Denotational Semantics for Symbolic Execution


Symbolic execution is a technique to systematically explore all possible paths through a program. This technique can be formally explained by means of small-step transition systems that update symbolic states and compute a precondition corresponding to the taken execution path (called the path condition). To enable swift and robust compositional reasoning, this paper defines a denotational semantics for symbolic execution. We prove the correspondence between the denotational semantics and both the small-step execution semantics and a concrete semantics. The denotational semantics is a function defined piecewise using a partitioning of the input space. Each part of the input space is a path condition obtained from symbolic execution, and the semantics of this part is the corresponding symbolic substitution interpreted as a function on the initial state space. Correctness and completeness of symbolic execution is encapsulated in a graceful identity of functions. We provide mechanizations in Coq for our main results.

Proc. 20th International Colloquium on Theoretical Aspects of Computing (ICTAC 2023). LNCS 14446 © Springer 2023.