In my last post, I took us back in time to an era of bad fashion, questionable music, legendary television shows, and source code analysis tools that were made specifically for software developers. It was the 1970s. In this post, I fast forward to just after the turn of the century to discuss the next evolution of static analysis tools.
The Early 21st Century
Not long after we first viewed hairy-footed Hobbits on the silver screen, and the sham that was affectionately known as Y2K, a new generation of source code analysis tools emerged to cure the errors of the first-generation tools.
These new tools looked beyond the syntactical analysis of previous tools, and instead provided inter-procedural and data-flow analysis. Low hanging fruit was definitely not the target for these tools.
These new techniques were serious–finding complex defects that could impact code quality and security, and they did that while ensuring that the “noise” (i.e. false positive rate) was greatly reduced compared to the first-generation tools. In addition to local defects, they were now identifying resource management issues, security vulnerabilities, concurrency issues, and so on. These were serious defects that, if left undetected and unfixed, had the potential for massive problems to the code stream.
In order to perform this much deeper analysis, a fundamental change in the analysis techniques had to occur. These engines needed an unfiltered view of the entire code stream, and so they became tightly integrated with the integration build process.
Umm, Houston, we have a problem. If the analysis takes place at integration build time, then that means the analysis is no longer being initiated by the developers. Source code analysis tools became centralized and moved into a more downstream process such as part of a code audit function.
Developers were now being told they created bugs well after they actually checked in the code. They had already moved onto something entirely different, so now bringing them these day-old, or week-old defects was certainly not the most productive use of their time. It is well documented that the earlier you find defects in your code, the more cost effective it is to fix them, so you can clearly see the problems with these second-generation tools.
If only there was a way to bring these second-generation analysis capabilities to the developer desktop. More about that in my next entry.