Specification Languages

The primary idea behind a formal method lies in the writing of a precise specification of a system, using, therefore, a formal syntax and semantics. Semantics give precise meaning to components.

A specification of a system might cover one or more of a number of aspects, including its functional behavior, its structure, or its architecture, but also nonfunctional aspects such as timing or performance.

A precise system specification can be used in a number of ways: for understanding the system and for transforming it, thereby revealing errors or incompleteness. The specification can also sometimes be animated (e.g., in VDM-SL) or properties can be verified using formal proofs.

A specification can also be used for driving the development process, either by refining the specification into code or by direct code generation (sometimes after a certain number of transformations). Of course, testing is an aspect of the development process, and a specification can also be used to support the testing process by providing test cases and oracles.

A variety of different formal specification techniques exist; some are general-purpose techniques and others stress aspects relevant to particular application domains, e.g., concurrent or real-time systems. Most have tool support (e.g., the IFAD VDM-SL Toolbox; see http://www.ifad.dk/). Next we'll examine the most notable categories of methods.

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