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Summary-Based Pointer Analysis Framework for Modular Bug Finding

Buss, Marcio

Modern society is irreversibly dependent on computers and, consequently, on software. However, as the complexity of programs increase, so does the number of defects within them. To alleviate the problem, automated techniques are constantly used to improve software quality. Static analysis is one such approach in which violations of correctness properties are searched and reported. Static analysis has many advantages, but it is necessarily conservative because it symbolically executes the program instead of using real inputs, and it considers all possible executions simultaneously. Being conservative often means issuing false alarms, or missing real program errors. Pointer variables are a challenging aspect of many languages that can force static analysis tools to be overly conservative. It is often unclear what variables are affected by pointer-manipulating expressions, and aliasing between variables is one of the banes of program analysis. To alleviate that, a common solution is to allow the programmer to provide annotations such as declaring a variable as unaliased in a given scope, or providing special constructs such as the "never-null" pointer of Cyclone. However, programmers rarely keep these annotations up-to-date. The solution is to provide some form of pointer analysis, which derives useful information about pointer variables in the program. An appropriate pointer analysis equips the static tool so that it is capable of reporting more errors without risking too many false alarms. This dissertation proposes a methodology for pointer analysis that is specially tailored for "modular bug finding." It presents a new analysis space for pointer analysis, defined by finer-grain "dimensions of precision," which allows us to explore and evaluate a variety of different algorithms to achieve better trade-offs between analysis precision and efficiency. This framework is developed around a new abstraction for computing points-to sets, the Assign-Fetch Graph, that has many interesting features. Empirical evaluation shows promising results, as some unknown errors in well-known applications were discovered.

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Academic Units
Computer Science
Publisher
Department of Computer Science, Columbia University
Series
Columbia University Computer Science Technical Reports, CUCS-013-08
Published Here
April 26, 2011