I'd love to see a TLA+ package for vscode . It seems there is more and more TLA+ adoption, it is surprising there aren't better environments to use it. The TLA Toolbox is awful (well, to be fair to the people that developed it, it does the job and maybe it's ok for some category of users).
EDIT:  there's one actually, https://github.com/TeamTilapia/vscode-tilapia
- It shows you the ASCII and pretty printed spec side-by-side.
- It plots TLC data as it runs and presents live coverage data in a nice way. Soon it will also show TLC performance profiles as color maps. (https://twitter.com/lemmster/status/1082787089140183040)
- It makes running TLC in the cloud (single-node or distributed) very easy. (https://tla.msr-inria.inria.fr/tlatoolbox/doc/cloudtlc/)
- I don't know of any other way of using TLAPS. (https://tla.msr-inria.inria.fr/tlaps/content/Documentation/T...)
Then again, I'm really not a fan of either vim or emacs, despite having used the latter as my main editor for some years. I think this may be because I value tools that present more information in a convenient way that allows me to inspect and analyze my text over tools that allow editing more quickly (when I write code, I spend 80% of my time in Sourcetrail and only use the editor to punch-in characters), but I don't know.
There don't seem to be many developers working on TLA+ outside of Microsoft Research though, so I think their work is probably better spent elsewhere than just recreating the Toolbox in other editors. It's not that bad. Maybe in a year or two if TLA+ continues growing in popularity someone will help hash out an alternative.
In a prior project one of our developers checked their models in the Toolbox originally and then we just ran them in CI from the command line, which also worked fine and made it easier if people wanted to run/edit them "by hand" in vim or something.
Honestly the big blocker here is learning how vimscript better.
EDIT: Also, just realize that you are the person who wrote the Practical TLA+ book...I loved it! Thanks for writing it!
And the fact that it was used to design microprocessors doesn't say that it can or should be used to specify all the details. I bet nobody ever attempted to do the layout from the TLA+ model; it's just like in software, TLA+ was used to design geo-distributed databases... but not to write any piece of the code; just to check that the general design is right.
Not necessarily. There are tools that compile C or Java to TLA+. But, like all other code-level reasoning, when using them you are limited to very small programs.
> It's not just about the "formal verification" part - it's about the whole cycle of model -> verify -> learn/improve understanding -> improve model.
I agree, but again, that's because TLA+ is intended for industry use, not as a research tool, and as we simply don't have the technology to verify most real programs all the way down to code, TLA+ places an emphasis on the best ROI you can get from formal methods, in practice, given current technology.
Is it cheaper to hire someone who knows TLA+ or to find a consultant?
A service I worked for there used it for an "absolutely must not make a mistake" component. Even with the initial learning curve of TLA+, two engineers were able to define the application logic, identify bugs and come to a final model in comparatively short order. Once they'd got that final model they found it relatively easy to translate that in to the final service code.
By the time they were done, they realised they'd actually spent less time in total, TLA & coding, than they'd anticipated just building the component from scratch without TLA+.
That being said, model checking alone is really powerful and can uncover serious design flaws.
But you're right that deductive proofs are hardly ever worth the effort when you have a model checker. If you can get 99.99999% confidence for essentially free, most people wouldn't pay extra months of work to get to 99.999999% confidence.
There were many projects using Pi Calculus, too. One of my project ideas is something that converts TLA+ to SPIN and Pi Calculus to use their tools and works. Or just otherwise integrates them.
Along with someone fixing a bug well before someone found the bug in the wild: https://github.com/elastic/elasticsearch/issues/31976#issuec...
2. Learning TLA+ from available tutorials until you can write serious specs of real systems takes 2-4 weeks (part time); achieving the same competence level in a full-time workshop takes 3-5 days.
The idea that "you don't test a use-case, you test many inputs that may work differently" is solved by fuzzing/test factories.
So TLA+ without the fuzzing, leaves what, temporal stuff? Did I miss anything?
TLA+ does indeed have a model checker, but model checkers don't "try many inputs." They check the entire state-space, covering potentially infinitely many executions.
I don't see that this necessarily follows? In most programming languages it's normal to have high level functions that describe your program in broad strokes and lower-level functions that describe your program in more detail. If you're talking about the ability to check aspects of program correctness without necessarily implementing an executable program, several languages support a technique of using "undefined" or similar to typecheck a "program" that can't actually run, or maybe can't even be built.
The requirement that descriptions of computation be mechanically translated into something you can run is an extremely constraining one (both theoretically and in practice -- most high-level descriptions of computational systems cannot be mechanically turned into executables). If you remove it, you get something that is not a programming language, but that is strictly more expressive. So, if all specifications of computations (programs) in your language can be interpreted/compiled into an executable, it necessarily follows that it is less expressive than TLA+.
While programming languages could add constructs for such specifications (contracts/dependent types) they cannot compile them into an executable. This means that you get a language that really contains two separate languages (and they must be separate for compilation to work), one for nondeterministic specification and one for deterministic specification, with only the latter used to describe actual computation, and resulting in a language that is both an exceptionally complex specification language and an exceptionally complex programming language -- basically the worst of both worlds. That such language have only ever been used for software that's substantially smaller and simpler than jQuery is the empirical manifestation of that (not that such use cases aren't important, but that you can only effectively fully specify tiny programs does imply that their expressivity is limited).
> While programming languages could add constructs for such specifications (contracts/dependent types) they cannot compile them into an executable. This means that you get a language that really contains two separate languages (and they must be separate for compilation to work), one for nondeterministic specification and one for deterministic specification, with only the latter used to describe actual computation, and resulting in a language that is both an exceptionally complex specification language and an exceptionally complex programming language -- basically the worst of both worlds.
I'm not convinced. Using "phantom types" to express additional specifications that don't get compiled is a fairly common/widespread technique (indeed any use of generics in Java could be considered an example). There is a lot of overlap between the things you want to do with specifications and the things you want to do with executable code (composition, structuring, reuse), and in a lot of simple cases (plumbing rather than logic - but I'd estimate that's the majority of business code) one can be inferred directly from the other. So to my mind there's a lot of value to be had from a language that integrates specification and executable and is able to express both.
> There is a lot of overlap between the things you want to do with specifications and the things you want to do with executable code
Sure. Programs are a special case of specifications. TLA+ easily expresses both. The tradeoff is this: is every specification of an algorithm compilable or not? While TLA+ can easily specify algorithms at any level of determinism, not ever specification of an algorithm is compilable -- i.e., some may be too nondeterministic. For example, even Quicksort is not-compilable. Quicksort implementations that can run (i.e., those expressed as programs) do not actually specify Quicksort, but particular refinements of it (see https://pron.github.io/posts/tlaplus_part3).
> So to my mind there's a lot of value to be had from a language that integrates specification and executable and is able to express both.
As I said above, TLA+ easily expresses both (in fact, there are research tools that compile C and Java bytecode to TLA+). But to guarantee compilability you must demarcate the executable part (a language like, say, Agda, does this with a formal separation between types and "terms"; Java+JML does this with a formal separation between code and specification). So as to languages that are made of two sub-languages -- one that affords arbitrary nondeterminism and one that can always be compiled -- sure, that has a value, but that value comes at an extremely steep price. Sometimes that price may be worth it; sometimes not. Not to mention that even those languages rarely achieve TLA+'s strengths, because very often TLA+ is used not to specify a particular executable, but a whole system (which includes multiple executables and their environment). In those very common cases the ability to compile becomes pure cost.
What TLA+ shows is the great value in giving up the ability to compile every specificaton -- an extremely expressive specification language that can be easily learned and used. I've written someplace else (https://www.reddit.com/r/tlaplus/comments/abi3oz/using_tla_t...) that TLA+ might well be the first rich formal logic (as opposed to programming languages that have no quantification) in the history of formal logic that is actually used by practitioners whose job isn't to use formal logic all day (or have been trained in formal logic for a very long time) -- in effect, the first to achieve formal logic's stated goal as a simple tool for practitioners. A goal that has been abandoned by logicians very early on.
In TLA+, you could write a realizable implementation of Quicksort, but also specify Quicksort itself and show that any implementation works. You could do the same in, say, Agda (or Java+JML), but at a much higher cost. TLA+'s power is in being extremely expressive, and at the same time extremely simple (never mind Agda - it is simpler than Python).
Another one involved modeling several microservices, each of which had its own team and codebase. That kind of scale is really hard to do at the lines-of-code level of verification.
QuickCheck feeds random values to the software and looks for "good" results.
TLA+ takes a model of the system (not the software) and explores the entire state space and looks for anything that violates given logical predicates. It is a different later of abstraction.