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id: bytecode-verifier title: Bytecode Verifier custom_edit_url: https://github.com/libra/libra/edit/master/language/bytecode_verifier/README.md

Bytecode Verifier


The bytecode verifier contains a static analysis tool for rejecting invalid Move bytecode. It checks the safety of stack usage, types, resources, and references.

The body of each function in a compiled module is verified separately while trusting the correctness of function signatures in the module. Checking that each function signature matches its definition is a separate responsibility. The body of a function is a sequence of bytecode instructions. This instruction sequence is checked in several phases described below.

CFG Construction

A control-flow graph is constructed by decomposing the instruction sequence into a collection of basic blocks. Each basic block contains a contiguous sequence of instructions; the set of all instructions is partitioned among the blocks. Each block ends with a branch or return instruction. The decomposition into blocks guarantees that branch targets land only at the beginning of some block. The decomposition also attempts to ensure that the generated blocks are maximal. However, the soundness of the analysis does not depend on maximality.

Stack Safety

The execution of a block happens in the context of a stack and an array of local variables. The parameters of the function are a prefix of the array of local variables. Arguments and return values are passed across function calls via the stack. When a function starts executing, its arguments are already loaded into its parameters. Suppose the stack height is n when a function starts executing; then valid bytecode must enforce the invariant that when execution lands at the beginning of a basic block, the stack height is n. Furthermore, at a return instruction, the stack height must be n+k where k, s.t. k>=0 is the number of return values. The first phase of the analysis checks that this invariant is maintained by analyzing each block separately, calculating the effect of each instruction in the block on the stack height, checking that the height does not go below n, and that is left either at n or n+k (depending on the final instruction of the block and the return type of the function) at the end of the block.

Type Safety

The second phase of the analysis checks that each operation, primitive or defined function, is invoked with arguments of appropriate types. The operands of an operation are values located either in a local variable or on the stack. The types of local variables of a function are already provided in the bytecode. However, the types of stack values are inferred. This inference and the type checking of each operation can be done separately for each block. Since the stack height at the beginning of each block is n and does not go below n during the execution of the block, we only need to model the suffix of the stack starting at n for type checking the block instructions. We model this suffix using a stack of types on which types are pushed and popped as the instruction stream in a block is processed. Only the type stack and the statically-known types of local variables are needed to type check each instruction.

Resource Safety

Resources represent the assets of the blockchain. As such, there are certain restrictions on these types that do not apply to normal values. Intuitively, resource values cannot be copied and must be used by the end of the transaction (this means that they are moved to global storage or destroyed). Concretely, the following restrictions apply:

  • CopyLoc and StLoc require that the type of local is not of resource kind.
  • WriteRef, Eq, and Neq require that the type of the reference is not of resource kind.
  • At the end of a function (when Ret is reached), no local whose type is of resource kind must be empty, i.e., the value must have been moved out of the local.

As mentioned above, this last rule around Ret implies that the resource must have been either:

  • Moved to global storage via MoveToSender.
  • Destroyed via Unpack.

Both MoveToSender and Unpack are internal to the module in which the resource is declared.

Reference Safety

References are first-class in the bytecode language. Fresh references become available to a function in several ways:

  • Inputing parameters.
  • Taking the address of the value in a local variable.
  • Taking the address of the globally published value in an address.
  • Taking the address of a field from a reference to the containing struct.
  • Returning value from a function.

The goal of reference safety checking is to ensure that there are no dangling references. Here are some examples of dangling references:

  • Local variable y contains a reference to the value in a local variable x; x is then moved.
  • Local variable y contains a reference to the value in a local variable x; x is then bound to a new value.
  • Reference is taken to a local variable that has not been initialized.
  • Reference to a value in a local variable is returned from a function.
  • Reference r is taken to a globally published value v; v is then unpublished.

References can be either exclusive or shared; the latter allow read-only access. A secondary goal of reference safety checking is to ensure that in the execution context of the bytecode program — including the entire evaluation stack and all function frames — if there are two distinct storage locations containing references r1 and r2 such that r2 extends r1, then both of the following conditions hold:

  • If r1 is tagged as exclusive, then it must be inactive, i.e. it is impossible to reach a control location where r1 is dereferenced or mutated.
  • If r1 is shared, then r2 is shared.

The two conditions above establish the property of referential transparency, important for scalable program verification, which looks roughly as follows: consider the piece of code v1 = *r; S; v2 = *r, where S is an arbitrary computation that does not perform any write through the syntactic reference r (and no writes to any r' that extends r). Then v1 == v2.

Analysis Setup

The reference safety analysis is set up as a flow analysis (or abstract interpretation). An abstract state is defined for abstractly executing the code of a basic block. A map is maintained from basic blocks to abstract states. Given an abstract state S at the beginning of a basic block B, the abstract execution of B results in state S'. This state S' is propagated to all successors of B and recorded in the map. If a state already existed for a block, the freshly propagated state is “joined” with the existing state. If the join fails an error is reported. If the join succeeds but the abstract state remains unchanged, no further propagation is done. Otherwise, the state is updated and propagated again through the block. An error may also be reported when an instruction is processed during the propagation of abstract state through a block.

Abstract State

The abstract state has three components:

  • A partial map from locals to abstract values. Locals that are not in the domain of this map are unavailable. Availability is a generalization of the concept of being initialized. A local variable may become unavailable subsequent to initialization as a result of being moved. An abstract value is either Reference(n) (for variables of reference type) or Value(ns) (for variables of value type), where n is a nonce and ns is a set of nonces. A nonce is a constant used to represent a reference. Let Nonce represent the set of all nonces. If a local variable l is mapped to Value(ns), it means that there are outstanding borrowed references pointing into the value stored in l. For each member n of ns, there must be a local variable l mapped to Reference(n). If a local variable x is mapped to Reference(n) and there are local variables y and z mapped to Value(ns1) and Value(ns2) respectively, then it is possible that n is a member of both ns1 and ns2. This simply means that the analysis is lossy. The special case when l is mapped to Value({}) means that there are no borrowed references to l, and, therefore, l may be destroyed or moved.
  • The partial map from locals to abstract values is not enough by itself to check bytecode programs because values manipulated by the bytecode can be large nested structures with references pointing into the middle. A reference pointing into the middle of a value could be extended to produce another reference. Some extensions should be allowed but others should not. To keep track of relative extensions among references, the abstract state has a second component. This component is a map from nonces to one of the following two kinds of borrowed information:
  • A set of nonces.
  • A map from fields to sets of nonces.

The current implementation stores this information as two separate maps with disjointed domains:

  • borrowed_by maps from Nonce to Set<Nonce>.
  • fields_borrowed_by maps from Nonce to Map<Field, Set<Nonce>>.
    • If n2 in borrowed_by[n1], then it means that the reference represented by n2 is an extension of the reference represented by n1.
    • If n2 in fields_borrowed_by[n1][f], it means that the reference represented by n2 is an extension of the f-extension of the reference represented by n1. Based on this intuition, it is a sound overapproximation to move a nonce n from the domain of fields_borrowed_by to the domain of borrowed_by by taking the union of all nonce sets corresponding to all fields in the domain of fields_borrowed_by[n].
  • To propagate an abstract state across the instructions in a block, the values and references on the stack must also be modeled. We had earlier described how we model the usable stack suffix as a stack of types. We now augment the contents of this stack to be a structure containing a type and an abstract value. We maintain the invariant that non-reference values on the stack cannot have pending borrows on them. Therefore, if there is an abstract value Value(ns) on the stack, then ns is empty.

Values and References

Let us take a closer look at how values and references, shared and exclusive, are modeled.

  • A non-reference value is modeled as Value(ns) where ns is a set of nonces representing borrowed references. Destruction/move/copy of this value is deemed safe only if ns is empty. Values on the stack trivially satisfy this property, but values in local variables may not.
  • A reference is modeled as Reference(n), where n is a nonce. If the reference is tagged as shared, then read access is always allowed and write access is never allowed. If a reference Reference(n) is tagged exclusive, write access is allowed only if n does not have a borrow, and read access is allowed if all nonces that borrow from n reside in references that are tagged as shared. Furthermore, the rules for constructing references guarantee that an extension of a reference tagged as shared must also be tagged as shared. Together, these checks provide the property of referential transparency mentioned earlier.

At the moment, the bytecode language does not contain any direct constructors for shared references. BorrowLoc and BorrowGlobal create exclusive references. BorrowField creates a reference that inherits its tag from the source reference. Move (when applied to a local variable containing a reference) moves the reference from a local variable to the stack. FreezeRef is used to convert an existing exclusive reference to a shared reference. In the future, we may add a version of BorrowGlobal that generates a shared reference

Errors. As mentioned earlier, an error is reported by the checker in one of the following situations:

  • An instruction cannot be proven to be safe during the propagation of the abstract state through a block.
  • Join of abstract states propagated via different incoming edges into a block fails.

Let us take a closer look at the second reason for error reporting above. Note that the stack of type and abstract value pairs representing the usable stack suffix is empty at the beginning of a block. So, the join occurs only over the abstract state representing the available local variables and the borrow information. The join fails only in the situation when the set of available local variables is different on the two edges. If the set of available variables is identical, the join itself is straightforward — the borrow sets are joined point-wise. There are two subtleties worth mentioning though:

  • The set of nonces used in the abstract states along the two edges may not have any connection to each other. Since the actual nonce values are immaterial, the nonces are canonically mapped to fixed integers (indices of local variables containing the nonces) before performing the join.
  • During the join, if a nonce n is in the domain of borrowed_by on one side and in the domain of fields_borrowed_by on the other side, n is moved from fields_borrowed_by to borrowed_by before doing the join.

Borrowing References

Each of the reference constructors ---BorrowLoc, BorrowField, BorrowGlobal, FreezeRef, and CopyLoc--- is modeled via the generation of a fresh nonce. While BorrowLoc borrows from a value in a local variable, BorrowGlobal borrows from the global pool of values. BorrowField, FreezeRef, and CopyLoc (when applied to a local containing a reference) borrow from the source reference. Since each fresh nonce is distinct from all previously-generated nonces, the analysis maintains the invariant that all available local variables and stack locations of reference type have distinct nonces representing their abstract value. Another important invariant is that every nonce referred to in the borrow information must reside in some abstract value representing a local variable or a stack location.

Releasing References.

References, both global and local, are released by the ReleaseRef operation. It is an error to return from a function with unreleased references in a local variable of the function. All references must be explicitly released. Therefore, it is an error to overwrite an available reference using the StLoc operation.

References are implicitly released when consumed by the operations ReadRef, WriteRef, Eq and Neq.

Global References

The safety of global references depends on a combination of static and dynamic analysis. The static analysis does not distinguish between global and local references. But the dynamic analysis distinguishes between them and performs reference counting on the global references as follows: the bytecode interpreter maintains a map M from an address and fully-qualified resource type pair to a union (Rust enum) comprising the following values:

  • Empty
  • RefCount(n) for some n >= 0

Extra state updates and checks are performed by the interpreter for the following operations. In the code below, assert failure indicates a programmer error, and panic failure indicates internal error in the interpreter.

MoveFrom<T>(addr) {
    assert M[addr, T] == RefCount(0);
    M[addr, T] := Empty;

MoveToSender<T>(addr) {
    assert M[addr, T] == Empty;
    M[addr, T] := RefCount(0);

BorrowGlobal<T>(addr) {
    if let RefCount(n) = M[addr, T] then {
        assert n == 0;
        M[addr, T] := RefCount(n+1);
    } else {
        assert false;

CopyLoc(ref) {
    if let Global(addr, T) = ref {
        if let RefCount(n) = M[addr, T] then {
            assert n > 0;
            M[addr, T] := RefCount(n+1);
        } else {
            panic false;

ReleaseRef(ref) {
    if let Global(addr, T) = ref {
        if let RefCount(n) = M[addr, T] then {
            assert n > 0;
            M[addr, T] := RefCount(n-1);
        } else {
            panic false;

A subtle point not explicated by the rules above is that BorrowField and FreezeRef, when applied to a global reference, leave the reference count unchanged. This is because these instructions consume the reference at the top of the stack while producing an extension of it at the top of the stack. Similarly, since ReadRef, WriteRef, Eq, and Neq consume the reference at the top of the stack, they will reduce the reference count by 1.

How is this module organized?

├── invalid_mutations  # Library used by proptests
├── src                # Core bytecode verifier files
├── tests              # Proptests


~402K SLoC