Researchers are set to release an open source tool that could dramatically speed software development and improve software quality.

Computer scientists from the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and the University of Texas at Arlington credit the use of "combinatorial testing" for their breakthrough.

The trick is being able to quickly test interactions of up to six variables. The work stemmed from research into what really causes bugs in software. The researchers found that it is more often due to problematic interactions between a few variables rather than a bunch even if a program, such as an ecommerce application, features hundreds of variables.

Combinatorial testing is used in other disciplines, such as chemistry. A researcher last year even got a US$200,000 National Science Foundation grant to study Rubik's Cubes as a way to learn about combinatorial problems in science and operations.

Findings of this latest software debugging research are described in several presentations, one by NIST researchers and another by University of Texas researchers.

Developers interested in getting their hands on the beta code should contact NIST's Raghu Kacker at After the beta phase, an executable version will be released, then the open source code.