Formal specifications can help with program testing, optimization, refactoring, documentation, and, most importantly, debugging and repair. Unfortunately, formal specifications are difficult to write manually, while techniques that infer specifications automatically suffer from 90–99% false positive rates. Consequently, neither option is currently practical for most software development projects.

We present a novel technique that automatically infers partial correctness specifications with a very low false positive rate. We claim that existing specification miners yield false positives because they assign equal weight to all aspects of program behavior. By using additional information from the software engineering process, we are able to dramatically reduce this rate. For example, we grant less credence to duplicate code, infrequently-tested code, and code that exhibits high turnover in the version control system.

We evaluate our technique in two ways: as a preprocessing step for an existing specification miner and as part of novel specification inference algorithms. Our technique identifies which input is most indicative of program behavior, which allows off-the-shelf techniques to learn the same number of specifications using only 60% of their original input. Our inference approach has few false positives in practice, while still finding useful specifications on over 800,000 lines of code. When minimizing false alarms, we obtain a 5% false positive rate, an order-of-magnitude improvement over previous work. When used to find bugs, our mined specifications locate over 250 policy violations. To the best of our knowledge, this is the first specification miner with such a low false positive rate, and thus a low associated burden of manual inspection.

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  • Claire Le Goues
    • 1
  • Westley Weimer
    • 1
  1. 1.University of VirginiaUSA

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