Built-in Rules

The Certora Prover has built-in general-purpose rules targeted at finding common vulnerabilities. These rules can be verified on a contract without writing any contract-specific rules.

Built-in rules can be included in any spec file by writing use builtin rule <rule-name>;. This document describes the available built-in rules.


The syntax for rules is given by the following EBNF grammar:

built_in_rule ::= "use" "builtin" "rule" built_in_rule_name ";"

built_in_rule_name ::=
    | "msgValueInLoopRule"
    | "hasDelegateCalls"
    | "sanity"
    | "deepSanity"
    | "viewReentrancy"

Bad loop detection — msgValueInLoopRule

Loops that use msg.value or make delegate calls are a well-known source of security vulnerabilities.

The msgValueInLoopRule detects these anti-patterns. It can be enabled by including

use builtin rule msgValueInLoopRule;

in a spec file. The rule will fail on any functions that can make delegate calls or access msg.value inside a loop. This includes any functions that recursively call any functions that has this vulnerability.

Delegate call detection — hasDelegateCalls

The hasDelegateCalls built-in rule is a handy way to find delegate calls in a contract. Contracts that use delegate calls require proper security checking.

The hasDelegateCalls can be enabled by including

use builtin rule hasDelegateCalls;

in a spec file. Any functions that can make delegate calls will fail the hasDelegateCalls rule.

Basic setup checks — sanity

The sanity rule checks that there is at least one non-reverting path through each contract function. It can be enabled by including

use builtin rule sanity;

in a spec file.

The sanity rule is useful for two reasons:

  • It is an easy way to determine which contract functions take a long time to analyze. If a method takes a long time to verify the sanity rule (or times out), it will almost certainly time out while verifying interesting properties. This can help you quickly discover which methods may need summarization.

  • A method the fails the sanity rule will revert on every input; every rule that calls the method will therefore be vacuous. This probably indicates a problem with the Prover configuration; the most likely cause is loop unrolling.

We recommend running the sanity rule at the beginning of a project to ensure that the Prover’s configuration is reasonable.


The sanity built-in rule is unrelated to the --rule_sanity option; the built-in rule is used to check the basic setup, while --rule_sanity checks individual rules.

How sanity is checked

The sanity rule is translated into the following parametric rule:

rule sanity {
    method f; env e;
    calldataarg arg;
    f(e, arg); 
    assert false;

To find a counterexample to the assertion, the Prover must construct an input for which f doesn’t revert.

Thorough complexity checks — deepSanity

The basic sanity rule only tries to find a single input that causes each function to execute without reverting. While this check can quickly identify problems with the Prover setup, a successful sanity run does not guarantee that the contract methods won’t cause Prover timeouts, or that all of the contract code is reachable.

For example, consider the following method:

function veryComplexFunction() returns(uint) {
    uint x = 0;
    for (uint i = 0 ; i < array.len; i++) {
        x = x + complexComputation(i);
    return x;

There is clearly a simple non-reverting path through the code: it will immediately return if array.len is 0; the basic sanity can quickly find a model like this without even considering the implementation of complexComputation, so the sanity rule will succeed. However, verifying any property that depends on the return value of veryComplexFunction will require the Prover to reason about complexComputation(), which may cause timeouts. Moreover, portions of complexComputation may be unreachable, and this will not be caught by the basic sanity rule.

The deepSanity rule generalizes the basic sanity rule by heuristically choosing interesting statements in the contract code and ensuring that there are non-reverting models that execute those statements. In the above example, one of the paths chosen by deepSanity would go through the body of the for loop, forcing the Prover to find a non-reverting path through the complexComputation method.

The deepSanity rule heuristic favors the following program points:

  1. The “if” and “else” branches of a code-heavy if statement

  2. The beginning of an external call

  3. The beginning of the program (this is the same as the usual sanity rule)

The deepSanity rule can be enabled by including

use builtin rule deepSanity;

in a spec file. You must also pass the --multi_assert_check flag to the Prover.

The number of code points that are chosen can be configured with the --prover_args '-maxNumberOfReachChecksBasedOnDomination <n>' flag; the default value is 10.

How deepSanity is checked

The deepSanity rule works similarly to the sanity rule; it adds an additional variable x_p for each interesting program point p, and instruments the contract code at p to set x_p to true. The Prover then tries to prove that x_p is false after executing the function. To find a counterexample; the Prover must construct a model that passes through p.

Read-only reentrancy detection — viewReentrancy

The viewReentrancy built-in rule detects read-only reentrancy vulnerabilities in a contract.

The viewReentrancy rule can be enabled by including

use builtin rule viewReentrancy;

in a spec file. Any functions that have read-only reentrancy will fail the viewReentrancy rule.

How viewReentrancy is checked

Reentrancy vulnerabilities can arise when a contract makes an external call with an inconsistent internal state. This behavior allows the receiver contract to make reentrant calls that exploit the inconsistency.

The viewReentrancy rule ensures that whenever method f of contract C makes an external call, the internal state of C is equivalent to either (1) the state of C at the beginning of the calling function, or (2) the state of C at the end of the calling function (by “equivalent”, we mean that all view functions return the same values). This ensures that the external call cannot observe C in any state that it couldn’t have without being called from C.