Researchers from a German university have developed a model to predict programming errors in applications. And their work has already caught the eye of software giants SAP and Microsoft, who see it as a way of cutting down on the number of software patches they might have to make.
The German method has the potential to save software companies money by allowing them to isolate parts of their code that need more rigorous testing, said Kim Herzig, a researcher at the Universität des Saarlandes in Saarbrücken, who wrote his master's thesis on the project.
"We try to find which aspects of code correlate to defects in the past," Herzig said.
Software companies rarely test every single line of code in their software. Testing is expensive, and companies are under pressure to release products. But fixing bugs after a product has been released is also expensive and inconvenient for customers, Herzig said.
The Saarbrücken model is tailored to a specific software program undergoing an upgrade. The program's version history and bug reports are analysed. The source code is also examined to find out how modules within the software interact with each other.
The model also looks at how the developers communicated with one another, examining their email, instant message conversation and discussions on forums.
"We try to mine these sources and find out if there are certain patterns and behaviours of the developers that correlate with defects," Herzig said.
Researchers then use statistical analysis to build the predication model. It does not uncover the number of defects or precisely where those defects may be in the code. Instead, the model will indicate, for example, that a section of code has a 70 percent probability of containing a defect, Herzig said.
SAP and Microsoft have both invited researchers to test the model on their software. Since the work involves looking at source code – which is considered highly valuable intellectual property – the university's researchers went to the companies' facilities and signed non-disclosure agreements, Herzig said.
The invites are welcome, as the model still needs fine tuning, Herzig said. Other interest has come from IBM, which gave the researchers $25,000 (£12,500) to see how the model can be applied to Jazz, a project focused on building a collaboration platform for software development, he said.