Getting Started

This tutorial is intended to be an interactive experience. It is much easier to learn how to use a new tool by actually using it, making mistakes, and recovering from them. Please follow along in the provided exercises.


This tutorial is written for programmers who know C, but who do not necessarily have any experience with formal verification. Deep knowledge of C is not required, but familiarity with pointers and the concept of undefined behavior are assumed. It is not necessary to be able to identify undefined behavior on sight.


Code examples, filenames, and commands that should be literally typed into a computer are represented with monospace font. For instance, the file main.c might contain the function

int main(int argc, char** argv) { ... }

which has an argument called argc. At times, \(\mathit{italic\ text}\) is used to represent mathematical variables. For instance, when relating programs to mathematical specifications, the program variable n might have the mathematical value \(x^2\).

Exercises: Initial Setup

The first step is to install all of the necessary tools. For this tutorial, you’ll need the following:


SAW can be dowloaded from the SAW web page.

Yices and Z3

This tutorial uses Yices and Z3. If you plan to work seriously with SAW, it is also a good idea to install the other solvers listed on the SAW download page.


Cryptol is included with SAW. Please use the version of Cryptol that’s included, because each SAW release requires a specific Cryptol version.

LLVM and Clang

Please make sure that you have LLVM and clang installed.

To make sure that you have everything working, download the example files. In the examples/intro directory, run the following commands:

make swap.bc
saw swap_cryptol.saw
cryptol Swap.cry

If everything succeeds, you’ll be at a Cryptol prompt. Use :q to exit Cryptol.

Troubleshooting / Installation Alternatives

If things don’t succeed, the most likely cause is that you have a newly-released version of LLVM. SAW is dependent on LLVM’s bitcode format, which often change between releases. If you get an error along these lines:

Are you sure you’re using a supported version of LLVM/Clang?
Check here:
you have a couple options:
  • Install an earlier version of clang and configure your platform’s PATH to use it instead of the current version, or

  • Use docker or vagrant to run saw and its tools in a virtual machine. The SAW VM configurations for docker and vagrant include known-good versions of all of SAW’s dependencies. The SAW install page describes how to install SAW in a Docker container.

Using Vagrant to Install and Use SAW

In some cases, it can be easiest to run the SAW tools in a virtual machine. Vagrant is a tool that manages the installation, configuration, starting and stopping of virtual machines with Linux guests. Here’s how to run SAW in a Vagrant virtual machine:

vagrant up       # launch the virtual machine
vagrant ssh      # log in to your virtual machine
cd /vagrant/examples/intro
make popcount.bc
saw pop.saw      # should run to completion
  • The first time you type vagrant up the system will download and configure SAW and its dependencies, so it will take a few minutes. Subsequent launches will be much faster.

  • When you’re done with a session, log out of the guest and cleanly shut down your virtual machine with the host command vagrant halt

  • Editing files while logged in to a virtual machine can be inconvenient. Vagrant guests have access to the host file system in the directory with the Vagrantfile, which is located in the guest at /vagrant, so it can be convenient to do your work in that directory, editing on your host, but running the SAW tools inside the virtual machine. In some cases you may have to install the “VirtualBox guest additions” to enable the shared vagrant folder.