McMini: A Programmable DPOR-Based Model Checker for Multithreaded Programs

Maxwell Pirtle1 OrcidLogo, Luka Jovanovic2 OrcidLogo, and Gene Cooperman3 OrcidLogo

The Art, Science, and Engineering of Programming, 2024, Vol. 8, Issue 1, Article 1

Submission date: 2023-02-01
Publication date: 2023-06-15
Full text: PDF



Model checking has become a key tool for gaining confidence in correctness of multi-threaded programs. Unit tests and functional tests do not suffice because of race conditions that are not discovered by those tests. This problem is addressed by model checking tools. A simple model checker is useful for detecting race conditions prior to production.


Current model checkers hardwire the behavior of common thread operations, and do not recognize application-dependent thread paradigms or functions using simpler primitive operations. This introduces additional operations, causing current model checkers to be excessively slow. In addition, there is no mechanism to model the semantics of the actual thread wakeup policies implemented in the underlying thread library or operating system. Eliminating these constraints can make model checkers faster.


McMini is an extensible model checker based on DPOR (Dynamic Partial Order Reduction). A mechanism was invented to declare to McMini new, primitive thread operations, typically in 100~lines or less of C~code. The mechanism was extended to also allow a user of McMini to declare alternative thread wakeup policies, including spurious wakeups from condition variables.


In McMini, the user defines new thread operations. The user optimizes these operations by declaring to the DPOR algorithm information that reduces the number of thread schedules to be searched. One declares: (i) under what conditions an operation is enabled; (ii) which thread operations are independent of each other; and (iii) when two operations can be considered as co-enabled. An optional wakeup policy is implemented by defining when a wait operation (on a semaphore, condition variable, etc.) is enabled. A new enqueue thread operation is described, allowing a user to declare alternative wakeup policies.


McMini was first confirmed to operate correctly and efficiently as a traditional, but extensible model checker for mutex, semaphore, condition variable, and reader-writer lock. McMini’s extensibility was then tested on novel primitive operations, representing other useful paradigms for multithreaded operations. An example is readers-and-two-writers. The speed of model checking was found to be five times faster and more, as compared to traditional implementations on top of condition variables. Alternative wakeup policies (e.g., FIFO, LIFO, arbitrary, etc.) were then tested using an enqueue operation. Finally, spurious wakeups were tested with a program that exposes a bug only in the presence of a spurious wakeup.


Many applications employ functions for multithreaded paradigms that go beyond the traditional mutex, semaphore, and condition variables. They are defined on top of basic operations. The ability to directly define new primitives for these paradigms makes model checkers run faster by searching fewer thread schedules. The ability to model particular thread wakeup policies, including spurious wakeup for condition variables, is also important. Note that POSIX leaves undefined the wakeup policies of pthread_mutex_lock, sem_wait, and pthread_cond_wait. The POSIX thread implementation then chooses a particular policy (e.g., FIFO, arbitrary), which can be directly modeled by McMini.

  1. Northeastern University, USA

  2. Northeastern University, USA

  3. Northeastern University, USA