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[wg14/wg21 liaison] 2024.02.01 - SG22 Pointer Provenance Discussion - Minutes

From: Compatibility Chair <compatibility.sg.chair_at_[hidden]>
Date: Wed, 14 Feb 2024 14:08:45 -0500
Hi SG22,

     Apologies for this taking a while. Please see the below minutes for
the SG22 provenance discussion. It will go up on in the GitHub repository
shortly; any corrections or wishes to change what is there should be sent
in whenever is convenient for most of you!

     We appreciate your participation in syncing C and C++.

C/C++ Compatibility Study Group

# Thursday, February 1st, 2024

SG22 - February 1st, 2024
Provenance Memory Model Discussion between C and C++

Nina Dinka Ranns
Freek Wiedijk
Gabriel Dos Reis
Davis Herring (Author, Presenter)
Giuseppe D'Angelo
Jens Gustedt (Author)
Joshua Cranmer
Kayvan Memarian (Author)
Martin Uecker (Author)
Nathan Owen
Michael Wong
Peter Sewell (Author)
Inbal Levi
JeanHeyd Meneide

17:05 UTC | 12:05 PM EDT - meeting starts
18:11 UTC | 01:11 PM EDT - meeting ends

Papers being discussed:
P2318: A Provenance-aware Memory Object Model for C (
P2434: Nondeterministic pointer provenance (

Davis Herring: We can discuss one paper or another if people have
familiarity, but we can start by discussing both papers and then dovetail
into P2434R0 (Scribe Note: P2318 is an)

Jens: I can give an overview of P2318 and its current status
- Came out of long process for C and its memory model study group, met with
C++ in Kona in some ways to discuss this
- WG14 chose a model that they would like to apply to their standard (model
name: PNVI-ae-udi)
- Difficulty with ISO accepting the TS that sourced P2318, and so that
results in the current status where it is not fully published as its own TS
- We will publish a new TS that textually describes what is in front of us
with P2318r1 and its diff.

Nina: And so this would just be a TS?

Jens: No, not in the standard or C23, just in a TS. We took a vote and it
should get into the standard in C2Y, but it depends on the feedback of the
TS (Scribe Note: not guaranteed to go into C2Y).

Nina: Is there implementation experience of this?

Jens: Not really necessary for implementation experience, this is supposed
to be more or less be a solidification of existing practice modulo
divergences and bugs for C compilers and their memory (and "object") models
with how Effective Types are used.

Peter: To add on, we would like to ensure that we do not break any existing
implementations and their code. Nonetheless, some of the compiler
developers have already pointed out things that may be bugs in their
implementations and they want a more rigorous model to fully test against

Joshua: As an implementer (Scribe Note: Intel, US), a lot of what we
proscribe likely matches but we want to get some time to really check our
implementations. For LLVM, there are a few places where we e.g. do
pointer-to-integer and integer-to-pointer that do not seem to follow this
specification. So we need to check which is why we wanted a TS and not
straight into the standard.

Nina: So... does that mean the LLVM code is buggy against this spec?

Martin: Not necessarily, it's a bit more nuanced. The optimizers are not
consistent with themselves, so we agree generally there are bugs. But we do
not know exactly how they need to resolve such bugs or issues, which brings
us to the TS trying to more rigorously specify that so we can all agree on
the answers.

Nina: OK. So can anyone can explain the difference between the C TS versus
the P2434r0 (Nondeterministic pointer provenance).

Davis: Okay, so I can do that. For starters, I just want to clarify that I
am not trying to compete or eliminate the work done by C. This is not meant
to be divergent or split from how C does this work, it just wants to answer
a few of the questions in the way that makes sense, especially for C++. In
particular, I am saying that the work is significant, the specification
done in the C TS is significant, and that there's a small bit of work that
can be done to get it closely in line. Particularly, I think the "udi" part
of "PNV-ae-udi" is the bit that is not possible fully for C++. Can... I

Nina: Ah, can I pass you the presenter?

Davis: (Scribe Note: Davis cannot present from his current location and
setup, Nina agrees to display the paper P2434r0 on the screen.)

Davis: (Scribe Note: explanation of the paper which is effectively reading
from it and narrating the logic shown in the examples and written down in
the paper.)
… It is nondeterministic to observe the pointer there, and what we want to
do is get rid of that part of the specification and simply leave it as
undefined behavior or as close to that as possible without a rigorous
specification of exactly how we arrive at that conclusion (so-called
"angelic nondeterminism")—

Peter: (Interjecting) What you're describing is exactly what PNV-ae-udi, so
I am confused as to why we want to get rid of that specification here
especially if we're arriving at the same answer...?

Davis: I am not suggesting we should, that's good! We're just saying we can
get to the same point with less provenance and less modeling here.

Peter: Well... okay, just continue.

Davis: Observe this XOR swap of the integer value of these two pointers
(using uintptr_t). The problem with this is that, eventually, it says that
if you "guess" the right value of a pointer as an integer, this leads to
technically no longer being UB but being Defined Behavior (in the udi
model). This can present some problems with the optimizers and it means
that the compiler gets stuck because someone could do all sorts of things
with this behavior, including write the pointer value and read it back from
a file or over the network and as long as they read back the right value
they are supposed to be able to treat this integer-turned-pointer as having
been correct the whole time without knowing it could be correct.

Jens: Our intent really was the opposite here. We wanted to say that such
behaviors were illegal in the goal that optimizers would be able to
optimize around it with a set of rigorous rules.

Davis: My goal is to really just change the "ae" and make it so we do not
need to specify it directly and leave it nondeterministic from the
surrounding wording. This is important because the reasoning of how we get
here could impact the way optimizers work and thats why we want to have
nonangelic determinism here rather than rigorously specify ae-udi (of

Martin: We want to have semantics that **allow** someone to extend the
semantics of the machine to hold on to behaviors that users do. And so the
goal is to explicitly define the "ae" (specifically exposure mechanisms) so
that implementers and users can agree on specific explicit exposure
mechanisms so they can get more well-defined behavior. We don't want to
just leave this entire space UB because even if we gain optimizations for a
compiler without needing tracking we can lose a lot of folks that need the
well-defined behavior (through the exposure mechanism).

Peter: I just want to say we have not fully rejected non-determinism. In
many ways the current design of PNVI-ae-udi is to allow this if
implementations want to this.

Davis: Certainly, we want to bless specific pointers for interesting,
non-Standard use cases (Scribe's Note: typical hardware pointers, magic
register pointers, magic file/OS pointers, clocks, timers, etc.).
Implementations are always in the business of specifying certain undefined
behaviors for practical purposes. E.g., Address Sanitizer will trap on a
bad address access, and that's because they clamped down on UB. This also
happened with the initialization of all automatic storage variables to be
0-init, where losing the UB means we are taking away the checking of the

Peter: I think I want to really point out that the provenance model is to
allow the abstract machine to identify that UB to make their behavior as
they desire.

Davis: Yes, I was responding to what Martin was saying; we want to just use
UB, we do not need to **specifically** call out the exact tracking
mechanism for such UB. We just want to call it all UB. This will leave
compilers with all of their room to manuever

Martin: So I agree on a high-level of this, where we want UB to be there.
But we need to provide a more targeted mechanism to allow for that UB to
identified, AND without an exposure mechanism (Scribe note: the "ae" of
PNVI-ae-udi) then it is not clear how to either clamp down on the UB or
otherwise enumerate useful possibilities because it will be too wide.
Having the analysis and exposure mechanisms specifically called out helps
give C programmers the exact tools in conjunction with their
implementations to get this correct.

Jens: If you take a pointer value and cast it to uintptr_t, it is not
possible to do proper aliasing analysis. We just want to make sure that
part is in there.

Davis: The problem here with this model is that if there's a cast from a
pointer to a uintptr_t means that there might be some notional idea of
state in the virtual abstract machines. I want to eliminate that notional
idea of state and reach the same answer as PNVI-ae-udi without being that
specific or require that notional idea of the state that might need to be
tracked or carried through.

Peter: So I think the only issues with the angelic nondeterminism is that
it becomes very, very hard to compute -- sort of mathemtically -- the kinds
of programs we can have predictable programs that users can rely on,
epecially without some kind of exposure mechanic or similar.

(Scribe note: we begin talking about the superposition of interpretations
of pointers here and this is where the Scribe starts getting very lost.)

Davis: So this is problematic because specifying how the set of values that
computes the superposition of pointer values, and then casting it from an
integer back to a pointer we collapse that down into a single pointer and
you have to pick an interpretation from all of those potential (valid,
invalid, etc.) superpositions.

Peter: So I think the difference between the reasonings between this paper
and the C TS is that one is the superposition of all pointer values and
provenances that eventually gets collapsed into one (P2434, angelic
nondeterminism), versus the interpretation that there a superposition of
all interpretations of provenances that get projected forward to figure out
the right one (e.g., the user compared the integer values from the pointers
and found they were correct, P2318, effective types).

(Scribe Note: Davis and Peter go back and forth and at some point this gets
into concurrency with provenance models and such, and at this point the
scribe is now lost. Apologies.)

Peter: I am not sure the implicit object creation (with concurrency) is a
rigorous enough model to write specification against, even if in text it is

Davis: It is something I am still studying and researching with respect to
concurrency and UB, and we might need to be looking more into trying to
define UB here for what triggers it exactly.

(More discussion on the inconsistencies in various compilers with regards
to this.)

Peter: If there's to be any hope to find out how we can deal with UB in
these circumstances, starting with divergent specifications (Scribe's note:
specifically between C and C++) would be a bit bad.

Nina: It's a bit hard to do that, but it's okay if an incompatibility
emerges that we document it so its known and we both know we made the
decision fully informed.

Received on 2024-02-14 19:08:58