Trustworthy Systems

A rigorous approach to networking: TCP, from implementation to protocol to service


Tom Ridge, Michael Norrish and Peter Sewell

University of Cambridge



Despite more then 30 years of research on protocol specification, the major protocols deployed in the Internet, such as TCP, are described only in informal prose RFCs and executable code. In part this is because the scale and complexity of these protocols makes them challenging targets for formalization.

In this paper we show how these difficulties can be addressed. We develop a high-level specification for TCP and the Sockets API, expressed in the HOL proof assistant, describing the byte-stream service that TCP provides to users. This complements our previous low-level specification of the protocol internals, and makes it possible for the first time to state what it means for TCP to be correct: that the protocol implements the service. We define a precise abstraction function between the models and validate it by testing, using verified testing infrastructure within HOL. This is a pragmatic alternative to full proof, providing reasonable confidence at a relatively low entry cost.

Together with our previous validation of the low-level model, this shows how one can rigorously tie together concrete implementations, low-level protocol models, and specifications of the services they claim to provide, dealing with the complexity of real-world protocols throughout.

BibTeX Entry

    address          = {Turku, Finland},
    author           = {Ridge, Tom and Norrish, Michael and Sewell, Peter},
    booktitle        = {International Symposium on Formal Methods (FM)},
    editor           = {{Jorge Cuellar and Tom Maibaum}},
    keywords         = {tcp theorem-proving validation},
    month            = may,
    pages            = {294---309},
    paperurl         = {},
    publisher        = {Springer},
    title            = {A rigorous approach to networking: {TCP}, from implementation to protocol to service },
    year             = {2008}