An abstraction refinement approach combining precise and approximated techniques

TitleAn abstraction refinement approach combining precise and approximated techniques
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2012
AuthorsSharygina, Natasha, Tonetta Stefano, and Tsitovich Aliaksei
JournalInternational Journal on Software Tools for Technology Transfer (STTT)

Predicate abstraction is a powerful technique to reduce the state space of a program to a finite and affordable number of states. It produces a conservative over-approximation where concrete states are grouped together according to a given set of predicates. A precise abstraction contains the minimal set of transitions with regard to the predicates, but as a result is computationally expensive. Most model checkers therefore approximate the abstraction to alleviate the computation of the abstract system by trading off precision with cost. However, approximation results in a higher number of refinement iterations, since it can produce more false counterexamples than its precise counterpart. The refinement loop can become prohibitively expensive for large programs. This paper proposes a new approach that employs both precise (slow) and approximated (fast) abstraction techniques within one abstraction-refinement loop. It allows computing the abstraction quickly, but keeps it precise enough to avoid too many refinement iterations. We implemented the new algorithm in a state-of-the-art software model checker. Our tests with various real-life benchmarks show that the new approach almost systematically outperforms both precise and imprecise techniques.