Covering All the Bases: Type-based Verification of Test Input Generators

Zhe Zhou, Ashish Misra, Benjamin Delaware, and Suresh Jagannathan


Test input generators are an important part of property-based testing (PBT) frameworks. Because PBT is intended to test deep semantic and structural properties of a program, the outputs produced by these generators can be complex data structures, constrained to satisfy properties the developer believes is most relevant to testing the function of interest. An important feature expected of these generators is that they be capable of producing all acceptable elements that satisfy the function's input type and generator-provided constraints. However, it is not readily apparent how we might validate whether a particular generator's output satisfies this coverage requirement. Typically, developers must rely on manual inspection and post-mortem analysis of test runs to determine if the generator is providing sufficient coverage; these approaches are error-prone and difficult to scale as generators become more complex. To address this important concern, we present a new refinement type-based verification procedure for validating the coverage provided by input test generators, based on a novel interpretation of types that embeds ``must-style'' underapproximate reasoning principles as a fundamental part of the type system. The types associated with expressions now capture the set of values guaranteed to be produced by the expression, rather than the typical formulation that uses types to represent the set of values an expression may produce. Beyond formalizing the notion of coverage types in the context of a rich core language with higher-order procedures and inductive datatypes, we also present a detailed evaluation study to justify the utility of our ideas.

Recipient of a Distinguished Paper Award at PLDI 2023