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Formula-Based Software Debugging

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Formula-Based Software Debugging, illustration

Credit: cepera

Programming, though a creative activity, poses strict demands on its human practitioners in terms of precision, and even talented programmers make mistakes. The effect of a mistake can manifest in several ways—as a program crash, data corruption, or unexpected output. Debugging is the task of locating the root cause of an error from its observable manifestation. It is a challenge because the manifestation of an error might become observable in a program's execution much later than the point at which the error infected the program state in the first place. Stories abound of heroic efforts required to fix problems that cropped up unexpectedly in software that was previously considered to be working and dependable.

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Given the importance of efficient debugging in overall software productivity, computer-assisted techniques for debugging are an active topic of research. The premise of such techniques is to employ plentiful compute cycles to automatically narrow the scope of where in the source code the root cause is likely to be, thereby reducing the amount of time a programmer must spend on debugging. Such computer-assisted debugging techniques, as discussed in this article, do not promise to pinpoint the mistake in a program but only to narrow the scope of where the mistake might lurk. Such techniques are also sometimes called "fault localization" in the software-engineering literature.


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