Static Code Analysis: A Systematic Literature Review and an Industrial Survey
Context: Static code analysis is a software verification technique that refers to the process of examining code without executing it in order to capture defects in the code early, avoiding later costly fixations. The lack of realistic empirical evaluations in software engineering has been identified as a major issue limiting the ability of research to impact industry and in turn preventing feedback from industry that can improve, guide and orient research. Studies emphasized rigor and relevance as important criteria to assess the quality and realism of research. The rigor defines how adequately a study has been carried out and reported, while relevance defines the potential impact of the study on industry. Despite the importance of static code analysis techniques and its existence for more than three decades, the number of empirical evaluations in this field are less in number and do not take into account the rigor and relevance into consideration.
Objectives: The aim of this study is to contribute toward bridging the gap between static code analysis research and industry by improving the ability of research to impact industry and vice versa. This study has two main objectives. First, developing guidelines for researchers, which will explore the existing research work in static code analysis research to identify the current status, shortcomings, rigor and industrial relevance of the research, reported benefits/limitations of different static code analysis techniques, and finally, give recommendations to researchers to help improve the future research to make it more industrial oriented. Second, developing guidelines for practitioners, which will investigate the adoption of different static code analysis techniques in industry and identify benefits/limitations of these techniques as perceived by industrial professionals. Then cross-analyze the findings of the SLR and the surbvey to draw final conclusions, and finally, give recommendations to professionals to help them decide which techniques to adopt.
Methods: A sequential exploratory strategy characterized by the collection and analysis of qualitative data (systematic literature review) followed by the collection and analysis of quantitative data (survey), has been used to conduct this research. In order to achieve the first objective, a thorough systematic literature review has been conducted using Kitchenham guidelines. To achieve the second study objective, a questionnaire-based online survey was conducted, targeting professionals from software industry in order to collect their responses regarding the usage of different static code analysis techniques, as well as their benefits and limitations. The quantitative data obtained was subjected to statistical analysis for the further interpretation of the data and draw results based on it.
Results: In static code analysis research, inspection and static analysis tools received significantly more attention than the other techniques. The benefits and limitations of static code analysis techniques were extracted and seven recurrent variables were used to report them. The existing research work in static code analysis field significantly lacks rigor and relevance and the reason behind it has been identified. Somre recommendations are developed outlining how to improve static code analysis research and make it more industrial oriented. From the industrial point of view, static analysis tools are widely used followed by informal reviews, while inspections and walkthroughs are rarely used. The benefits and limitations of different static code analysis techniques, as perceived by industrial professionals, have been identified along with the influential factors.
Conclusions: The SLR concluded that the techniques having a formal, well-defined process and process elements have receive more attention in research, however, this doesn’t necessarily mean that technique is better than the other techniques. The experiments have been used widely as a research method in static code analysis research, but the outcome variables in the majority of the experiments are inconsistent. The use of experiments in academic context contributed nothing to improve the relevance, while the inadequate reporting of validity threats and their mitigation strategies contributed significantly to poor rigor of research. The benefits and limitations of different static code analysis techniques identified by the SLR could not complement the survey findings, because the rigor and relevance of most of the studies reporting them was weak. The survey concluded that the adoption of static code analysis techniques in the industry is more influenced by the software life-cycle models in practice in organizations, while software product type and company size do not have much influence. The amount of attention a static code analysis technique has received in research doesn’t necessarily influence its adoption in industry which indicates a wide gap between research and industry. However, the company size, product type, and software life-cycle model do influence professionals perception on benefits and limitations of different static code analysis techniques.
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