Designing a semantic model for a wide-spectrum language with concurrency

Robert J. Colvin*, Ian J. Hayes, Larissa A. Meinicke

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Citations (Scopus)


A wide-spectrum language integrates specification constructs into a programming language in a manner that treats a specification command just like any other command. The primary contribution of this paper is a semantic model for a wide-spectrum language that supports concurrency and a refinement calculus. A distinguishing feature of the language is that steps of the environment are modelled explicitly, alongside steps of the program. From these two types of steps a rich set of specification commands can be constructed, based on operators for nondeterministic choice, and sequential and parallel composition. We also introduce a novel operator, weak conjunction, which is used extensively to conjoin separate aspects of specifications, allowing us to take a separation-of-concerns approach to subsequent reasoning. We provide a denotational semantics for the language based on traces, which may be terminating, aborting, infeasible, or infinite. To demonstrate the generality and unifying strength of the language, we use it to express a range of concepts from the concurrency literature, including: a refinement theory for rely/guarantee reasoning; an abstract specification of local variables in a concurrent context; specification of an abstract, linearisable data structure; a partial encoding of temporal logic; and defining the relationships between notions of nonblocking programs. The novelty of the paper is that these diverse concepts build on the same theory. In particular, the rely concept from Jones’ rely/guarantee framework, and a stronger demand concept that restricts the environment, are reused across the different domains to express assumptions about the environment. The language and model form an instance of an abstract concurrent program algebra, and this facilitates reasoning about properties of the model at a high level of abstraction.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)853–875
Number of pages23
JournalFormal Aspects of Computing
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - Sep 2017
Externally publishedYes


  • refinement calculus
  • wide-spectrum language
  • concurrency
  • program algebra
  • rely-guarantee


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