Differential Static Analysis: Opportunities, Applications, and Challenges

It is widely believed that program analysis can be more closely targeted to the needs of programmers if the program is accompanied by further redundant documentation. This may include regression test suites, API protocol usage, and code contracts. To this should be added the largest and most redundant text of all: the previous version of the same program. It is the differences between successive versions of a legacy program already in use which occupy most of a programmer's time. Although differential analysis in the form of equivalence checking has been quite successful for hardware designs, it has not received as much attention in the static program analysis community.

This paper briefly summarizes the current state of the art in differential static analysis for software, and suggests a number of promising applications. Although regression test generation has often been thought of as the ultimate goal of differential analysis, we highlight several other applications that can be enabled by differential static analysis. This includes equivalence checking, semantic diffing, differential contract checking, summary validation, invariant discovery and better debugging. We speculate that differential static analysis tools have the potential to be widely deployed on the developer's toolbox despite the fundamental stumbling blocks that limit the adoption of static analysis.

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In  2010 FSE/SDP Workshop on the Future of Software Engineering Research (Position paper)

Publisher  Association for Computing Machinery, Inc.
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