Integrated Error-Detection Techniques for Finding Bugs in Java Applications

Static Code Analysis, Data Flow Analysis, Unit Testing, Runtime Error Detection, and Code Review

Software verification techniques, such as pattern-based static code analysis, runtime error detection, unit testing, and flow analysis are all valuable techniques for finding bugs in Java web applications. On its own, each technique can help you find specific types of errors. However, if you restrict yourself to applying just one or some of these techniques in isolation, you risk having bugs that slip through the cracks. A safer, more effective strategy is to use all of these complementary techniques in concert. This establishes a bulletproof framework that helps you find bugs which are likely to evade specific techniques. It also creates an environment that helps you find functional problems, which can be the most critical and difficult to detect.

This paper will explain how automated techniques such as pattern-based static code analysis, runtime error detection, unit testing, and flow analysis can be used together to find bugs in a Java web application. These techniques will be demonstrated using Parasoft Jtest, an integrated solution for automating a broad range of best practices proven to improve software development team productivity and software quality.

As you read this paper—and whenever you think about finding bugs—it’s important to keep sight of the big picture. Automatically detecting bugs such as exceptions, race conditions, and deadlocks is undoubtedly a vital activity for any development team. However, the most deadly bugs are functional errors, which often cannot be found automatically. We’ll briefly discuss techniques for finding these bugs at the conclusion of this paper.

Introducing the Scenario

To provide a concrete example, we will introduce and demonstrate the recommended bug-finding strategies in the context of an e-commerce website: the JPetStore demo.

Assume that an end user reports a bug: although the online shopping cart should be aggregating similar items and increasing the quantity, it actually keeps multiple requests for the same item separate. It is not surprising that this bug made it past QA; it does not block online purchases, and thus could be perceived as a minor annoyance. Development is notified of the problem, but they are not sure why it is occurring. They claim that code was written to handle this exact case.

Development can try to debug it, but debugging on the production server is time-consuming and tedious. They would need to step through each statement of business logic as it executes in hopes of spotting the point where the runtime behavior deviates from their plan. Even if they find the point where plan and reality diverge, the underlying cause may not be apparent. Alternatively, they might apply certain tools or techniques proven to pinpoint errors automatically.

At this point, the developers can start crossing their fingers as they try to debug the application with the debugger. Or, they can apply an automated testing strategy in order to peel errors out of the code. If the application is still not working after they try the automated techniques, they can then go to the debugger as a last resort.

Problem Report

To reproduce this problem in the online pet store application, add a pet to the shopping cart, and then add the same pet again. For example:

  1. Add a goldfish to the shopping cart.
  2. Add another goldfish to the shopping cart. The cart shows two separate goldfish items—each with a quantity of one.

The intended behavior is for the shopping cart to show a single line item for goldfish, and for that line to have a quantity of two.

Reproducing the Problem Scenario with Jtest Tracer

Based on previous experience fixing defects, the developers know that this problem scenario will need to be recreated several times during the course of troubleshooting, fixing, and verifying the reported problem. This can be done much faster with an automated test that reproduces the problem. With a unit test that fails in isolation until this specific problem is fixed, the developers won’t need to re-deploy to the application server for manual testing.

This functional unit testing can be facilitated with Jtest Tracer, which automates the process of building unit tests based on recorded manual interactions with an application...


To read more, download the complete Integrated Error-Detection Techniques: Find More Bugs in Java Applications paper as a PDF.