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Static Race Detection

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# Use Glow to view this page in your terminal
glow http://as10779.net/txts/srd.md
# If you have Nix on your system
nix --extra-experimental-features "nix-command flakes" run "nixpkgs#glow" -- http://as10779.net/txts/srd.md

Problem

A common misuse of Go's channels and goroutines that can lead to data races involves the incorrect assumption that sending to or receiving from a channel implies synchronization between goroutines.

Example of a data race caused by unsynchronized access to shared data across multiple goroutines:

package main

import "fmt"

func main() {
    var data int

    go func() {
        data++
    }()

    go func() {
        fmt.Println(data)
    }()
}

Corrected version of above example using channels to synchronize goroutines and prevent data races:

package main

import "fmt"

func main() {
    var data int
    done := make(chan bool)

    go func() {
        data++
        done <- true
    }()

    go func() {
        <-done
        fmt.Println(data)
    }()
}

In the above examples, two goroutines are spawned. One increments the global data variable, and the other attempts to print the data variable. However, there is no guarantee of the order in which these goroutines will be scheduled to run. As a result, the printed value could be 0 (if the printing happens before the increment) or 1 (if the printing happens after the increment). This is a classic example of a data race. The idiomatic Go solution to this problem is to use channels to synchronize the goroutines. The sending goroutine can send a signal over the channel when it has finished its operation, and the receiving goroutine can wait for this signal before it begins its operation. In the corrected code, a done channel is used to synchronize the two goroutines. The incrementing goroutine sends true over done when it has finished its operation. The printing goroutine waits to receive from the done before it begins its operation, ensuring that it only prints data after the incrementing goroutine has finished.

This use of channels to synchronize goroutines is in line with the Go philosophy of sharing memory by communicating, rather than communicating by sharing memory. Instead of both goroutines accessing the shared data variable with no synchronization (which leads to a data race), the goroutines use a channel to communicate and synchronize their operations, ensuring that the data variable is only accessed when it is safe to do so.

Structural Operational Semantics

To formalize the problem and above mentioned fix, we can represent the program as a set of rules that describe how the state of the system changes based on certain conditions. In this case, we want to model the behavior of goroutines and channels in Go, particularly focusing on the synchronization of goroutines via channels.

The configuration of our program can be defined as a tuple (G,M,C)(G, M, C) where:

We can use the following SOS rules:

Goroutine Creation

Memory Modification

Channel Send

Channel Receive

Print

Please note that this is a simplified model. In a more comprehensive model, you would want to handle cases like sending to a full channel, receiving from an empty channel, and more complicated goroutine interactions. In addition, you might want to include a scheduler in the state to control the order in which goroutines are run, and to handle the non-deterministic scheduling of goroutines by the Go runtime.

Static Analysis

Accompanying this report, there is a demo Go program that uses simple static analysis technique to detect potential data races. The analysis is performed based on the traversal of the Abstract Syntax Tree (AST) of given Go code specified by a command line argument.

The main structures are:

The analysis checks for potential data races by looking for memory locations that have been written to more than once, which could indicate a data race if these write operations are not properly synchronized.

However, it's important to note that this analysis is a simple and somewhat naive approach to data race detection. It has several limitations and assumptions that may lead to inaccuracies:

To make this program a reliable tool for data race detection, it would need to be significantly expanded and refined to accurately model the behavior of Go programs, including the semantics of Go's concurrency primitives and the scope and lifetime of variables. The goroutine creation and memory modification rules would need to be more precisely defined and applied only in appropriate contexts. In its current form, it serves as a basic demonstration of how AST traversal can be used for static analysis.

Installation & Usage

Note that this is just a naive proof-of-concept tool and is trivial to bypass by using more complex patterns (well, being honest, I think any form other than the ones specified in the examples can bypass all the checks).

With Go installed, you can install the tool by running the following command:

go get -u ysun.co/srd

To use as library, import the package:

import "ysun.co/srd"

If you have a working Nix installation:

nix run nixpkgs#go -- run -race cmd/srd/main.go -- examples/example_*.go

Source code: https://github.com/stepbrobd/srd