Published online by Cambridge University Press: 17 October 2017
We introduce a stepping methodology for answer-set programming (ASP) that allows for debugging answer-set programs and is based on the stepwise application of rules. Similar to debugging in imperative languages, where the behaviour of a program is observed during a step-by-step execution, stepping for ASP allows for observing the effects that rule applications have in the computation of an answer set. While the approach is inspired from debugging in imperative programming, it is conceptually different to stepping in other paradigms due to non-determinism and declarativity that are inherent to ASP. In particular, unlike statements in an imperative program that are executed following a strict control flow, there is no predetermined order in which to consider rules in ASP during a computation. In our approach, the user is free to decide which rule to consider active in the next step following his or her intuition. This way, one can focus on interesting parts of the debugging search space. Bugs are detected during stepping by revealing differences between the actual semantics of the program and the expectations of the user. As a solid formal basis for stepping, we develop a framework of computations for answer-set programs. For fully supporting different solver languages, we build our framework on an abstract ASP language that is sufficiently general to capture different solver languages. To this end, we make use of abstract constraints as an established abstraction for popular language constructs such as aggregates. Stepping has been implemented in SeaLion, an integrated development environment for ASP. We illustrate stepping using an example scenario and discuss the stepping plugin of SeaLion. Moreover, we elaborate on methodological aspects and the embedding of stepping in the ASP development process.
This work was partially supported by the Austrian Science Fund (FWF) under project P21698, the German Research Foundation (DFG) under Grants BR-1817/7-1 and BR 1817/7-2 and the European Commission under project IST-2009-231875 (OntoRule).