Alias, efficient may-alias and points-to analysis


Alias is a Frama-C plugin that implements:

  • a points-to analysis, i.e. an over-approximation of the possible variables a pointer may point to at run-time.
  • a may-alias analysis, i.e. an over-approximation of the possible aliases between pointer variables (and, more generally, memory regions) of the program.

Two pointers are called aliases of each other if at runtime they point to the same memory location. In that case changing the value of one pointer also changes the value of the other pointer and vice versa. We call “may-aliases” pointers that are currently not aliases of each other but may become aliases at some point at run-time.

This plugin implements in a static analysis a variant of “Steensgaard’s algorithm”, which determines at compile-time conservative approximations of the may-alias sets of a program and its variables.

This analysis aims at correctness and efficiency rather than precision. The results of the analysis are therefore always (i.e. in the absence of warnings) correct, in the sense that every alias-pair that may form at run-time is contained in the alias-pairs identified by the static analysis.

A may-alias analysis usually contains also a points-to analysis, which is also the case for this plugin. This analysis is correct as well, in the sense that (in the absence of warnings) all pointer relations (variable a points to b) that may occur at run-time will be in the points-to set determined by this analysis.

Note that the Eva plugin can also be used to implement a points-to analysis, which is much more precise but also much less efficient than this plugin.


To run the may-alias analysis either:

  • call the function Alias.Analysis.compute
  • run frama-c with the -alias flag

Some of the most important command-line flags are:

  • -alias-show-function-table displays for each function of the analyzed source code a summary, which includes the alias sets for the function’s parameters and return value.
  • -alias-show-stmt-table displays for each statement the alias sets for all the variables (lvals) in scope.

Please run frama-c -alias-h for more information on command-line flags.


Alias.Analysis provides functions to run the analysis and clear the analysis results. The module Alias.API provides function to access the analysis results.


The following example prints all the alias sets at the end of all global functions.

Alias.Analysis.compute ();
let print_kf_alias_sets kf =
  let alias_sets = Alias.API.Function.alias_sets_lvals ~kf in
  List.iter (Alias.API.LSet.pretty Format.std_formatter) alias_sets
Globals.Functions.iter print_kf_alias_sets


This plugin implements a path-insensitive analysis based on purely syntactic reasoning, without numerical domains/values computations. When some branch condition appears in the program, any alias in any branch is considered. Therefore, the analysis is efficient, whereas the results are not very precise.

Unsupported constructs

  • recursive functions,
  • user-defined variadic functions,
  • function declared and used without being defined (i.e., no function body)
  • assembly code,
  • instructions longjmp and setjmp,
  • complex instruction goto that breaks the natural control-flow of the program
  • heterogeneous casts (e.g., casts from integers to pointers or conversely)
  • union type,
  • dynamic memory allocation, except if done once at the beginning of the program, whichever the execution path is.

Imprecisely-supported constructs

  • non-complex instruction goto,
  • homogeneous casts,
  • recursive datatype, e.g., multiple levels of pointer dereferencing,
  • pointer arithmetic, and array and structure accesses,
  • variable-length arrays,
  • volatile attributes.

Building and Installation

The plug-in is included by default when installing Frama-C.

Note that this plugin uses assertions extensively, which has considerable performance cost. Building and installing using the --release flag disables these assertions.

Project Members

  • Allan Blanchard
  • Loïc Correnson
  • Tristan Le Gall
  • Jan Rochel
  • Julien Signoles