Visualization for Fault Localization


Software errors significantly impact software productivity and quality. Attempts to reduce the number of delivered faults are estimated to consume between 50% and 80% of the development and maintenance effort [4]. Debugging is one of the most time-consuming, and thus expensive, tasks required to reduce the number of delivered faults in a program. Because software debugging is so expensive, researchers have investigated techniques and tools to assist developers with these tasks (e.g., [1, 3, 7]). However, these tools often do not scale to large programs or they require extensive manual intervention. This lack of effective tools hinders the development and maintenance process. Studies show that locating the errors is the most difficult and time-consuming component of the debugging process (e.g., [8]). Pan and Spafford observed that developers consistently perform four tasks when attempting to locate the errors in a program: (1) identify statements involved in failures; (2) select suspicious statements that might contain faults; (3) hypothesize about suspicious faults; and (4) restore program variables to a specific state [6]. A source-code debugger can help with the first task: a developer runs the program, one line at a time, with a test case that caused it to fail, and during this execution, the developer can inspect the results produced by the execution of each statement in the program. Information about incorrect results at a statement can help a developer locate the source of the problem. Stepping through large programs one statement at a time, however, and inspecting the results of the execution can be very time consuming. Thus, developers often try to localize the problem area by working backwards from the location of the failure (e.g., computing a slice). By considering all statements that affect the location in which an incorrect value occurred, a developer may be able to locate the cause of the failure. A source-code debugger can also help a developer with the fourth task: a developer can set breakpoints, reset the program state, and execute the program with the modified state. This process may help a developer concentrate on smaller regions of code that may be the cause of the failure. Although these tools can help developers locate faults, there are several aspects of this fault-localization that can be improved. First, even with source-code debuggers and slicers, the manual process of identifying the location of the faults can be very time consuming. A technique that can automate, or partially automate, the process can provide significant savings. Second, because these tools lead developers to focus their attention locally instead of providing a global view of the software, interacting faults are difficult to detect. An approach that provides the developer with a global view of the software, while still giving access to the local view, can provide a developer with more useful information. Third, the tools use results of only one execution of the program instead of using information provided by many executions of the program; such information is typically an artifact of the testing process. A tool that provides information about many executions of the program lets the developer understand more complex relationships in the system. To address these problems, we have begun to develop visualization techniques and tools that can improve developers’ ability to locate faults. Techniques and heuristics such as those described above may help a developer focus on areas of the program where faults may occur. However, with large programs and multiple faults, the huge amount of data produced by such an approach, if reported in a textual form, may be difficult