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Monad for side effects in Rust

· 6 min read

To formally verify Rust programs, we are building coq-of-rust, a translator from Rust 🦀 code to the proof system Coq 🐓. We generate Coq code that is as similar as possible to the original Rust code, so that the user can easily understand the generated code and write proofs about it. In this blog post, we explain how we are representing side effects in Coq.

🦀 Side effects in Rust

In programming, side effects are all what is not representable by pure functions (mathematical functions, functions that always return the same output for given input parameters). In Rust there are various kinds of side effects:

  • errors (the panic! macro) that propagate and do appear in the return type of functions,
  • non-termination, with some potentially non-terminating loops (never returning a result is considered as a side-effect),
  • control-flow, with the break, continue, return keywords, that can jump to a different part of the code,
  • memory allocations and memory mutations,
  • I/O, with for example the println! macro, that prints a message to the standard output,
  • concurrency, with the thread::spawn function, that creates a new thread.

🐓 Coq, a purely functional language

Like most proof systems, Coq is a purely functional language. This means we need to find an encoding for the side effects. The reason for most proof systems to forbid side effects is to be logically consistent. Otherwise, it would be easy to write a proof of False by writing a term that does not terminate for example.

🔮 Monads in Coq

Monads are a common way to represent side effects in a functional language. A monad is a type constructor M:

Definition M (A : Set) : Set :=

representing computations returning values of type A. As an example we can take the error monad of computations that can fail with an error message, using the Result type like in Rust:

Definition M (A : Set) : Set :=
Result A string.

It must have two operators, Pure and Bind.

The Pure operator

The Pure operator has type:

Definition Pure {A : Set} (v : A) : M A :=

It lifts a pure value v into the monad. For our error monad, the Pure operator is:

Definition Pure {A : Set} (v : A) : M A :=
Ok v.

The Bind operator

The Bind operator has type:

Definition Bind {A B : Set} (e1 : M A) (f : A -> M B) : M B :=

It sequences two computations e1 with f, where f is a function that takes the result of e1 as input and returns a new computation. We also note the Bind operator:

let* x := e1 in

assuming that f is a function that takes x as input and returns e2. Requiring this operator for all monads shows that sequencing computations is a very fundamental operation for side effects.

For our error monad, the Bind operator is:

Definition Bind {A B : Set} (e1 : M A) (f : A -> M B) : M B :=
match e1 with
| Ok v => f v
| Err msg => Err msg

🚧 State, exceptions, non-termination, control-flow

We use a single monad to represent all the side effects that interest us in Rust. This monad is called M and is defined as follows:

Definition RawMonad `{State.Trait} :=

Module Exception.
Inductive t (R : Set) : Set :=
| Return : R -> t R
| Continue : t R
| Break : t R
| Panic {A : Set} : A -> t R.
Arguments Return {_}.
Arguments Continue {_}.
Arguments Break {_}.
Arguments Panic {_ _}.
End Exception.
Definition Exception := Exception.t.

Definition Monad `{State.Trait} (R A : Set) : Set :=
nat -> State -> RawMonad ((A + Exception R) * State).

Definition M `{State.Trait} (A : Set) : Set :=
Monad Empty_set A.

We assume the definition of some RawMonad for memory handling that we will describe in a later post. Our monad M is a particular case of the monad Monad with R = Empty_set. It is a combination four monads:

  1. The RawMonad.
  2. A state monad, that takes a State as input and a return an updated state as output. The trait State.Trait provides read/write operations on the State type.
  3. An error monad with errors of type Exception R. There errors include the Return, Continue, Break and Panic constructors. The Return constructor is used to return a value from a function. The Continue constructor is used to continue the execution of a loop. The Break constructor is used to break the execution of a loop. The Panic constructor is used to panic with an error message. We implement all these operations as exceptions, even if only Panic is really an error, as they behave in the same way: interrupting the execution of the current sub-expression to bubble up to a certain level.
  4. A fuel monad for non-termination, with the additional nat parameter.

The parameter R of the type constructor Monad is used to represent the type of values that can be returned in the body of a function. It is the same as the return type of the function. So for a function returning a value of type A, we define its body in Monad A A. Then, we wrap it in an operator:

Definition catch_return {A : Set} (e : Monad A A) : M A :=

that catches the Return exceptions and returns the value.


We will see in the next post how we define the RawMonad to handle the Rust state of a program and memory allocation.


If you have a Rust codebase that you wish to formally verify, or need advice in your work, contact us at We will be happy to set up a call with you.