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Evaluation of software dependability

Littlewood, B. (1996). Evaluation of software dependability. In: Wand, I. C. & Milner, R. (Eds.), Computing Tomorrow: Future Research Directions in Computer Science. (pp. 198-216). New York, USA: Cambridge University Press.


It has been said that the term software engineering is an aspiration not a description. We would like to be able to claim that we engineer software, in the same sense that we engineer an aero-engine, but most of us would agree that this is not currently an accurate description of our activities. My suspicion is that it never will be.

From the point of view of this essay – i.e. dependability evaluation – a major difference between software and other engineering artefacts is that the former is pure design. Its unreliability is always the result of design faults, which in turn arise as a result of human intellectual failures. The unreliability of hardware systems, on the other hand, has tended until recently to be dominated by random physical failures of components – the consequences of the ‘perversity of nature’. Reliability theories have been developed over the years which have successfully allowed systems to be built to high reliability requirements, and the final system reliability to be evaluated accurately. Even for pure hardware systems, without software, however, the very success of these theories has more recently highlighted the importance of design faults in determining the overall reliability of the final product. The conventional hardware reliability theory does not address this problem at all.

In the case of software, there is no physical source of failures, and so none of the reliability theory developed for hardware is relevant. We need new theories that will allow us to achieve required dependability levels, and to evaluate the actual dependability that has been achieved, when the sources of the faults that ultimately result in failure are human intellectual failures.

Publication Type: Book Section
Publisher Keywords: Computers
Subjects: Q Science > QA Mathematics > QA76 Computer software
Departments: School of Science & Technology > Computer Science > Software Reliability
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