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ERC777-K: Formal Executable Specification of ERC777

Author: Denis Bogdanas and Daejun Park

Date: 18 September 2018


The ERC777 standard provides basic functionality to transfer tokens and to be approved so they can be spent by another on-chain third party. It supersedes the very popular ERC20 standard, by giving account holders more control over token transactions.

ERC777-K is a complete formal specification of the ERC777 standard. Specifically, it is a formal executable semantics of a refinement of the ERC777 standard, using the K framework.

ERC777-K clarifies what data (accounts, token amounts, etc.) are handled by the various ERC777 functions and the precise meaning of those functions on such data.

ERC777 explicitly allows certain implementation-dependent behaviors. For example, in certain conditions the contract can either accept or reject a token transfer at its discretion. Yet deciding when to accept and when to reject is outside the scope of ERC777. For this reason ERC777-K is parametric with respect to such choices, at the global scale. E.g. it can be configured to either accept all or reject all operations where discretion is allowed. This is enough to capture all the allowed behaviors and stay confined to ERC777 standard.

In addition ERC777 heavily relies on another standard, ERC820, for allowing accounts to register "hooks", e.g. custom functions that are triggered once certain operations happen. We do not model this hook registration process, as it is orthogonal to ERC777, and would require significant extra complexity. Instead, we provide two builtin implementations for hooks, which are just enough to test the standard.

ERC777 also allows the contract to be backwards compatible with the older ERC20 standard, and provides both ERC777 and ERC20 interfaces at the same time. Yet, the ERC777 standard alters the behavior of ERC20 functions. For example, the ERC20 transfer functions are required to call the ERC777 hook functions, if they are registered, to make sure that the hook mechanism not bypassed, regardless of which interface is used. To capture this, ERC777-K also models the updated ERC20 functions.

During the development of the ERC777-K semantics, we discovered a number of ambiguities in the standard which we documented and delivered to the authors of ERC777:

Being executable, ERC777-K can also be tested for increased confidence. Driven by the semantic rules that form ERC777-K, as well as by their side conditions, we manually but systematically produced and provide a test-suite consisting of several dozens of tests which we believe cover all the corner cases. We encourage you to analyze these tests and use them to test your implementations. Please contribute with more tests if you think that we left any interesting behaviors uncovered.


KEVM makes it possible to rigorously verify smart contracts at the Ethereum Virtual Machine (EVM) level against higher level specifications. Such contracts can be, for example, the future ERC777 token implementations, written in languages like Solidity or Viper. But what does "verify ERC777 smart contracts" really mean? When formal verification is sought, a property (or specification) that the code must satisfy must be available. To our knowledge, there was no such formal specification for ERC777, or for ERC777 variants, available at the time of this writing (September 2018).

The existing ERC777 standard specification is too informal to serve as a formal specification for verification purposes, and is not executable.


The main ERC777-K specification is defined and extensively commented in this file:

The following folder contains unit tests for the ERC777-K specification, that is, small programs that exercise the various ERC777 functions in various contexts. For instructions on how to run the tests please look at ERC777-K Tests in IMP.


We welcome contributions! The easiest way to contribute is to add more tests to existing languages in the folder tests. A more involved way to contribute is to add new languages under tests, together with their own unit tests. It would be nice to cover a variety of language paradigms, such as more imperative language, object-oriented, functional, and even logical programming languages. Finally, you can adopt ERC777-K as the standard specification of ERC777 when testing and verifying smart contracts and this way: (1) we as a community converge on one formal standard for token correctness, as opposed to each group having different versions and opinions about what correctness means, most likely missing some corner cases and thus allowing vulnerabilities; and (2) we as a community improve the test suite, for the benefit of us all.


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