abstract interpretation
<theory> A partial execution of a program which gains information about
its semantics (e.g. control structure, flow of information) without performing
all the calculations. Abstract interpretation is typically used by compilers to
analyse programs in order to decide whether certain optimisations or
transformations are applicable.
The objects manipulated by the program (typically values and functions) are
represented by points in some domain. Each abstract domain point represents some
set of real ("concrete") values.
For example, we may take the abstract points "+", "0" and "" to represent
positive, zero and negative numbers and then define an abstract version of the
multiplication operator, *#, which operates on abstract values:
*#  + 0 

+  + 0 
0  0 0 0
   0 +
An interpretation is "safe" if the result of the abstract operation is a
safe approximation to the abstraction of the
concrete result. The meaning of "a safe
approximation" depends on how we are using the
results of the analysis.
If, in our example, we assume that smaller values are safer then the "safety
condition" for our interpretation (#) is
a# *# b# <= (a * b)#
where a# is the abstract version of a etc.
In general an interpretation is characterised by the domains used to represent
the basic types and the abstract values it assigns to constants (where the
constants of a language include primitive functions such as *). The
interpretation of constructed types (such as user defined functions, sum types
and product types) and expressions can be derived systematically from these
basic domains and values.
A common use of abstract interpretation is strictness analysis.
See also standard interpretation.
(19941108)
Nearby terms:
absolute pathname « abstract class « abstract data
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abstract interpretation » abstraction » abstract
machine » Abstract Machine Notation
