Michael Baer

Michael Baer, M. Sc.

Research assistant from 2016 till 2021

Computer Science Department
Programming Systems Group (Informatik 2)


  • Automatic Detection of Race-Conditions

    (Own Funds)

    Large software projects with hundreds of developers are difficult to review and often contain many bugs. Automatic tests are a well established technique to test sequential and deterministic software. They test the whole project (system test) or each module by itself (unit test). However, recent software contains more and more parallelism. This introduces several new bug patterns, like deadlocks and concurrent memory accesses, that are harder or even impossible to be detected reliably using conventional test methods. Whether the faulty behavior actually shows at runtime depends on the concrete scheduling of the threads which is indeterministic and varies between individual executions depending on the underlaying system. Due to this unpredictable behavior such bugs do not necessarily manifest in an arbitrary test run or may never arise in the testing environment at all. As a result, conventional tests are not well suited for modern, concurrent software.
    With the project AuDeRace, we develop methods to efficiently and reliably detect concurrent bugs while keeping the additional effort for developers as low as possible. In an initial approach we define a testing framework that allows the specification of a scheduling plan to regain deterministic execution. However, a major problem still remains: The developer has to identify and implement well suited test cases that cover the potential fault in the program and execute them in a special deterministic way in order to trigger the failure. Especially in the context of concurrency, it is difficult to visualize the behavior of a program and identify the problematic parts. To overcome this, the critical parts shall automatically be narrowed down before even writing dedicated test cases. Existing approaches and tools for this purpose generate too many false positives or the analysis is very time consuming, making their application to real world code prohibitive. The goal of this project is to generate less false positives and increase the analysis speed by combining existing static and dynamic analysis. This allows for the efficient use in not only small example codes but also large and complex software projects.

    In 2016 existing approaches were studied regarding their usability as a starting basis for our project. The most promising method uses model checking and predefined assertions to construct thread schedules that trigger the faulty behavior. However, the approach is currently infeasible for larger projects because only very small codes could be analyzed in reasonable time. Therefore, we focused on automatically detecting and removing statements that are unrelated to the parallelism respectively to the potentially faulty code parts in order to decrease the execution time of the preliminary static analysis.

    In 2017 the work on automatically reducing programs to speed up furher analysis was continued. Furthermore, we evaluated whether the concept of mutation testing can be applied to parallel software as well. The results indicate that this extension is indeed possible to rate tests qualitativly. However, to complete the analysis for larger programs in reasonable time, a few heuristics need to be applied during the process.

    In 2018 the focus moved to a deterministic execution of test cases. A concept to reproduce results during the execution was developed: In addition to the test case, a schedule specifies the dynamic behaviour of the threads. Instrumenting the code at previously marked positions and other relevant byte code instructions allows a separate control thread to enforce the schedule. When modifying the source code, the marked positions in the code need to be updated as well to keep them consistent with the test cases. A merging technique similar to the ones used in version control systems shall be used to automatically update the positions.

    Up to 2019, this project was a contribution of the Chair of Computer Science 2 (Programming Systems) to the IZ ESI (Embedded Systems Initiative, http://www.esi.fau.de/ ). In this context, several improvements for the quality of concurrent software were analyzed. The take-away result was that different approaches are applicable and required, but they also often suffer from long analysis times.
    Beyond the ESI project, we improved the usefulness of mutation testing by developing a tool for equivalence detection and test case generation. A submitted paper got accepted.
    In 2020, we studied and evaluated approaches to detect external race conditions. Whereas in classic race conditions, several threads of the analyzed software fail to work together properly, in external race conditions, software interacts with independent, unknown components. Examples are other programs, the operating system, or even malicious code written by attackers who interferes with the analyzed software.
    In 2021, we developed a system to statically detect race conditions when using external resources. A common pattern is to check properties of files and later access the files again, assuming the previously determined properties still hold. However, if the file is modified in the meantime, numerous problems can occur (time-of-check to time-of-use). Besides unexpected result, attackers can even modify the file to enforce malicious behavior and compromise the system. With our approach, such vulnerable codes can be detected in the software.

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