Method Calls Frequency-Based Tie-Breaking Strategy For Software Fault Localization

Qusay Idrees Sarhan, Béla Vancsics and Árpád Beszédes
In Spectrum-Based Fault Localization (SBFL), a suspiciousness score is assigned to each code element based on test coverage and test outcomes. The scores are then used to rank the code elements relative to each other in order to aid the programmer during the debugging process when seeking the source of a fault. However, probably none of the known SBFL formulae are guaranteed to produce different scores for all the program elements, hence ties emerge between the code elements. Based on our experiments, ties in SBFL are prevalent: in Defects4J, 54–56% of buggy methods are members of ties, i.e., there is at least one other method with the same score in these cases (but typically much more, on average 6), and this inevitably reduces the effectiveness of any SBFL approach. In this work, we present a technique to break ties in such cases based on the so-called method calls frequencies. This counts the number of different contexts of method calls (both as callees and as callers) in failing test cases. The intuition is that if a method appears in many different calling contexts during a failing test case, it will be more suspicious and get a higher rank position compared to other methods with the same scores. This method can be applied to any underlying SBFL formula, and can favourably break the occurring ranks in the ties in many cases. The experimental results show that our novel tie-breaking strategy achieved a significant reduction in both size and number of critical ties in our  benchmark. In 72-73% of the cases, the ties were completely eliminated and the average reduction rate was more than 80%.

Keywords: Spectrum-Based Fault Localization, Rank Tie Breaking, Call Frequency-Based Fault Localization.