Programs, proofs and types

Software is becoming large and complex. More and more, control of critical infrastructure like railway signalling are being done in software where software bugs can have disastrous consequence. Such systems cannot be left to the mercy of ad-hoc programming. This course is about engineering reliable software. We study the technique of building certified software, i.e. software that comes with formal proofs of correctness.

The system that we use in this course is the Coq proof assistant. A proof assistant is a language which helps in constructing mathematical proofs whose correctness is checked by the computer (machine checked). The underlying theory of a proof assistant like coq is quite general and is closely related to programming: one can see building formal proofs as building programs. Thus a natural application of proof assistants like coq is in building certified software. However, these systems are often very powerful and are powerful enough to formalise and prove virtually any mathematical theorem — for a recent success see the complete proof of Feit-Thompson theorem in coq.

Who should take this course?

The focus of this course is certified programming. Nevertheless, it should also be of interest to mathematicians and logicians who want to know how a proof assistant like Coq work and what they are the good for.


Coq and other type theory based systems can be seen as natural generalisation of functional programming languages like Haskell and ML. Thus a familiarity with these languages will definitely help in the course. However, I have not put it as an official pre-requisite.

This course should be considered as a fairly advanced course and hence plenty of mathematical maturity is expected. You should also be comfortable installing coq and associated software. Latest GNU/Linux distribution comes with pre-packaged versions of coq that should be sufficient for our purposes.

System requirements

You should have an up to date installation of Coq and related software. The easiest way to get such a system is to install for yourself a basic GNU/Linux distribution like Debian or Ubuntu. Coq comes pre-packaged for these distributions.

When developing serious code in Coq you would need to use the proof general mode in emacs. Coq comes with an ide for building proof scripts which I have found quite painful to use.

External links