Disjunctive Program Synthesis: A Robust Approach to Programming by Example
Keywords:program synthesis, programming by example
Programming by example (PBE) systems allow end users to easily create programs by providing a few input-output examples to specify their intended task. The system attempts to generate a program in a domain specific language (DSL) that satisfies the given examples. However, a key challenge faced by existing PBE techniques is to ensure the robustness of the programs that are synthesized from a small number of examples, as these programs often fail when applied to new inputs. This is because there can be many possible programs satisfying a small number of examples, and the PBE system has to somehow rank between these candidates and choose the correct one without any further information from the user. In this work we present a different approach to PBE in which the system avoids making a ranking decision at the synthesis stage, by instead synthesizing a disjunctive program that includes the many top-ranked programs as possible alternatives and selects between these different choices upon execution on a new input. This delayed choice brings the important benefit of comparing the possible outputs produced by the different disjuncts on a given input at execution time. We present a generic framework for synthesizing such disjunctive programs in arbitrary DSLs, and describe two concrete implementations of disjunctive synthesis in the practical domains of data extraction from plain text and HTML documents. We present an evaluation showing the significant increase in robustness achieved with our disjunctive approach, as illustrated by an increase from 59% to 93% of tasks for which correct programs can be learnt from a single example.