1. What is 'Software Quality Assurance'?
2. What is 'Software Testing'?
3. What are some recent major computer system failures caused by software bugs?
4. Why is it often hard for management to get serious about quality assurance?
5. Why does software have bugs?
6. How can new Software QA processes be introduced in an existing organization?
7. What is verification? Validation?
8. What is a 'walkthrough'?
9. What's an 'inspection'?
10. What kinds of testing should be considered?
11. What are 5 common problems in the software development process?
12. What are 5 common solutions to software development problems?
13. What is software 'quality'?
14. What is 'good code'?
15. What is 'good design'?
16. What is SEI? CMM? CMMI? ISO? Will it help?
17. What is the 'software life cycle'?
18. Will automated testing tools make testing easier?
1.What is 'Software Quality Assurance'? Software QA involves the entire software development Process - monitoring and improving the process, making sure that any agreed-upon standards and procedures are followed, and ensuring that problems are found and dealt with. It is oriented to 'prevention'. (See the Books section for a list of useful books on Software Quality Assurance.)
2.What is 'Software Testing'? Testing involves operation of a system or application under controlled conditions and evaluating the results (eg, 'if the user is in interface A of the application while using hardware B, and does C, then D should happen'). The controlled conditions should include both normal and abnormal conditions. Testing should intentionally attempt to make things go wrong to determine if things happen when they shouldn't or things don't happen when they should. It is oriented to 'detection'.
Organizations vary considerably in how they assign responsibility for QA and testing. Sometimes they're the combined responsibility of one group or individual. Also common are project teams that include a mix of testers and developers who work closely together, with overall QA processes monitored by project managers. It will depend on what best fits an organization's size and business structure.
3. What are some recent major computer system failures caused by software bugs?
* Media reports in January of 2005 detailed severe problems with a $170 million high-profile U.S. government IT systems project. Software testing was one of the five major problem areas according to a report of the commission reviewing the project. Studies were under way to determine which, if any, portions of the project could be salvaged.
* In July 2004 newspapers reported that a new government welfare management system in Canada costing several hundred million dollars was unable to handle a simple benefits rate increase after being put into live operation. Reportedly the original contract allowed for only 6 weeks of acceptance testing and the system was never tested for its ability to handle a rate increase.
* Millions of bank accounts were impacted by errors due to installation of inadequately tested software code in the transaction processing system of a major North American bank, according to mid-2004 news reports. Articles about the incident stated that it took two weeks to fix all the resulting errors, that additional problems resulted when the incident drew a large number of e-mail phishing attacks against the bank's customers, and that the total cost of the incident could exceed $100 million.
* A bug in site management software utilized by companies with a significant percentage of worldwide web traffic was reported in May of 2004. The bug resulted in performance problems for many of the sites simultaneously and required disabling of the software until the bug was fixed.
* According to news reports in April of 2004, a software bug was determined to be a major contributor to the 2003 Northeast blackout, the worst power system failure in North American history. The failure involved loss of electrical power to 50 million customers, forced shutdown of 100 power plants, and economic losses estimated at $6 billion. The bug was reportedly in one utility company's vendor-supplied power monitoring and management system, which was unable to correctly handle and report on an unusual confluence of initially localized events. The error was found and corrected after examining millions of lines of code.
* In early 2004, news reports revealed the intentional use of a software bug as a counter-espionage tool. According to the report, in the early 1980's one nation surreptitiously allowed a hostile nation's espionage service to steal a version of sophisticated industrial software that had intentionally-added flaws. This eventually resulted in major industrial disruption in the country that used the stolen flawed software.
* A major U.S. retailer was reportedly hit with a large government fine in October of 2003 due to web site errors that enabled customers to view one anothers' online orders.
* News stories in the fall of 2003 stated that a manufacturing company recalled all their transportation products in order to fix a software problem causing instability in certain circumstances. The company found and reported the bug itself and initiated the recall procedure in which a software upgrade fixed the problems.
* In January of 2001 newspapers reported that a major European railroad was hit by the aftereffects of the Y2K bug. The company found that many of their newer trains would not run due to their inability to recognize the date '31/12/2000'; the trains were started by altering the control system's date settings.
* News reports in September of 2000 told of a software vendor settling a lawsuit with a large mortgage lender; the vendor had reportedly delivered an online mortgage processing system that did not meet specifications, was delivered late, and didn't work.
* In early 2000, major problems were reported with a new computer system in a large suburban U.S. public school district with 100,000+ students; problems included 10,000 erroneous report cards and students left stranded by failed class registration systems; the district's CIO was fired. The school district decided to reinstate it's original 25-year old system for at least a year until the bugs were worked out of the new system by the software vendors.
* In October of 1999 the $125 million NASA Mars Climate Orbiter spacecraft was believed to be lost in space due to a simple data conversion error. It was determined that spacecraft software used certain data in English units that should have been in metric units. Among other tasks, the orbiter was to serve as a communications relay for the Mars Polar Lander mission, which failed for unknown reasons in December 1999. Several investigating panels were convened to determine the process failures that allowed the error to go undetected.
* Bugs in software supporting a large commercial high-speed data network affected 70,000 business customers over a period of 8 days in August of 1999. Among those affected was the electronic trading system of the largest U.S. futures exchange, which was shut down for most of a week as a result of the outages.
* January 1998 news reports told of software problems at a major U.S. telecommunications company that resulted in no charges for long distance calls for a month for 400,000 customers. The problem went undetected until customers called up with questions about their bills.
4.Why is it often hard for management to get serious about quality assurance?
* Solving problems is a high-visibility process; preventing problems is low-visibility. This is illustrated by an old parable: In ancient China there was a family of healers, one of whom was known throughout the land and employed as a physician to a great lord.
5.Why does software have bugs?
* Miscommunication or no communication - as to specifics of what an application should or shouldn't do (the application's requirements).
* Software complexity - the complexity of current software applications can be difficult to comprehend for anyone without experience in modern-day software development. Multi-tiered applications, client-server and distributed applications, data communications, enormous relational databases, and sheer size of applications have all contributed to the exponential growth in software/system complexity.
* Programming errors - programmers, like anyone else, can make mistakes.
* Changing requirements (whether documented or undocumented) - the end-user may not understand the effects of changes, or may understand and request them anyway - redesign, rescheduling of engineers, effects on other projects, work already completed that may have to be redone or thrown out, hardware requirements that may be affected, etc. If there are many minor changes or any major changes, known and unknown dependencies among parts of the project are likely to interact and cause problems, and the complexity of coordinating changes may result in errors. Enthusiasm of engineering staff may be affected. In some fast-changing business environments, continuously modified requirements may be a fact of life. In this case, management must understand the resulting risks, and QA and test engineers must adapt and plan for continuous extensive testing to keep the inevitable bugs from running out of control - see 'What can be done if requirements are changing continuously?' in Part 2 of the FAQ. Also see information about 'agile' approaches such as XP, also in Part 2 of the FAQ.
* Time pressures - scheduling of software projects is difficult at best, often requiring a lot of guesswork. When deadlines loom and the crunch comes, mistakes will be made.
* egos - people prefer to say things like:
* * 'no problem'
* * 'piece of cake'
* * 'I can whip that out in a few hours'
* * 'it should be easy to update that old code'
* instead of:
* * 'that adds a lot of complexity and we could end up making a lot of mistakes'
* * 'we have no idea if we can do that; we'll wing it'
* * 'I can't estimate how long it will take, until I take a close look at it'
* * 'we can't figure out what that old spaghetti code did in the first place'
If there are too many unrealistic 'no problem's', the result is bugs.
* Poorly documented code - it's tough to maintain and modify code that is badly written or poorly documented; the result is bugs. In many organizations management provides no incentive for programmers to document their code or write clear, understandable, maintainable code. In fact, it's usually the opposite: they get points mostly for quickly turning out code, and there's job security if nobody else can understand it ('if it was hard to write, it should be hard to read').
* Software development tools - visual tools, class libraries, compilers, scripting tools, etc. often introduce their own bugs or are poorly documented, resulting in added bugs.
6.How can new Software QA processes be introduced in an existing organization?
* A lot depends on the size of the organization and the risks involved. For large organizations with high-risk (in terms of lives or property) projects, serious management buy-in is required and a formalized QA process is necessary.
* Where the risk is lower, management and organizational buy-in and QA implementation may be a slower, step-at-a-time process. QA processes should be balanced with productivity so as to keep bureaucracy from getting out of hand.
* For small groups or projects, a more ad-hoc process may be appropriate, depending on the type of customers and projects. A lot will depend on team leads or managers, feedback to developers, and ensuring adequate communications among customers, managers, developers, and testers.
* The most value for effort will often be in (a) requirements management processes, with a goal of clear, complete, testable requirement specifications embodied in requirements or design documentation, or in 'agile'-type environments extensive continuous coordination with end-users, (b) design inspections and code inspections, and (c) post-mortems/retrospectives.
7.What is verification? validation?
* Verification typically involves reviews and meetings to evaluate documents, plans, code, requirements, and specifications. This can be done with checklists, issues lists, walkthroughs, and inspection meetings. Validation typically involves actual testing and takes place after verifications are completed. The term 'IV & V' refers to Independent Verification and Validation.
8.What is a 'walkthrough'?
* A 'walkthrough' is an informal meeting for evaluation or informational purposes. Little or no preparation is usually required.
9.What's an 'inspection'?
* An inspection is more formalized than a 'walkthrough', typically with 3-8 people including a moderator, reader, and a recorder to take notes. The subject of the inspection is typically a document such as a requirements spec or a test plan, and the purpose is to find problems and see what's missing, not to fix anything. Attendees should prepare for this type of meeting by reading thru the document; most problems will be found during this preparation. The result of the inspection meeting should be a written report.
10.What kinds of testing should be considered?
* Black box testing - not based on any knowledge of internal design or code. Tests are based on requirements and functionality.
* White box testing - based on knowledge of the internal logic of an application's code. Tests are based on coverage of code statements, branches, paths, conditions.
* Unit testing - the most 'micro' scale of testing; to test particular functions or code modules. Typically done by the programmer and not by testers, as it requires detailed knowledge of the internal program design and code. Not always easily done unless the application has a well-designed architecture with tight code; may require developing test driver modules or test harnesses.
* Incremental integration testing - continuous testing of an application as new functionality is added; requires that various aspects of an application's functionality be independent enough to work separately before all parts of the program are completed, or that test drivers be developed as needed; done by programmers or by testers.
* Integration testing - testing of combined parts of an application to determine if they function together correctly. The 'parts' can be code modules, individual applications, client and server applications on a network, etc. This type of testing is especially relevant to client/server and distributed systems.
* Functional testing - black-box type testing geared to functional requirements of an application; this type of testing should be done by testers. This doesn't mean that the programmers shouldn't check that their code works before releasing it (which of course applies to any stage of testing.)
* System testing - black-box type testing that is based on overall requirements specifications; covers all combined parts of a system.
* End-to-end testing - similar to system testing; the 'macro' end of the test scale; involves testing of a complete application environment in a situation that mimics real-world use, such as interacting with a database, using network communications, or interacting with other hardware, applications, or systems if appropriate.
* Sanity testing or smoke testing - typically an initial testing effort to determine if a new software version is performing well enough to accept it for a major testing effort. For example, if the new software is crashing systems every 5 minutes, bogging down systems to a crawl, or corrupting databases, the software may not be in a 'sane' enough condition to warrant further testing in its current state.
* Regression testing - re-testing after fixes or modifications of the software or its environment. It can be difficult to determine how much re-testing is needed, especially near the end of the development cycle. Automated testing tools can be especially useful for this type of testing.
* Acceptance testing - final testing based on specifications of the end-user or customer, or based on use by end-users/customers over some limited period of time.
* Load testing - testing an application under heavy loads, such as testing of a web site under a range of loads to determine at what point the system's response time degrades or fails.
* Stress testing - term often used interchangeably with 'load' and 'performance' testing. Also used to describe such tests as system functional testing while under unusually heavy loads, heavy repetition of certain actions or inputs, input of large numerical values, large complex queries to a database system, etc.
* Performance testing - term often used interchangeably with 'stress' and 'load' testing. Ideally 'performance' testing (and any other 'type' of testing) is defined in requirements documentation or QA or Test Plans.
* Usability testing - testing for 'user-friendliness'. Clearly this is subjective, and will depend on the targeted end-user or customer. User interviews, surveys, video recording of user sessions, and other techniques can be used. Programmers and testers are usually not appropriate as usability testers.
* Install/uninstall testing - testing of full, partial, or upgrade install/uninstall processes.
* Recovery testing - testing how well a system recovers from crashes, hardware failures, or other catastrophic problems.
* Failover testing - typically used interchangeably with 'recovery testing'
* Security testing - testing how well the system protects against unauthorized internal or external access, willful damage, etc; may require sophisticated testing techniques.
* Compatability testing - testing how well software performs in a particular hardware/software/operating system/network/etc. environment.
* Exploratory testing - often taken to mean a creative, informal software test that is not based on formal test plans or test cases; testers may be learning the software as they test it.
* Ad-hoc testing - similar to exploratory testing, but often taken to mean that the testers have significant understanding of the software before testing it.
* Context-driven testing - testing driven by an understanding of the environment, culture, and intended use of software. For example, the testing approach for life-critical medical equipment software would be completely different than that for a low-cost computer game.
* User acceptance testing - determining if software is satisfactory to an end-user or customer.
* Comparison testing - comparing software weaknesses and strengths to competing products.
* Alpha testing - testing of an application when development is nearing completion; minor design changes may still be made as a result of such testing. Typically done by end-users or others, not by programmers or testers.
* Beta testing - testing when development and testing are essentially completed and final bugs and problems need to be found before final release. Typically done by end-users or others, not by programmers or testers.
* Mutation testing - a method for determining if a set of test data or test cases is useful, by deliberately introducing various code changes ('bugs') and retesting with the original test data/cases to determine if the 'bugs' are detected. Proper implementation requires large computational resources.
11.What are 5 common problems in the software development process?
* Solid requirements - clear, complete, detailed, cohesive, attainable, testable requirements that are agreed to by all players. Use prototypes to help nail down requirements. In 'agile'-type environments, continuous coordination with customers/end-users is necessary.
* Realistic schedules - allow adequate time for planning, design, testing, bug fixing, re-testing, changes, and documentation; personnel should be able to complete the project without burning out.
* Adequate testing - start testing early on, re-test after fixes or changes, plan for adequate time for testing and bug-fixing. 'Early' testing ideally includes unit testing by developers and built-in testing and diagnostic capabilities.
* Stick to initial requirements as much as possible - be prepared to defend against excessive changes and additions once development has begun, and be prepared to explain consequences. If changes are necessary, they should be adequately reflected in related schedule changes. If possible, work closely with customers/end-users to manage expectations. This will provide them a higher comfort level with their requirements decisions and minimize excessive changes later on.
* Communication - require walkthroughs and inspections when appropriate; make extensive use of group communication tools - e-mail, groupware, networked bug-tracking tools and change management tools, intranet capabilities, etc.; insure that information/documentation is available and up-to-date - preferably electronic, not paper; promote teamwork and cooperation; use protoypes if possible to clarify customers' expectations.
12.What is software 'quality'?
* Quality software is reasonably bug-free, delivered on time and within budget, meets requirements and/or expectations, and is maintainable. However, quality is obviously a subjective term. It will depend on who the 'customer' is and their overall influence in the scheme of things. A wide-angle view of the 'customers' of a software development project might include end-users, customer acceptance testers, customer contract officers, customer management, the development organization's.
* Management/accountants/testers/salespeople, future software maintenance engineers, stockholders, magazine columnists, etc. Each type of 'customer' will have their own slant on 'quality' - the accounting department might define quality in terms of profits while an end-user might define quality as user-friendly and bug-free.
13.What is 'good code'?
* * 'Good code' is code that works, is bug free, and is readable and maintainable. Some organizations have coding 'standards' that all developers are supposed to adhere to, but everyone has different ideas about what's best, or what is too many or too few rules. There are also various theories and metrics, such as McCabe Complexity metrics. It should be kept in mind that excessive use of standards and rules can stifle productivity and creativity. 'Peer reviews', 'buddy checks' code analysis tools, etc. can be used to check for problems and enforce standards. For C and C++ coding, here are some typical ideas to consider in setting rules/standards; these may or may not apply to a particular situation:
* Minimize or eliminate use of global variables.
* Use descriptive function and method names - use both upper and lower case, avoid abbreviations, use as many characters as necessary to be adequately descriptive (use of more than 20 characters is not out of line); be consistent in naming conventions.
* Use descriptive variable names - use both upper and lower case, avoid abbreviations, use as many characters as necessary to be adequately descriptive (use of more than 20 characters is not out of line); be consistent in naming conventions.
* Function and method sizes should be minimized; less than 100 lines of code is good, less than 50 lines is preferable.
* Function descriptions should be clearly spelled out in comments preceding a function's code.
* Organize code for readability.
* Use whitespace generously - vertically and horizontally.
* Each line of code should contain 70 characters max.
* One code statement per line.
* Coding style should be consistent throught a program (eg, use of brackets, indentations, naming conventions, etc.)
* In adding comments, err on the side of too many rather than too few comments; a common rule of thumb is that there should be at least as many lines of comments (including header blocks) as lines of code.
* No matter how small, an application should include documentaion of the overall program function and flow (even a few paragraphs is better than nothing); or if possible a separate flow chart and detailed program documentation.
* Make extensive use of error handling procedures and status and error logging.
* For C++, to minimize complexity and increase maintainability, avoid too many levels of inheritance in class heirarchies (relative to the size and complexity of the application). Minimize use of multiple inheritance, and minimize use of operator overloading (note that the Java programming language eliminates multiple inheritance and operator overloading.)
* For C++, keep class methods small, less than 50 lines of code per method is preferable.
* For C++, make liberal use of exception handlers.
14.What is 'good design'?
* * 'Design' could refer to many things, but often refers to 'functional design' or 'internal design'. Good internal design is indicated by software code whose overall structure is clear, understandable, easily modifiable, and maintainable; is robust with sufficient error-handling and status logging capability; and works correctly when implemented. Good functional design is indicated by an application whose functionality can be traced back to customer and end-user requirements.For programs that have a user interface, it's often a good idea to assume that the end user will have little computer knowledge and may not read a user manual or even the on-line help; some common rules-of-thumb include:
* The program should act in a way that least surprises the user
* It should always be evident to the user what can be done next and how to exit
* The program shouldn't let the users do something stupid without warning them.
15.What is SEI? CMM? CMMI? ISO? IEEE? ANSI? Will it help?
* SEI = 'Software Engineering Institute' at Carnegie-Mellon University; initiated by the U.S. Defense Department to help improve software development processes.
* CMM = 'Capability Maturity Model', now called the CMMI ('Capability Maturity Model Integration'), developed by the SEI. It's a model of 5 levels of process 'maturity' that determine effectiveness in delivering quality software. It is geared to large organizations such as large U.S. Defense Department contractors. However, many of the QA processes involved are appropriate to any organization, and if reasonably applied can be helpful. Organizations can receive CMMI ratings by undergoing assessments by qualified auditors.
* Level 1 - characterized by chaos, periodic panics, and heroic efforts required by individuals to successfully complete projects. Few if any processes in place; successes may not be repeatable.
* Level 2 - software project tracking, requirements management, realistic planning, and configuration management processes are in place; successful practices can be repeated.
* Level 3 - standard software development and maintenance processes are integrated throughout an organization; a Software Engineering Process Group is is in place to oversee software processes, and training programs are used to ensure understanding and compliance.
* Level 4 - metrics are used to track productivity, processes, and products. Project performance is predictable, and quality is consistently high.
* Level 5 - the focus is on continouous process improvement. The impact of new processes and technologies can be predicted and effectively implemented when required.
* Perspective on CMM ratings: During 1997-2001, 1018 organizations were assessed. Of those, 27% were rated at Level 1, 39% at 2, 23% at 3, 6% at 4, and 5% at 5. (For ratings during the period 1992-96, 62% were at Level 1, 23% at 2, 13% at 3, 2% at 4, and 0.4% at 5.) The median size of organizations was 100 software engineering/maintenance personnel; 32% of organizations were U.S. federal contractors or agencies. For those rated at Level 1, the most problematical key process area was in Software Quality Assurance.
* ISO = 'International Organisation for Standardization' - The ISO 9001:2000 standard (which replaces the previous standard of 1994) concerns quality systems that are assessed by outside auditors, and it applies to many kinds of production and manufacturing organizations, not just software. It covers documentation, design, development, production, testing, installation, servicing, and other processes. The full set of standards consists of: (a)Q9001-2000 - Quality Management Systems: Requirements; (b)Q9000-2000 - Quality Management Systems: Fundamentals and Vocabulary; (c)Q9004-2000 - Quality Management Systems: Guidelines for Performance Improvements. To be ISO 9001 certified, a third-party auditor assesses an organization, and certification is typically good for about 3 years, after which a complete reassessment is required. Note that ISO certification does not necessarily indicate quality products - it indicates only that documented processes are followed. Also see http://www.iso.ch/ for the latest information. In the U.S. the standards can be purchased via the ASQ web site at http://e-standards.asq.org/
* IEEE = 'Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers' - among other things, creates standards such as 'IEEE Standard for Software Test Documentation' (IEEE/ANSI Standard 829), 'IEEE Standard of Software Unit Testing (IEEE/ANSI Standard 1008), 'IEEE Standard for Software Quality Assurance Plans' (IEEE/ANSI Standard 730), and others.
* ANSI = 'American National Standards Institute', the primary industrial standards body in the U.S.; publishes some software-related standards in conjunction with the IEEE and ASQ (American Society for Quality).
* Other software development/IT management process assessment methods besides CMMI and ISO 9000 include SPICE, Trillium, TickIT, Bootstrap, ITIL, MOF, and CobiT.
16.What is the 'software life cycle'?
* The life cycle begins when an application is first conceived and ends when it is no longer in use. It includes aspects such as initial concept, requirements analysis, functional design, internal design, documentation planning, test planning, coding, document preparation, integration, testing, maintenance, updates, retesting, phase-out, and other aspects.
17.Will automated testing tools make testing easier?
* Possibly For small projects, the time needed to learn and implement them may not be worth it. For larger projects, or on-going long-term projects they can be valuable.
* A common type of automated tool is the 'record/playback' type. For example, a tester could click through all combinations of menu choices, dialog box choices, buttons, etc. in an application GUI and have them 'recorded' and the results logged by a tool. The 'recording' is typically in the form of text based on a scripting language that is interpretable by the testing tool. If new buttons are added, or some underlying code in the application is changed, etc. the application might then be retested by just 'playing back' the 'recorded' actions, and comparing the logging results to check effects of the changes. The problem with such tools is that if there are continual changes to the system being tested, the 'recordings' may have to be changed so much that it becomes very time-consuming to continuously update the scripts. Additionally, interpretation and analysis of results (screens, data, logs, etc.) can be a difficult task. Note that there are record/playback tools for text-based interfaces also, and for all types of platforms.
* Another common type of approach for automation of functional testing is 'data-driven' or 'keyword-driven' automated testing, in which the test drivers are separated from the data and/or actions utilized in testing (an 'action' would be something like 'enter a value in a text box'). Test drivers can be in the form of automated test tools or custom-written testing software. The data and actions can be more easily maintained - such as via a spreadsheet - since they are separate from the test drivers. The test drivers 'read' the data/action information to perform specified tests. This approach can enable more efficient control, development, documentation, and maintenance of automated tests/test cases.
* Other automated tools can include:
* Code analyzers - monitor code complexity, adherence to standards, etc.
* Coverage analyzers - these tools check which parts of the code have been exercised by a test, and may be oriented to code statement coverage, condition coverage, path coverage, etc.
* Memory analyzers - such as bounds-checkers and leak detectors.
* Load/performance test tools - for testing client/server and web applications under various load levels.
* Web test tools - to check that links are valid, HTML code usage is correct, client-side and server-side programs work, a web site's interactions are secure.
* Other tools - for test case management, documentation management, bug reporting, and configuration management.