[ISO] | [JTC1] | [SC22] | [WG9]

High Integrity Ada

B A Wichmann,
National Physical Laboratory,
Teddington, Middlesex, TW11 0LW, UK
E-mail: baw@cise.npl.co.uk

This paper describes the approach being taken by an ISO group to produce Guidelines for the use of Ada when developing high integrity applications.

1. Introduction

As a society, we are increasingly reliant upon high integrity systems: for safety systems (such as fly-by-wire aircraft), for security systems (to protect digital information) or for financial systems (cash dispensers). As the complexity of these systems grow, so do the demands for improved techniques for their production.

Hence there is a need to ensure critical systems have the properties required, and this can only be achieved by analysis of the software in addition to conventional dynamic testing. Unfortunately, analysis of software written using low-level languages is prohibitively expensive, since it is necessary to analyse every instruction in the program merely to ensure the integrity of the data or control flow. On the other hand, the strong typing in the Ada language facilitates such analysis by reducing the potential means by which data can be overwritten or the control flow changed. Hence not only are high integrity systems important, but Ada has appropriate attributes to provide the assurance needed in their design.

Given that Ada is being used for a high integrity application, then further confidence can be gained by providing guidance on the use of the language. This guidance material identifies those features of Ada for which additional verification steps should be performed to ensure that their use is appropriately controlled. Following such guidance should provide all the assurance that the high integrity application requires.

The use of Ada to produce high integrity applications is recommended on the grounds that:

  1. The semantics of Ada programs are well-defined, even in error situations.
  2. The strong typing within the language can be used to reduce the scope (and cost) of analysis to verify key properties.
  3. The Ada language has been successfully used on many high integrity applications. This demonstrates that validated Ada compilers have the quality required for such applications.
  4. Guidance can be provided to facilitate the use of the language and to encourage the development of tools for further verification.
Annex H of the Ada 95 standard has been developed to ensure, as far as a language standard can, that the special requirements for high integrity applications can be met. The primary areas in which such additional assurance is needed are for safety and security.

In the UK, Ada is the language of choice in the Defence and Aerospace sector for high integrity applications. For an analysis of this sector, see the Foresight report on High Integrity Real Time Software [12].

These proposed Guidelines are being considered by the HRG group which operates under the auspices of the ISO Ada group (ISO/JTC1/SC22/WG9).

2. Ada Guidelines

The proposed Guidelines we are developing are specific to Ada 95 [17], the current ISO Ada standard. The desire is to effectively complete the technical work on the Guidelines in 1997 so that newer high integrity Ada systems can use the language with confidence. Indeed, since Annex H of the Ada 95 standard has specific facilities to aid the development of such applications, we conclude that very high confidence can be gained by suitable use of the language. The Guidelines would be a separate ISO document in addition to the Ada standard.

The context within which the Guidelines would be used must be carefully considered. The consensus of the approach that the ISO group wishes to adopt is summarised in the following points:

Given this approach, we believe that there are few viable options to achieving high integrity other than the use of the Ada language. Six years ago the author recommended (with others) Pascal as well as Ada [27], but the maturity and functionality of Ada now make it significantly superior to Pascal.

A major need for such Guidelines is to present a common view for suppliers, users and certifiers. For instance, major defence projects are frequently multi-national and therefore require a common resolution of methods to produce high integrity software. Also, if a certification body is unhappy about the use of a specific Ada feature, then very expensive additional verification steps could be required, or even worse, a major re-working could be required. These Guidelines should reduce the risk of such unplanned requirements.

In some cases existing (non-Ada specific) Guidelines, which have been developed for one specific industrial sector, are being used as input for our Guidelines which are Ada-specific but for any sector. Examples of such Guidelines are: US-nuclear [35], US-space [36], US-medical [13], European-railway [26] and UK-motor [29].

One specific issue has caused the group to revise the approach taken. Almost all of the safety and security standards have a number of levels to reflect to risk or integrity of the system. The initial approach was to have Guidelines with four levels to mirror those in the majority of the standards. A number of problems were noted with this approach:

  1. Given that a system is being developed to a standard with four levels (like IEC 1508, say), then the assumption would be that there is a simple mapping between the two. This is unlikely to be the case.
  2. In those cases in which the standard has a different number of levels (like ITSEC, with 7 levels), then the correspondence would not be clear.
  3. Some requirements do not map well into the concept of levels, but are derived from the system requirements. This is in contrast to an ISO standard which provides means of determining the software integrity required from the system requirements [23]. An example of a specific requirement is for worst-case execution time which could be needed for any integrity level system.
The Guidelines nevertheless need to reflect the requirements of very different systems which we handle by means of specific methods. These methods are tabulated in Table 1 to reflect their heirarchical relationship.

         |      Group Name          |     Method Name          |
         | Functional Correctness   | Formal Code Verification |
         |                          | Symbolic Execution       |
         |                          | Control Flow             |
         | Flow Analysis            | Data Flow                |
         |                          | Information Flow         |
Analysis | Stack                    | Stack usage              |
         | Timing                   | Worst Case Execution Time|
         | Range Checking           | Range Checking           |
         | Other Memory Usage       | Other Memory Usage       |
         | Object Code Analysis     | Object Code Analysis     |
         |                          | MCDC                     |
         | Structural Coverage      | Branch Coverage          |
Testing  |                          | Structure Coverage       |
         | Equivalence Class        | Equivalence Class        |
         | Boundary Value           | Boundary Value           |
Table 1: Methods

Language issues will then be driven by the requirement (or not) to use these methods. For instance, if Formal Code Verification is a requirement, then those language features for which no appropriate formal model exist must be excluded from use within the application. In general, language features are classified in three ways:

These features can be included since their analysis and use provides no essential difficulties, ie, have tractable and well-understood verification techniques. All the straightforward features of Ada 95 are in this category.

These features have known, but well-understood, problems in their use. Additional verifications steps may be needed. The Guidelines will specify the problems and known approaches to their resolution. Management may specify that a specific approval process must be invoked, or that authorization be obtained.

An example of a feature in this category would be Unchecked_Conversion, since it is likely to be needed in many applications, but has known difficulties for validation. An additional validation step might be to check the object code produced by the compiler.

These features are essentially incompatible with the method being employed. The only effective resolution is not to use the feature.
One other possible approach to producing high integrity Ada is the standardization of a subset of the language, an example of which is the SPARK subset of Ada 83 [9]. This approach was considered by ISO and rejected. The subsequent meetings for the HRG considered the development of Guidelines.

The Guidelines approach has the following advantages over a specific subset:

2.1 Content of the Guidelines

The main sections of the proposed Guidelines are as follows:

Verification Techniques.
This section enumerates the methods in Table 1 and their relationship to the Guidelines.

Language Usage.
This section catalogues the language features in terms of the included, allowed and excluded categories together with specific guidance which is related to language features (and their interaction, of course).

Compilers and Run Time Systems.
These two key elements have several properties which implies that specific guidance must be given.
Extracting information about an Ada program merely from the source text is potentially very fruitful due to the strong type checking and well-controlled interfaces that the language provides. Compilers already extract such information for code generation, but in the past, most of the information has been unavailable for validation and verification. This implies that validation tools for Ada 83 have had to repeat the source text analysis undertaken by a compiler. This is now changing due to the Ada Semantic Information System (ASIS) standard [1]. This standard provides an interface for tools to extract information from the Ada library provided the compiler supports the standard.

For high integrity systems, it would appear that ASIS provides a basis for tools undertaking quite sophisticated analyses. At this stage, the Guidelines would not necessarily require the use of ASIS. An ASIS-based tool which lists the excluded and allowed features in an Ada program is clearly desirable. ASIS is obviously limited to the Ada source text and therefore cannot directly handle requirements involving, say, the external environment.

The ISO Ada group is fortunate in having access to a very detailed study undertaken in Canada on the application of Ada 95 for high integrity applications [2, 3, 4, 5, 6]. Although some members of the Ada group contributed to this study and commented upon it, the resulting reports are not the consensus Guidelines that we are proposing here. In consequence, the material needs to be reformulated into an agreed form for the ISO publication.

At the lowest level, the Canadian study reports on the suitability of the majority of the Ada 95 constructs for their use in high integrity applications. Their report only considered the highest level of integrity, while ISO will take into account the analysis required and classify this by a three-way system. However, the reworking of much of this information into the included, allowed and excluded categories should not be too difficult.

2.2 Difficult issues

Obtaining high integrity requires careful judgement which is more difficult as the complexity of systems increases. The Ada language provides the means of controlling complexity, but there are pitfalls for the unwary which the Guidelines will enumerate. For some issues, the best approach is hardly obvious and we consider some of these below.

Research versus standardization

The research community would like to address the intellectual challenge of demonstrating the validation of the more complex features of Ada. However, it is only established methods which have already been shown to be satisfactory which can be used with confidence. Tool support is vital here, since complete reliance upon manual validation methods is not practical.

An example of a research area is concurrency, which is directly supported in Ada 95 by two mechanisms: the rendezvous and protected types. There are clear advantages in using concurrency when the external world with which the system reacts is naturally concurrent. However, race conditions, deadlock and unsynchronized update can easily occur unless extreme care is taken. A key issue here is to ensure that test cases have deterministic execution, a view which has strong support from the certification bodies.

The ISO group has not resolved this issue, but it does appear that for the highest levels of integrity, Ada protected types could be classed as allowed, following ideas presented in [7]. In general, it would seem that many Ada features which would currently be classified as allowed could at some future date when the verification technology improves as included.

New features of Ada 95

It would appear that the new features of Ada 95 would present a significant challenge for the developers of high integrity applications. However, Ada 95 actually simplifies many aspects due to the following:

Of course, there are some challenges for high integrity usage in new features of Ada 95, such as: protected types (mentioned above as a means of providing concurrency in a more easily validated form than the Ada 83 rendezvous), and object-oriented extensions.

The object-oriented extensions provide the basic ability to add functionality with extensions to records (tagged types) and new operations on such records. However, this is done is a manner which allows the user to control dynamic dispatching of subprogram calls, which could otherwise require significant additional validation effort. Similarly, the programmer can restrict the use of class-wide operations to ease the verification burden. This contrasts with fully object-oriented languages like Smalltalk (or Java) which is essentially dynamic and hence would be regarded as unsuitable for the highest integrity systems.

Dynamic testing versus static analysis

Static analysis and dynamic testing are complementary ways of comparing an implementation with its specification. Testing allows the most direct comparison between implementation and operational requirements. However, because exhaustive testing is impossible -- even modified condition decision coverage (MCDC), which is usually very onerous, does not cover more than a fraction of possible execution histories -- testing in general cannot show the absence of errors.

In contrast, because `size' of a static analysis task is determined by the size of a program source text, rather than the number of its possible execution sequences, in principle static analysis can be complete, in showing absence of errors of some classes. However, static analysis is applied only to models of a program, derived from its source text using a precise definition of the programming language. Since the validity of the models must be checked, and since they may not capture all aspects of program execution (for instance of timing, or resource utilisation), a substantial amount of testing remains essential.

Currently, the cost of validation of high-integrity software, principally incurred in the dynamic testing phases, may exceed half the total project cost. Such figures are commonly reached for avionics software, for which the MCDC testing needed to meet DO-178B requirements [32] is enormously expensive. The high costs can largely be attributed to the fact that the dynamic testing reveals flaws -- often of a fundamental nature, such as mis-statement or misinterpretation of requirements specifications -- very late in the development life-cycle. Their correction then is very costly, as is the subsequent repetition, usually several times over, of large parts of the MCDC process.

Solutions are being found to this problem by using a `lean engineering' or `correctness by construction' approach [38]. This exploits the static semantic rigour of Ada, and the possibility of performing strong static analysis checks on Ada source texts (because the language is relatively well defined), to detect errors in specification, design and coding early in the life-cycle, as the software is being constructed.

Experience indicates that this approach substantially changes the character of software development [38], involving much more interaction between programmers and designers at relatively early stages of software development. However, even where MCDC test coverage is still required, validation costs have been dramatically reduced, because testing takes on a more confirmatory role, rather than repeated late revelation of errors, with costly repair of these.

It is proposed that the Guidelines should provide some information on how Ada can be exploited in achieving correctness by construction, with particular emphasis on the following aspects:

Exception handling

At the highest integrity level, it is accepted that code should be exception-free. This is the view taken in the Canadian study and the SPARK subset, for instance. If one can be assured that code is exception-free, then one can use the pragma Suppress, which can simplify the code generated by the compiler, thus reducing verification costs.

At lower levels of integrity, the optimal situation is not so evident. Showing the code is exception-free is often expensive so that if this step could be avoided, there would be savings. As Ada provides the ability to detect and recover from the raising of an exception, the natural approach at the lower levels would be to allow for such an eventuality. Indeed, handling an exception can protect the system against some faults. The analysis of programs in which exceptions can be raised can be complex, but facilities like ASIS should make this practical. In consequence, it appears that this language feature needs to be handled quite differently at the various integrity levels.


Resource usage is a key requirement for the validation of systems. With predominantly static storage usage, and requirements in Ada 95 for compilers to produce memory usage information, storage is not a major problem. Unfortunately, timing is getting very complex with the pipe-lining and caches in modern processing units.

This area is more hardware than language dependent. However, it is necessary to provide worse case execution times from the object code. It remains to be seen if useful bounds can be obtained for the next generation of processors.

Fixed point versus floating point

Numerical computation on physical quantities can be logically undertaken in either floating point or fixed point. The older processor chips without built-in floating point have often forced designers to use fixed point. The compiler support for fixed point is relatively complex and hence provides an additional verification burden. In contrast, the recent fault in the division operation in the Pentium processor has illustrated the dangers inherent in the complexity of the floating point hardware (even if the compiler support is then easier to validate).

For the Ada Guidelines, it would appear that both fixed point and floating point must be considered with an analysis of the validation issues in both cases.

3. Conclusions

The belief is that with approved ISO Guidelines on the application of Ada for high integrity applications, developers can produce systems with greater confidence and wider acceptability, which will meet the requirements of both the certification bodies and the users.

4. Acknowledgements

This work would not have been possible without the support of the membership of the HRG, the ISO High Integrity Ada group. Those members who have contributed to the HRG work so far are (in alphabetical order): John Barnes (UK), Praful V Bhansali (Boeing), Alan Burns (University of York), Bernard Carré (Praxis), Dan Craigen (ORA, Canada), Mike P. DeWalt (FAA), Robert Dewar (Ada Core Technologies), David Guaspari (ORA), C. Michael Holloway (NASA), Mike Kamrad (Computing Devices International), Stephen Michell (Maurya Software), Alexander Miethe (Competence Center Informatik), George Romanski (Thomson Software Products), Mark Saaltink (ORA, Canada), Michael K. Smith (Computational Logic Inc), James C. Stewart (U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission), Adam Tacy (UK MoD), Phil Thornley (British Aerospace Defence), David Tombs (Defence Research Agency), and Tullio Vardanega (ESTEC).


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A. Document Details

A.1. Status


A.2. Project


A.3. File

Stored on the Sun in file baw/ada/hrg/safecomp.tex.

A.4. History

A.5. Actions

Last update 2 January 1997; please email comments about this page to Clyde Roby at ClydeRoby@ACM.Org