The Free On-line Dictionary of Computing (18 March 2015):
A partial execution of a program which gains
information about its semantics (e.g. control structure,
flow of information) without performing all the calculations.
Abstract interpretation is typically used by compilers to
analyse programs in order to decide whether certain
optimisations or transformations are applicable.
The objects manipulated by the program (typically values and
functions) are represented by points in some domain. Each
abstract domain point represents some set of real
For example, we may take the abstract points "+", "0" and "-"
to represent positive, zero and negative numbers and then
define an abstract version of the multiplication operator, *#,
which operates on abstract values:
*# | + 0 -
+ | + 0 -
0 | 0 0 0
- | - 0 +
An interpretation is "safe" if the result of the abstract
operation is a safe approximation to the abstraction of the
concrete result. The meaning of "a safe approximation"
depends on how we are using the results of the analysis.
If, in our example, we assume that smaller values are safer
then the "safety condition" for our interpretation (#) is
a# *# b# <= (a * b)#
where a# is the abstract version of a etc.
In general an interpretation is characterised by the domains
used to represent the basic types and the abstract values it
assigns to constants (where the constants of a language
include primitive functions such as *). The interpretation of
constructed types (such as user defined functions, sum types
and product types) and expressions can be derived
systematically from these basic domains and values.
A common use of abstract interpretation is strictness
See also standard interpretation.