered to maximize memory throughput.

This worked well for single-processor systems, but because of physical limits, modern computer architectures gain performance by adding more processors instead of increasing the clock speed. In multi-processor systems, the cache and instruction reordering make communication complex, because reads and writes of one processor may be observed in a different orders by different pro- cessors. To mitigate this, some computer architectures add complex hardware at the cost of perfor- mance, power requirements and die size. Other architectures employ a relaxed memory model and add synchronization instructions, memory barriers, to the instruction set. This means the software has to deal with the complexity. By placing memory barriers, an ordering on reads and writes can be enforced, causing processors to synchronize.

However, memory barriers are expensive instructions and need only to be placed where absolutely needed if performance is of importance. To this end, we present our tool, LLMC. The target of LLMC is concurrent programs written in LLVM IR, an intermediate representation language with numerous front-ends, e.g. for C, C++, Java, .NET, and Erlang. Using the model checker LTSmin, we explore the state space of these programs in search of assertion violations, deadlocks and livelocks. We do this for the memory models TSO, PSO and a limited version of RMO. To the best of our knowledge, this is the first tool that model checks LLVM IR programs running on PSO and a limited version of RMO. We applied LLMC to a well-known concurrent queue, the Michael-Scott queue, and were able to confirm the necessity of the required memory barriers for correctness under RMO.


Additional Resources

  1. The paper