High-Level Executable Specifications of Distributed Algorithms

Yanhong A. Liu, Scott D. Stoller, and Bo Lin

This paper describes a method for specifying complex distributed algorithms at a very high yet executable level, focusing in particular on general principles for making properties and invariants explicit while keeping the control flow clear. This is critical for understanding the algorithms and proving their correctness. It is also critical for generating efficient implementations using invariant-preserving transformations, ensuring the correctness of the optimizations.

We have studied and experimented with a variety of important distributed algorithms, including well-known difficult variants of Paxos, by specifying them in a very high-level language with an operational semantics. In the specifications that resulted from following our method, critical properties and invariants are explicit, making the algorithms easier to understand and verify. Indeed, this helped us discover improvements to some of the algorithms, for correctness and for optimizations.