Sift: Using Refinement-guided Automation to Verify Complex Distributed Systems


Haojun Ma, Hammad Ahmad, Aman Goel, Eli Goldweber, Jean-Baptiste Jeannin, Manos Kapritsos, and Baris Kasikci, University of Michigan


Distributed systems are hard to design and implement correctly. Recent work has tried to use formal verification techniques to provide rigorous correctness guarantees. These works present a hard choice, though. One must either opt for the power of refinement-based approaches like IronFleet and Verdi, at the cost of large amounts of manual effort; or choose the more automated approach of I4, IC3PO, SWISS and DistAI which give up the ability to prove refinement and the power and scalability that come with it.

We propose an alternative approach, Sift, that combines the power of refinement with the ability to automate proofs. Sift is a two-tier methodology that uses a new technique, refinement-guided automation, to leverage automation in a refinement proof and a divide-and-conquer technique to split a system into more refinement layers when necessary. This combination advances the frontier of what systems can be proven correct using a high degree of automation. Contrary to what was possible before, our evaluation shows that our novel approach allows us to prove the correctness of a number of systems with little manual effort, and to extend our proofs to include not just the protocols, but also an executable distributed implementation of these systems.

Open Access Media

USENIX is committed to Open Access to the research presented at our events. Papers and proceedings are freely available to everyone once the event begins. Any video, audio, and/or slides that are posted after the event are also free and open to everyone. Support USENIX and our commitment to Open Access.

@inproceedings {280790,
author = {Haojun Ma and Hammad Ahmad and Aman Goel and Eli Goldweber and Jean-Baptiste Jeannin and Manos Kapritsos and Baris Kasikci},
title = {Sift: Using Refinement-guided Automation to Verify Complex Distributed Systems},
booktitle = {2022 USENIX Annual Technical Conference (USENIX ATC 22)},
year = {2022},
isbn = {978-1-939133-29-64},
address = {Carlsbad, CA},
pages = {151--166},
url = {},
publisher = {USENIX Association},
month = jul,

Presentation Video