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Coverity CTO Q&A: New, Microsoft-friendlier tools ease app fixes

Ben Chelf CTO CoverityToday, the development community gets a first look at Coverity Prevent’s new Microsoft-friendly analysis tools. Yesterday, I talked with Coverity Inc. CTO Ben Chelf about how the new features will help software developers beat problems like deadlocks and race conditions and save time detecting defects. We also touched on Prevent’s role in cloud computing development. After a short bit of background here’s a Q&A based on our conversation.

Coverity Prevent, Coverity’s flagship static analysis solution, can now give Microsoft developers better tools for finding and fixing defects. With the new features, developers get modeling for Win32 concurrency APIs, Microsoft Windows Vista support and integration with Microsoft Visual Studio.

In addition, Coverity has dropped in some quality and concurrency checkers for C#. On Jan. 19, Coverity introduced Prevent for C#, a tool for identifying critical source code defects in .NET applications.

What gaps in analysis functionality will be filled by Prevent’s new features?

Chelf: The new features add Microsoft-specific checks that have a deep understanding of the Microsoft platform directly to the developer desktop in the developer’s IDE. IT pros now can save money on traditional testing techniques, since many of the problems that were previously discovered in testing or post-release are now discovered as the developer is writing the code. Every IT professional wrestles with testing costs and the time it takes to get a software system out the door, and this technology accelerates that process.

While other companies have desktop plugins for general static analysis solutions, because the checking is not Microsoft-specific, the other products tend to suffer from high false positive rates which can quickly turn off developers leaving the tool as shelfware.

In general, what software testing and quality assurance (QA) problems will this solve?

Chelf: The problem this solves is in some of the very difficult-to-reproduce defects. Especially when tracking down concurrency problems, the QA department has a very hard time putting together the exact test suite to make an application fail the way it would fail in production. These wasted cycles are now eliminated by finding the problems earlier in the development process.

So, for example, how would Prevent help with race conditions?

Chelf: That’s one concurrency problem that can happen when you’re developing in a multithreaded application and you have multiple things happening simultaneously. These threads in the application are all trying to access the same memory. If they access it at the same time without any kind of protection, the data can be corrupted. Without static analysis capability, the only way to track these things down is to find them in the testing environment. Since multithreaded problems are difficult to diagnose, because you are at the whim of how the different threads are scheduled, it can often take the developers days or weeks to reproduce a problem they encounter.

This new technology helps them find problems more quickly. As they are writing the code themselves, they’re sitting in the IDE and saving their files and checking in code into their source code management system from time to time. The Prevent technology gives them in IDE another button that says, “Analyze my source code.” Then, they get automated analysis of all the source code in the system, not only the source code they’re writing. They can do a kind of virtual simulation of the software system looking for these kinds of problems.

How can Prevent’s new features accelerate development in virtual cloud computing environments?

Chelf: And as it pertains to the cloud, many applications are moving more toward multithreaded design in order to take advantage of multiple cores on a machine as well as multiple machines in a cluster. However, distributing computation like this introduces a new class of potential coding defects that our technology helps address.

In the multicore era, there are going to be more and more multithreaded applications, and that introduces a host of problems that we’re trying to rid the world of, such as deadlocks and race conditions.

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