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Concept# Correctness (computer science)

Summary

In theoretical computer science, an algorithm is correct with respect to a specification if it behaves as specified. Best explored is functional correctness, which refers to the input-output behavior of the algorithm (i.e., for each input it produces an output satisfying the specification).
Within the latter notion, partial correctness, requiring that if an answer is returned it will be correct, is distinguished from total correctness, which additionally requires that an answer is eventually returned, i.e. the algorithm terminates. Correspondingly, to prove a program's total correctness, it is sufficient to prove its partial correctness, and its termination. The latter kind of proof (termination proof) can never be fully automated, since the halting problem is undecidable.
For example, successively searching through integers 1, 2, 3, ... to see if we can find an example of some phenomenon—say an odd perfect number—it is quite easy to write a partially correct program (see box). But to say this program is totally correct would be to assert something currently not known in number theory.
A proof would have to be a mathematical proof, assuming both the algorithm and specification are given formally. In particular it is not expected to be a correctness assertion for a given program implementing the algorithm on a given machine. That would involve such considerations as limitations on computer memory.
A deep result in proof theory, the Curry–Howard correspondence, states that a proof of functional correctness in constructive logic corresponds to a certain program in the lambda calculus. Converting a proof in this way is called program extraction.
Hoare logic is a specific formal system for reasoning rigorously about the correctness of computer programs. It uses axiomatic techniques to define programming language semantics and argue about the correctness of programs through assertions known as Hoare triples.
Software testing is any activity aimed at evaluating an attribute or capability of a program or system and determining that it meets its required results.

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Formal specification

In computer science, formal specifications are mathematically based techniques whose purpose are to help with the implementation of systems and software. They are used to describe a system, to analyze its behavior, and to aid in its design by verifying key properties of interest through rigorous and effective reasoning tools. These specifications are formal in the sense that they have a syntax, their semantics fall within one domain, and they are able to be used to infer useful information.

Termination analysis

In computer science, termination analysis is program analysis which attempts to determine whether the evaluation of a given program halts for each input. This means to determine whether the input program computes a total function. It is closely related to the halting problem, which is to determine whether a given program halts for a given input and which is undecidable.

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