IELE: An Intermediate-Level Blockchain Language Designed and Implemented Using Formal Semantics

Theodoros Kasampalis and Dwight Guth and Brandon Moore and Traian Serbanuta and Virgil Serbanuta and Daniele Filaretti and Grigore Rosu and Ralph Johnson
Technical Report July 2018

Abstract. Most languages are given an informal semantics until they are implemented, so the formal semantics comes later. Consequently, there are usually inconsistencies among the informal semantics, the implementation, and the formal semantics. IELE is an LLVM-like language for the blockchain that was specified formally and its implementation, a virtual machine, generated from the formal specification. Moreover, its design was based on problems observed formalizing the semantics of the Ethereum Virtual Machine (EVM) and from formally specifying and verifying EVM programs (also called "smart contracts"), so even the design decisions made for IELE are based on formal specifications. A compiler from Solidity, the predominant high-level language for smart contracts, to IELE has also been implemented, so Ethereum contracts can now also be executed on IELE. The virtual machine automatically generated from the semantics of IELE is shown to be competitive in terms of performance with the state of the art and hence can stand as the de facto implementation of the language in a production setting. Indeed, IOHK, a major blockchain company, is currently experimenting with the IELE VM in order to deploy it as its computational layer in a few months. This makes IELE the first practical language that is designed and implemented as a formal specification. It took only 10 man-months to develop IELE, which demonstrates that the programming language semantics field has reached a level of maturity that makes it appealing over the traditional, adhoc approach even for pragmatic reasons.