Reading Group. Compositional Programming and Testing of Dynamic Distributed Systems

We have resumed the reading group after one week of Thanksgiving break. On Wednesday, we have discussed “Compositional Programming and Testing of DynamicDistributed Systems.” This paper is on the edge between programming languages, distributed systems, and some formal methods/verification. The premise of the paper is to decompose large monolithic distributed programs into smaller pieces and test each piece separately using the abstracts of all other components. By using the abstract components for testing, we can reduce the number of traces (i.e. state-tree size) and make the testing feasible. The paper takes advantage and adopts the assume-guarantee (AG) theory to make such piece-wise testing/verification possible and correct.

Discussion Points

We are not formal methods and/or programming languages experts, so our discussion may have been a bit shallow. However, we tried to approach it from multiple directions.
1) TLA+ allows writing specs through refinement. Can something like this be adopted or used in TLA for checking large specs? Interestingly enough, despite having quite a few users of TLA, none of us have tried the refinement approach seriously. Our consensus in this was that this sounds interesting and plausible.

2) The paper relied on the P language, which is an event-driven language. Part of the discussion was on the pros/cons of event-driven programming vs using threads. We eventually drifted off to talk about green-threads/goroutines of Go, and then to coroutines. All-in-all, there are many ways to approach concurrent programming, and, as evidenced by different opinions in the discussion, it appears that we (as a computing community) are still far from agreeing/coming up with the best or most suited way of dealing with concurrency.

3) We also talked about other languages geared towards distributed systems. We have mentioned DistAlgo as one. It is an educational language/compiler that produces runnable python code. DistAlgo, however, has a different purpose, as its aim is the ease of use and clarity of expressing distributed programs, and not testing/verification.

4) We spent quite a bit of time discussing the assume-guarantee (AG) theory and the need to do “cross-testing” of components where every specific implementation must be tested with abstracts of other components. The original discussion question was why it is not enough to simply show the refinement (i.e. specific refines the abstract and satisfies all the properties). In short, it is all about safety and making sure the specifics not only refine their abstracts but do not introduce other unwanted behaviors when interacting with other components.