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MIT designs interpreter that finds code errors faster than their programmers

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April 18, 2016

Research scientists at MIT have designed a Ruby on Rails interpreter that can find code errors much faster than their original programmers.

MIT calls the interpreter 'Space' and the software has been tested against fifty popular web applications written in Rails.

Space discovered twenty-three previously undiagnosed security holes in a sample of programming code. None of the programs required more than a little over a minute for a debugging run to be successful.

Professor Daniel Jackson from MIT's department of electrical engineering and computer science developed the interpreter with a PhD student over the past few months.

They rewrote the code libraries that Rails uses and fed the results into a Rails interpreter, which converted the software into machine-readable code after checking it for bugs using statistical analysis.

"The classic example of this is if you wanted to do an abstract analysis of a program that manipulates integers, you might divide the integers into the positive integers, the negative integers, and zero," Jackson said.

"The issue with this is that it can't be completely accurate, because you lose information," Jackson said. "If you add a positive and a negative integer, you don't know whether the answer will be positive, negative, or zero."

"Most work on statistical analysis is focused on trying to make the code verification more scalable and accurate to overcome those sorts of problems," he added.

Two other attempts at a debugger were less successful however, but Space worked just fine, and the developers say it would work even better if software developers integrate it into new code libraries rather than trying to rewrite old ones.

The final code will be presented at the International Conference on Software Engineering in Austin, Texas next month.

Source: MIT.

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