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Overview of the main KLEE intrinsic functions


KLEE provides a set of special functions which are useful in the context of symbolic execution. Whenever a program calls one of these functions, KLEE handles internally the call, hence their intrinsic nature. The functions are declared in include/klee/klee.h. The most often used intrinsic is klee_make_symbolic, which creates an unconstrained symbolic object.



klee_assume(condition) is used to constrain the values symbolic variables can take. The remainder of the program’s execution will only consider variable values which satisfy condition. Conceptually, klee_assume(condition) is equivalent to wrapping the rest of the program in an if(condition){ } statement, except that the former prints an error if the condition is unsatisfiable. Technically speaking, klee_assume(condition) adds condition to the current path constraints.

Interaction with short-circuit operators

When condition contains short-circuit operators, the results of the klee_assume intrinsics may come unexpected. For example, consider the following code and the corresponding KLEE output:

#include "klee/klee.h"

int main() {
  int c,d;
  klee_make_symbolic(&c, sizeof(c), "c");
  klee_make_symbolic(&d, sizeof(d), "d");

  klee_assume((c==2) && (d==3));

  return 0;
$ clang -O0 -I klee_path/include/ -g -c -emit-llvm p.c -o p.bc
$ klee p.bc
KLEE: output directory is "/path/klee-out-0"
KLEE: Using STP solver backend
KLEE: ERROR: /path/p.c:8: invalid klee_assume call (provably false)
KLEE: NOTE: now ignoring this error at this location

KLEE: done: total instructions = 23
KLEE: done: completed paths = 2
KLEE: done: generated tests = 2

One might reasonably expect a single path through the program, while KLEE finds 2 paths. The reason lies in the way compilers handle short-circuit operators. Upon compilation, the above code is transformed into LLVM bitcode similar to the following C code:

#include "klee/klee.h"

int main() {
  int c,d;
  klee_make_symbolic(&c, sizeof(c), "c");
  klee_make_symbolic(&d, sizeof(d), "d");
  int tmp;
  if (c == 2) 
    tmp = d == 3;
    tmp = 0;


  return 0;

Since the program contains two paths and both are feasible, klee_assume will be called two times: once with the comparison expression “d == 3” and once with the trivial constant argument “0”. As “0” is equivalent to false and no path can satisfy this condition, KLEE prints out an error message and terminates the corresponding path.

More aggressive optimisations (e.g. -Os) reduce the program to a single path and klee_assume is called once with the expression “c == 2 && d == 3” as expected. Remember, symbolic execution engines use expressions internally to represent computations over symbolic variables. The C API of klee_assume still requires a boolean condition.

As a side note, it is also possible to obtain the ‘one path’-behaviour by replacing the logical && and || operators with their bitwise counterparts. To correctly do this, ensure that all operands have boolean values and no side effects.

Note: the output was obtained after compilation with Clang 6. Other compilers/versions may yield slightly different results.

klee_prefer_cex(object, condition)

This function tells KLEE to prefer certain values when generating test cases as output. A KLEE state can correspond to many different possible test cases. For example, in this code:

char input[4];
klee_make_symbolic(input, sizeof(input), "input");
assert(input[0] == 'Q');

KLEE will have a single failing state that corresponds to input = "aaaa", input = "1234", and every other input that fails the assertion. Normally, when KLEE generates a test case for this failure, it can choose any of these valid inputs. The result could be input = "\0\0\0\0" or input = "\xff\xff\xff\xff" or some other unreadable value. We can make it more readable by using klee_prefer_cex after klee_make_symbolic:

for (int i = 0; i < 4; i++)
  klee_prefer_cex(input, 32 <= input[i] && input[i] <= 126); // assume ASCII

NOTE: Only use klee_prefer_cex immediately after a klee_make_symbolic call. It currently cannot be used after a klee_range call.

Now, when KLEE has a choice between many possible test cases, it will prefer to use printable characters when possible. When KLEE finds paths that conflict with the klee_prefer_cex condition, it will ignore the preference and generate (potentially unreadable) test cases anyway.

The POSIX runtime uses klee_prefer_cex internally, in particular to prefer printable characters in symbolic command-line arguments. To enable this option, use -readable-posix-inputs. It is disabled by default, as klee_prefer_cex can be expensive when used extensively.