Team, Visitors, External Collaborators
Overall Objectives
Research Program
Application Domains
Highlights of the Year
New Software and Platforms
New Results
Bilateral Contracts and Grants with Industry
Partnerships and Cooperations
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Section: Research Program

Objective #1: Self-healing - Mining software artifacts to automatically evolve systems

Software systems are under the pressure of changes all along their lifecycle. Agile development blurs the frontier between design and execution and requires constant adaptation. The size of systems (millions of lines of code) multiplies the number of bugs by the same order of magnitude. More and more systems, such as sensor network devices, live in "surviving" mode, in the sense that they are neither rebootable nor upgradable.

Software bugs are hidden in source code and show up at development-time, testing-time or worse, once deployed in production. Except for very specific application domains where formal proofs are achievable, bugs can not be eradicated. As an order of magnitude, on 16 Dec 2011, the Eclipse bug repository contains 366 922 bug reports. Software engineers and developers work on bug fixing on a daily basis. Not all developers spend the same time on bug fixing. In large companies, this is sometimes a full-time role to manage bugs, often referred to as Quality Assurance (QA) software engineers. Also, not all bugs are equal, some bugs are analyzed and fixed within minutes, others may take months to be solved [79].

In terms of research, this means that: (i) one needs means to automatically adapt the design of the software system through automated refactoring and API extraction, (ii) one needs approaches to automate the process of adapting source code in order to fix certain bugs, (iii) one needs to revisit the notion of error-handling so that instead of crashing in presence of errors, software adapts itself to continue with its execution, e.g., in degraded mode.

There is no one-size-fits-all solution for each of these points. However, we think that novel solutions can be found by using data mining and machine learning techniques tailored for software engineering [80]. This body of research consists of mining some knowledge about a software system by analyzing the source code, the version control systems, the execution traces, documentation and all kinds of software development and execution artifacts in general. This knowledge is then used within recommendation systems for software development, auditing tools, runtime monitors, frameworks for resilient computing, etc.

The novelty of our approach consists of using and tailoring data mining techniques for analyzing software artifacts (source code, execution traces) in order to achieve the next level of automated adaptation (e.g., automated bug fixing). Technically, we plan to mix unsupervised statistical learning techniques (e.g. frequent item set mining) and supervised ones (e.g. training classifiers such as decision trees). This research is currently not being performed by data mining research teams since it requires a high level of domain expertise in software engineering, while software engineering researchers can use off-the-shelf data mining libraries, such as Weka [58].

We now detail the two directions that we propose to follow to achieve this objective.

Learning from software history how to design software and fix bugs

The first direction is about mining techniques in software repositories (e.g., CVS, SVN, Git). Best practices can be extracted by data mining source code and the version control history of existing software systems. The design and code of expert developers significantly vary from the artifacts of novice developers. We will learn to differentiate those design characteristics by comparing different code bases, and by observing the semantic refactoring actions from version control history. Those design rules can then feed the test-develop-refactor constant adaptation cycle of agile development.

Fault localization of bugs reported in bug repositories. We will build a solid foundation on empirical knowledge about bugs reported in bug repository. We will perform an empirical study on a set of representative bug repositories to identify classes of bugs and patterns of bug data. For this, we will build a tool to browse and annotate bug reports. Browsing will be helped with two kinds of indexing: first, the tool will index all textual artifacts for each bug report; second it will index the semantic information that is not present by default in bug management software—i.e., “contains a stacktrace”). Both indexes will be used to find particular subsets of bug reports, for instance “all bugs mentioning invariants and containing a stacktrace”. Note that queries with this kind of complexity and higher are mostly not possible with the state-of-the-art of bug management software. Then, analysts will use annotation features to annotate bug reports. The main outcome of the empirical study will be the identification of classes of bugs that are appropriate for automated localization. Then, we will run machine learning algorithms to identify the latent links between the bug report content and source code features. Those algorithms would use as training data the existing traceability links between bug reports and source code modifications from version control systems. We will start by using decision trees since they produce a model that is explicit and understandable by expert developers. Depending on the results, other machine learning algorithms will be used. The resulting system will be able to locate elements in source code related to a certain bug report with a certain confidence.

Automated bug fix generation with search-based techniques. Once a location in code is identified as being the cause of the bug, we can try to automatically find a potential fix. We envision different techniques: (1) infer fixes from existing contracts and specifications that are violated; (2) infer fixes from the software behavior specified as a test suite; (3) try different fix types one-by-one from a list of identified bug fix patterns; (4) search fixes in a fix space that consists of combinations of atomic bug fixes. Techniques 1 and 2 are explored in [54] and [78]. We will focus on the latter techniques. To identify bug fix patterns and atomic bug fixes, we will perform a large-scale empirical study on software changes (also known as changesets when referring to changes across multiple files). We will develop tools to navigate, query and annotate changesets in a version control system. Then, a grounded theory will be built to master the nature of fixes. Eventually, we will decompose change sets in atomic actions using clustering on changeset actions. We will then use this body of empirical knowledge to feed search-based algorithms (e.g. genetic algorithms) that will look for meaningful fixes in a large fix space. To sum up, our research on automated bug fixing will try not only to point to source code locations responsible of a bug, but to search for code patterns and snippets that may constitute the skeleton of a valid patch. Ultimately, a blend of expert heuristics and learned rules will be able to produce valid source code that can be validated by developers and committed to the code base.

Run-time self-healing

The second proposed research direction is about inventing a self-healing capability at run-time. This is complementary to the previous objective that mainly deals with development time issues. We will achieve this in two steps. First, we want to define frameworks for resilient software systems. Those frameworks will help to maintain the execution even in the presence of bugs—i.e. to let the system survive. As exposed below, this may mean for example to switch to some degraded modes. Next, we want to go a step further and to define solutions for automated runtime repair, that is, not simply compensating the erroneous behavior, but also determining the correct repair actions and applying them at run-time.

Mining best effort values. A well-known principle of software engineering is the "fail-fast" principle. In a nutshell, it states that as soon as something goes wrong, software should stop the execution before entering incorrect states. This is fine when a human user is in the loop, capable of understanding the error or at least rebooting the system. However, the notion of “failure-oblivious computing” [71] shows that in certain domains, software should run in a resilient mode (i.e. capable of recovering from errors) and/or best-effort mode—i.e. a slightly imprecise computation is better than stopping. Hence, we plan to investigate data mining techniques in order to learn best-effort values from past executions (i.e. somehow learning what is a correct state, or the opposite what is not a completely incorrect state). This knowledge will then be used to adapt the software state and flow in order to mitigate the error consequences, the exact opposite of fail-fast for systems with long-running cycles.

Embedding search based algorithms at runtime. Harman recently described the field of search-based software engineering [59]. We believe that certain search based approaches can be embedded at runtime with the goal of automatically finding solutions that avoid crashing. We will create software infrastructures that allow automatically detecting and repairing faults at run-time. The methodology for achieving this task is based on three points: (1) empirical study of runtime faults; (2) learning approaches to characterize runtime faults; (3) learning algorithms to produce valid changes to the software runtime state. An empirical study will be performed to analyze those bug reports that are associated with runtime information (e.g. core dumps or stacktraces). After this empirical study, we will create a system that learns on previous repairs how to produce small changes that solve standard runtime bugs (e.g. adding an array bound check to throw a handled domain exception rather than a spurious language exception). To achieve this task, component models will be used to (1) encapsulate the monitoring and reparation meta-programs in appropriate components and (2) support runtime code modification using scripting, reflective or bytecode generation techniques.