lclint-interest message 18

Date: Thu, 10 Nov 94 15:44:30 -0500
From: evs (David Evans)
Cc: raymie
Subject: [ LCLint research]

[[[ I've taken a few liberties editing this message on long-range goals for
    LCLint research.   --- Dave ]]]

From: Raymie Stata 
Subject: LCLint research

Just to put my thoughts in a final form.

I see two categories of work here:

1. Using specifications and tools to "fix" "broken" languages.
Includes: extended type-checking (eg, bool checking), making it easier
to use existing language facilities (eg, .lh mechanism), adding
missing features to languages (eg, abstract types, iterators,

2. Using specfications and tools to get static checking that goes
beyond type checking (eg, modifies checking).  Actually, there are two
subcategories here.  (2a), there's extended checking where the
language being checked cannot be changed.  (2b) there's extended
checking where the language being checked _can_ be changed.

I would classify the LCLint work as falling under (1) and (2a).  One
question for your proposal is if you want to continue going in both
directions, if you want to concentrate on one.  (If you want an
opinion on where the _hard_ research questions are, my guess is that
there are more of them in (2) than in (1).)

Regarding choice of language, for both (1) and (2a) it seems to make
sense to pick a widely-used, broken language ((2b) is another story,
but you don't seem as interested in this).  Both C and C++ fit this
description (IMO).  Personally, I would stick to C.  More people are
using it.  It's more stable.  Also, C is a _much_ easier language to
process: C++ is complicated by terrible parsing requirements, a hairy
overloading scheme, and a promise to do all kinds of stuff
automatically if the user doesn't do it explicitly.  Finally, in C the
main problem is a _lack_ of features, versus C++ where the problem is
_broken_ features (eg, parameterized types).  Seems to me you'd have
an easier time of trying to add features than trying to fix them.
(And if you thought C was hard to parse...)

Finally, two detailed suggestions of where to go assuming C:

1. Parameterized types for void*-based types.  (i.e., an easy way to get
lists/sets or an arbitrary abstract type.)

2. A very interesting use for LCLint so far has been to ensure that a
program does not depend on certain implementation details before
changing those details.  Perhaps this could be pursued deeper.  For
example, regarding ADTs, perhaps you can minimize even further the
amount of specification needed to perform this task.  More generally
what people are looking for is a way of checking that it's safe to
make certain changes; perhaps there are other things people might want
to check that you can support.  Unfortunately I can't think of
anything off the top of my head, but it seems like something to look


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University of Virginia, Computer Science