Checking Specifications

Effective formal verification relies on accurate specifications. A flaw in the specification could lead to critical bugs slipping through undetected. Certora offers a set of tools to enhance the accuracy of specifications and identify potential issues. This chapter outlines these tools and demonstrates their application.

Detecting Vacuous Specifications

A vacuous statement is one that is technically true but lacks meaningful content. Consider the following example:


function balanceOf(address account, uint256 id) public view override returns (uint256) {
    require(account != address(0), "account is zero");
    return _balances[id][account];


rule held_token_should_exist{
    address user;
    uint256 token;
    require balanceOf(0, token) == 0;

    require balanceOf(user, token) <= totalSupplyOf(token);
    assert balanceOf(user, token) > 0 => token_exists(token);

The specification contains a flaw; the statement balanceOf(0, token) == 0; will always revert due to the require in the contract, resulting in an empty starting state. To address such issues, Certora allows to run Vacuity checks. These checks append assert false to each rule, exposing vacuously proven assumptions. This ensures that every rule in the specification has at least one input that reaches all the assertions. It is a useful check, but nevertheless, it is not a good measure for coverage. for more information on coverage measure checkout mutation testing.

Note: Vacuity in real-world examples often arises from combinations of requirements, not just isolated statements.

Identifying Tautology Specifications

Tautology, a special case of vacuity known as the “vacuous assertion,” occurs when a statement is always true regardless of the system’s state. An example is provided below:

rule something_is_always_transferred{
    address receiver;
    uint256 balance_before_transfer = balanceOf(receiver);
    require balanceOf(receiver) == 0;

    uint256 amount;
    require amount > 0;

    transfer(receiver, amount);
    uint256 balance_after_transfer = balanceOf(receiver);
    assert balanceOf(receiver) <= balance_after_transfer;

In this case, the assert statement is always true since it compares equal values, neglecting any meaningful checks related to the transfer behavior. Certora allows to run Assert tautology checks to address such instances. By removing preconditions and operations, these checks focus solely on the assert statement, revealing whether it is always true regardless of the process being examined.


For more comprehensive examples and solutions, please refer to our documentation. Certora’s suite of verification tools empowers developers to enhance the precision of their specifications, ensuring robust and reliable smart contract development.