Tuesday, September 18, 2007

The bad side of Bug Repositories

In the last eight years, approximately, bug repositories, especially in Open Source Software, has gained much more focus by researchers, increasingly considerably the literature about it. These repositories are being analyzed by information retrieval perspective for Software Engineering (see 1 and 2), in an attempt to improve and automate some processes related to them. Bug repositories are systems to collect bugs founded by users and developers during a software usage.

As some people has noticed, the majority of open source software, and proprietary software too, has been organized their development processes around a bug repository system. This means that bugs resolution, new features and even improvements in the process, are being dictated by bug reports. Here, we mean by bug a software defect, change requests, features requests, issues in general.

The task of analyzing reported bugs is called bug tracking or bug triage, where the word "bug" could, reasonably, be replaced by issue, ticket, change request, defect, problem, as many others. But the more interesting is to know that bug tracking tasks are done, in general, by developers and a precious time is taken for this. Beside many others sub-tasks in bug triage, we can cite: analyzing if a bug is valid; trying to reproduce it; dependency checking -- that is, verify if other bugs block this bug and vice-versa; verify if a similar bug has been reported -- duplication detect; assign a reported bug to a developer.

Many other sub-tasks can be identified, however, in attempt to show the problem that bug triage could be the in software final quality, we'll concentrate our efforts on bug duplication detect task, witch actually is manually made, as many others.

In a paper by Gail Murphy, entitled Coping with an open bug repository, we can see that almost 50% of reported bugs during the development and improving phase are invalid. That is, are bugs that could not be reproduced (here we include the well know "works for me" bugs), bugs that wont be resolved, duplicated bugs, bugs with low priority, and so on. And 20% of this invalid bugs are only duplicated bugs, that is, bugs that was early reported.

Putting it in numbers, lets suppose that a project receive about 120 bug reports by day (in some projects this average is much more bigger), and that a developer spent about 5 minutes to analyze one bug. Doing simple arithmetic operations, we see that 10 hours per day, or 10 persons-hour, are wasted only in this task (bug tracking), and about 5 hours are wasted only with bug that does not improve the software quality. And only for duplicated bugs we have 2 wasted hours. Now calculate it for a month, for a year! That is, the automated invalid bugs detection, in special duplicated bug detection, is a field to continue being explored; many techniques has been tested. A good technique can save these wasted hours and put them in a health task.

Another thing which we can mention is that if a software product line approach is used, the problem of duplicated bug reports can increase significantly. Since, products have a common platform, many components are reused. That is, as the same component are used in many products, the probability of reporting the same bug by different people are higher. Moreover, the right component must be correctly identified in attempt to solve the bug, if not the problem still occurring in the product line.

One could not see at a first glance, but the bug repositories analysis, specially the detection of duplicated bugs, has much to see with software reuse. Software reuse try to reduce costs, make software development process faster, increase the software quality and other benefits. Improvements in bug triage processes aims to do exactly this!

Bug repositories came as a new challenge for emergence Data Mining for Software Engineering field. Many techniques from intelligent information retrieval, data mining, machine learn and even data clustering, could be applied to solve these problems. The actually researches results has achieved only 40% (as a maximum) of effectiveness on trying to automate these tasks, witch characterize a semi-automated solution.

Post by Yguaratã C. Cavalcanti, M.Sc. candidate at CIn-UFPE and RiSE member.

2 comments:

Eduardo Almeida said...

Good speech, Yguarata. I think that an important issue about your comment is related to productivity and reuse is strongly related to it. If you imagine companies with sites in different places and countries this problem grows exponentially. I think that combining techniques such as TDD, text mining, and other it can work in industrial context. The problem for me now, is to define the right technique to work with it. Do you know tools working in this direction? commercial or academic ones.

Yguarat� C. Cavalcanti said...

I've saw only academic level prototypes trying to solve these issues. Some of them are on 1 and 2. And the best result was achieved using Natural Language Processing.