Date of Award

Spring 1-1-2015

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Computer Science

First Advisor

Bor-Yuh Evan Chang

Second Advisor

Pavol Cerny

Third Advisor

Mayur Naik

Fourth Advisor

Sriram Sankaranarayanan

Fifth Advisor

Manu Sridharan


Static program analysis is a powerful technique for bug-finding, verification, and program understanding. Yet static analyses remain conspicuously absent from the toolbox of the average developer because they must abstract away details about concrete program behavior. Designing effective abstractions is tricky business: imprecise abstractions are inexpensive, but can be useless because they lose too much information about the program, whereas conventional wisdom states that precise abstractions are too expensive to scale. This dissertation considers the problem of goal-directed static analysis, an intriguing domain where there is hope for defying the conventional wisdom about precise and scalable abstractions. In contrast to more traditional whole-program approaches that must apply precise abstractions to the entire program, goal-directed approaches have the potential to be much more tractable because they can focus the effort of the analysis on a single goal query.

There are two fundamental challenges in goal-directed analysis: (A) designing abstractions that are as flexible as possible so they can be specialized to the needs of the query and (B) using this flexibility wisely to achieve a better precision/scalability tradeoff in practice. This dissertation addresses these challenges by introducing goal-directed abstraction coarsening, a new approach to goal-directed analysis. Our approach works backward from the goal query using an abstraction that is as precise as possible by default, but can be coarsened in order to narrow the focus of the analysis and improve scalability. We meet Challenge A by introducing flexible coarsening-based techniques for store abstraction and control-flow abstraction. Our store abstraction precisely represents a small view of the store relevant to the query by combining a separation logic-based representation with a flow-insensitive points-to analysis. We present a general framework for flexible control-flow abstraction that allows the analysis to coarsen the control-flow abstraction by jumping over irrelevant code. Finally, we meet Challenge B by presenting goal-directed analyses incorporating our flexible abstractions. Our analyses use programmers’ invariant-based reasoning and the structure of event driven programs to recognize opportunities for coarsening that are likely to enhance scalability without losing precision. We have implemented these analyses and shown that they can achieve precise and scalable results for a variety of client analyses than cannot be handled effectively by previous techniques.