The Evolution of Static Code Analysis – Part 1: The Early Years

The Evolution of Static Code Analysis – Part 1: The Early Years

on May 17, 11 • by Todd Landry • with 2 Comments

Our marketing people here at Klocwork like to see me racking up frequent flyer miles and expending CO2 at roadshows, conferences and tradeshows. Whenever I’m out speaking, I always like to gauge audience familiarity with Static Code Analysis. I’m happy to say that SCA knowledge has definitely increased over the...

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Our marketing people here at Klocwork like to see me racking up frequent flyer miles and expending CO2 at roadshows, conferences and tradeshows. Whenever I’m out speaking, I always like to gauge audience familiarity with Static Code Analysis.

I’m happy to say that SCA knowledge has definitely increased over the years, but it is still not up to levels enjoyed by unit testing or integration testing.

What I plan to do over the next three weeks is to provide you with a history lesson on how Static Code Analysis has evolved over the past few decades (yes, it has been around that long!). The three different eras I will be addressing are The Early Years, The Early 21st Century, and  The Present Day.

The Early Years

As I mentioned earlier, Static Code Analysis has actually been around since the time of bell bottoms, disco music, and Space Invaders (check out the Space Invaders link)–yes, the good ole 1970s. Who out there has heard of Lint (and no, I’m not talking about the fluff coming from your old bell bottoms pockets)?

Lint was one of these first-generation SCA tools introduced in the late 70s. These tools targeted low hanging fruit in C code, such as missing or extra semi-colons, missing curlicues, potentially dangerous implicit casts, and so on.

These tools were closely integrated with the compile and link process, and so this seemed like the best time to show its errors and warnings, while the developer was actually “in process” and fixing problems found by the compiler. Since these tools delivered its warnings at compile time, it quickly became a tool that was adopted and owned by the developers themselves.

Life was good. Well, until the bugs that were being found were deemed to be relatively trivial or completely erroneous (the dreaded false positive). The problem was that these tools were only able to see one file at a time, but for accurate static analysis there is a strong need to know everything that’s going on within the entire stream.

Without that vision of the entire stream, no matter how sophisticated the analysis tools are, they will make incorrect assumptions most of the time. Because of these inaccuracies, these first-generation tools never gained the widespread acceptance of software developers.

Next up will be a look at static analysis tools during a time when “Whassssuuuupp” became a household term.

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