Latent Execution for Neural Program Synthesis Beyond Domain-Specific Languages

Part of Advances in Neural Information Processing Systems 34 pre-proceedings (NeurIPS 2021)

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Xinyun Chen, Dawn Song, Yuandong Tian


Program synthesis from input-output (IO) examples has been a long-standing challenge. While recent works demonstrated limited success on domain-specific languages (DSL), it remains highly challenging to apply them to real-world programming languages, such as C. Due to complicated syntax and token variation, there are three major challenges: (1) unlike many DSLs, programs in languages like C need to compile first and are not executed via interpreters; (2) the program search space grows exponentially when the syntax and semantics of the programming language become more complex; and (3) collecting a large-scale dataset of real-world programs is non-trivial. As a first step to address these challenges, we propose LaSynth and show its efficacy in a restricted-C domain (i.e., C code with tens of tokens, with sequential, branching, loop and simple arithmetic operations but no library call). More specifically, LaSynth learns the latent representation to approximate the execution of partially generated programs, even if they are incomplete in syntax (addressing (1)). The learned execution significantly improves the performance of next token prediction over existing approaches, facilitating search (addressing (2)). Finally, once trained with randomly generated ground-truth programs and their IO pairs, LaSynth can synthesize more concise programs that resemble human-written code. Furthermore, retraining our model with these synthesized programs yields better performance with fewer samples for both Karel and C program synthesis, indicating the promise of leveraging the learned program synthesizer to improve the dataset quality for input-output program synthesis (addressing (3)). When evaluating on whether the program execution outputs match the IO pairs, LaSynth achieves 55.2% accuracy on generating simple C code with tens of tokens including loops and branches, outperforming existing approaches without executors by around 20%.