Ott: Effective Tool Support for the Working Semanticist

It is rare to give a semantic definition of a full-scale programming language, despite the many potential benefits. Partly this is because the available metalanguages for expressing semantics --- usually either LaTeX for informal mathematics, or the formal mathematics of a proof assistant --- make it much harder than necessary to work with large definitions.

We present a metalanguage specifically designed for this problem, and a tool, ott, that sanity-checks such definitions and compiles them into proof assistant code for Coq, HOL, Isabelle, and (in progress) Twelf, together with LaTeX code for production-quality typesetting, and OCaml boilerplate. The main innovations are: (1) metalanguage design to make definitions concise, and easy to read and edit; (2) an expressive but intuitive metalanguage for specifying binding structures; and (3) compilation to proof assistant code.

This has been tested in substantial case studies, including modular specifications of calculi from the TAPL text, a Lightweight Java with Java JSR 277/294 module system proposals, and a large fragment of OCaml (around 306 rules), with machine proofs of various soundness results. Our aim with this work is to enable a phase change: making it feasible to work routinely, without heroic effort, with rigorous semantic definitions of realistic languages.