Towards Porting Operating Systems with Program Synthesis
Jingmei Hu, Eric Lu, David A. Holland, Ming Kawaguchi, Stephen Chong, and Margo I. Seltzer
ACM Transactions on Programming Languages and Systems, September 2022.

The end of Moore’s Law has ushered in a diversity of hardware not seen in decades. Operating system (and system software) portability is accordingly becoming increasingly critical. Simultaneously, there has been tremendous progress in program synthesis. We set out to explore the feasibility of using modern program synthesis to generate the machine-dependent parts of an operating system. Our ultimate goal is to generate new ports automatically from descriptions of new machines.

One of the issues involved is writing specifications, both for machine-dependent operating system functionality and for instruction set architectures. We designed two domain-specific languages: Alewife for machine-independent specifications of machine-dependent operating system functionality and Cassiopea for describing instruction set architecture semantics. Automated porting also requires an implementation. We developed a toolchain that, given an Alewife specification and a Kiwi machine description, specializes the machine-independent specification to the target instruction set architecture and synthesizes an implementation in assembly language with a customized symbolic execution engine. Using this approach, we demonstrate successful synthesis of a total of 140 OS components from two pre-existing OSes for four real hardware platforms. We also developed several optimization methods for OS-related assembly synthesis to improve scalability.

The effectiveness of our languages and ability to synthesize code for all 140 specifications is evidence of the feasibility of program synthesis for machine-dependent OS code. However, many research challenges remain; we also discuss the benefits and limitations of our synthesis-based approach to automated OS porting.