Specifying and Verifying Network Behavior with NetKAT

October 8, 2015
2:50 pm - 4:00 pm
Halligan 102
Speaker: Nate Foster, Cornell University
Host: Kathleen Fisher


Specification and verification of computer networks has become a reality in recent years, with the emergence of domain-specific programming languages and automated verification tools. But the design of these languages and tools has been largely ad hoc, driven more by the needs of applications and the capabilities of hardware than by any foundational principles. This talk will present NetKAT, a new language for programming networks based on a well-studied mathematical foundation, Kleene Algebra with Tests (KAT). The first part of the talk will describe the design of the language, including primitives for filtering, modifying, and forwarding packets; operators for combining programs in parallel and in sequence; and a Kleene star operator for iterating programs.

The next part of the talk will explore the semantic underpinnings of the language, developing an equational deductive reasoning system as well as a formal connection to finite automata. The third part of the talk will show how NetKAT can be used to address a variety of practical problems including efficient compilation and automatic verification. Lastly, I will discuss a recent extension of NetKAT with features designed to support probabilistic programming.

NetKAT is joint work with colleagues at Cornell, Facebook, Inhabited Type, Princeton, Samsung, UCL, and UMass Amherst.


Nate Foster is an Assistant Professor of Computer Science at Cornell University. The goal of his search is developing programming languages and tools for building reliable systems. He received a PhD in Computer Science from the University of Pennsylvania in 2009, an MPhil in History and Philosophy of Science from Cambridge University in 2008, and a BA in Computer Science from Williams College in 2001. His awards include a Sloan Research Fellowship, an NSF CAREER Award, a Most Influential POPL Paper Award, a Tien '72 Teaching Award, a Google Research Award, a Yahoo! Academic Career Enhancement Award, and the Morris and Dorothy Rubinoff Award.