Proofs about Programs

Our goal in this chapter is to learn some techniques for proving the correctness of programs. Such techniques are known as formal methods because of their use of mathematical formalism.

Correctness here means that the program produces the right output according to a specification. Specifications are usually provided in the documentation of a function (hence the name "specification comment"): they describe the program's precondition and postcondition. Postconditions, as we have been writing them, have the form [f x] is "...a description of the output in terms of the input [x]...". For example, the specification of a factorial function could be:

(** [fact n] is [n] factorial, i.e,. [n!].
    Requires: [n >= 0]. *)
let rec fact n = ...

The postcondition is asserting an equality between the output of the function and some English description of a computation on the input.

Equalities are one of the fundamental ways we think about correctness of functional programs. The absence of mutable state makes it possible to reason straightforwardly about whether two expressions are equal. It's difficult to do that in an imperative language, because those expressions might have side effects that change the state.

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