Monday, September 29, 2014

Go Beyond System Functional Testing To Ensure Safety

Testing alone is insufficient to ensure safety in critical systems. Other technical approaches and software development process management approaches must also be used to assure sufficient software integrity.

Relying upon just system functional testing to achieve safety can be expected to eventually lead to an unsafe situation in a widely released product. Even if system functional testing is completely representative of situations that will happen in practice, such testing normally won’t be long enough to see all of the infrequent events that will occur with a much larger fleet of vehicles deployed for a much longer period of time.

Accepted Practices:

  • Specifically identify and follow a process to design in safety rather than attempting to test it in after the product has already been built. The MISRA Guidelines describe an example of an automotive-specific process.
  • Include defined activities beyond hiring smart designers and performing extensive functional testing. While details might vary depending upon the project, as an example, an acceptable set of practices for critical software by the late 1990s would have included the following (assuming that MISRA Safety Integrity Level 3 were an appropriate categorization of the functions): precisely written functional specifications, use of a restricted language subset (e.g., MISRA C), a way of ensuring compilers produced correct code, configuration management, change management, automated build processes, automated configuration audits, unit testing to a defined level of coverage, stress testing, static analysis, a written safety case, deadlock analysis, justification/demonstration of test coverage, safety training of personnel, and availability of written documentation for assessment of safety (auditability of the process). (The required level of care today is, if anything, even more rigorous for such systems.)

There is a saying about quality: “You can’t test in quality; you have to design it in from the start.” It is well known that the same is true of safety.

Assuring safety requires more than just using capable designers and performing extensive testing (although those two factors are important). Even the best designers – like all humans – are imperfect, and even the most extensive system-level functional testing cannot hope to find everything that can go wrong in a large deployed fleet such as an automobile. It should be apparent than everyone can make a mistake, even careful designers. But beyond that, system level functional testing (e.g., driving a car around in a variety of circumstances) cannot be expected to find all the defects in software, because there are just too many situations that can occur to experience them all in testing. This is especially true if a combination of events that causes a software failure just happens to be one that the testers didn’t think of putting into the test plan. (Test plans have bugs and gaps too.) Therefore, it has long been recognized that creating safe software requires more than just trying hard to get the design right and trying really hard to test well.

Accepted practices require a holistic approach to safety, including executing a well-defined process, having a written plan to achieve safety, using techniques to ensuring safety such as fault tree analysis, and auditing the process to ensure all required steps are being performed.

An accepted way of ensuring that safety has been considered appropriately is to have a written document that argues why a system is safe (sometimes called a safety case or safety argument). The safety case should give quantitative arguments as to why safety is inherent in the system. An argument that says “we tested for X hours” would be insufficient – unless it also said “and that covered 99.999% of all anticipated operating scenarios as well as thoroughly exercising every line of code” or some other type of argument that testing was thorough. After all, running a car in circles around a track is not the same level of testing as a cross-country drive over mountains. Or one that goes to Alaska in the winter and Death Valley in the summer. Or one that does so with 1000 cars to catch situations in which things inside one of those many cars just happen to line up in just the wrong way to cause a system failure. But even with the significant level of testing done by automotive companies, the safety case must also include things such as the level of peer reviews conducted, whether fault tree analysis revealed single points of failure, and so on. In other words, it’s inadequate to say “we tried really hard” or “we are really smart” or “we spent a whole lot of time testing.” It is essential to also justify that broad coverage was achieved using a variety of relevant techniques.

Selected Sources:
Beatty, in a paper aimed at educating embedded system practitioners, explains that code inspections and testing aren’t sufficient to detect many common types of errors in complex embedded systems (Beatty 2003, pg. 36). He identifies five areas that require special attention: stack overflows, race conditions, deadlocks, timing problems, and reentrancy conditions. He states that “All of these issues are prevalent in systems that employ multitasking real-time designs.”

Lists of techniques that could be applied to ensure safety beyond just testing have been well known for many years, with a relatively comprehensive example being IEC 61508 Part 7.

Even if you could test everything (which you can’t), dealing with low-probability faults that can be expected to affect a huge deployed fleet of automobiles just takes too long. “It is impossible to gain confidence about a system reliability of 100,000 years by testing,” (written in reference specifically to drive-by-wire automobiles and their requirement for a mean-time-to-failure of 1 billion hours) (Kopetz 2004, p. 32, emphasis per original)

Butler and Finelli wrote the classical academic reference on this point, stating that attaining software needed for safety critical applications will “inevitably lead to a need for testing beyond what is practical” because the testing time must be longer than the acceptable catastrophic software failure rate. (Butler 1993, p. 3, paper entitled “The infeasibility of quantifying the reliability of life-critical real-time software.” See also Littlewood and Strigini 1993.)

Knutson gives an overview of software safety practices, and makes it clear that testing isn’t enough to create a safe system: “Even if we are wary of these dangerous assumptions, we still have to recognize the limitations inherent in testing as a means of bringing quality to a system. First of all, testing cannot prove correctness. In other words, testing can show the existence of a defect, but not the absence of faults. The only way to prove correctness via testing would be to hit all possible states, which as we’ve stated previously, is fundamentally intractable.” (Knutson 2000, pg. 34). Knutson suggests peer reviews as a technique beyond testing that will help.

NASA says that “You can’t test everything. Exhaustive testing cannot be done except for the most trivial of systems.” (NASA 2004, p. 77).

Kendall presents a case study for an electronic throttle control (with mechanical fail-safes) using a two-CPU approach (a “sub Processor” and a “Main Processor”). The automotive supplier elected to follow the IEC 1508 draft standard (a draft of the IEC 61508 standard), also borrowing elements from the MISRA software guidelines. Steps that were performed include: preliminary hazard analysis with mapping to MISRA SILs, review of standards and procedures to ensure they were up to date with accepted practices; on-site audits of development processes; FMEA by an independent agency; FTA by an independent agency; Markov modeling (a technique for analyzing failure probabilities); independent documentation review; mathematical proofs of correctness; and safety validation testing. (Kendall 1996)  Important points from this paper relevant to this case include: “it is well accepted that software cannot be shown to be suitable for [its] intended use by testing alone” (id. pg. 6); “Software robustness must be demonstrated by ensuring the process used to develop it is appropriate, and that this process is rigorously followed.” (id., pg. 6); “safety validation must consider the effect of the vehicle under as many failure conditions as is possible to generate.” (id., p. 7).

Roger Rivett from Rover Group wrote a paper in 1997 based on a collaborative government-sponsored research effort that specifically addresses how automotive manufacturers should proceed to ensure the safety of vehicles. He makes an important point that rigorous use of good software practice is required in addition to testing (Rivett 1997, pg. 3). He has four specific conclusions for achieving a level of “good practice” for safety: use a quality management system, use a safety integrity level approach; be compliant with a sector standard (e.g., MISRA Software Guidelines), and use a third party assessment to ensure that high-integrity levels have been achieved. (Rivett 1997, pg. 10).

MISRA Development Guidelines, section 3.6.1, provides a set of points that make it clear that testing is necessary, but not sufficient, to establish safety (MISRA Guidelines, pg. 49):

MISRA Testing Guidance (MISRA Software Guidelines, p. 49)

This last point of the MISRA Guidelines is key – testing can discover if something is unsafe, but testing alone cannot prove that a system is safe.

"Testing on its own is not adequate for assessing safety-related software."  (MISRA report 2 pg. iv) In particular, system-level testing (such as at the vehicle level), cannot hope to uncover all the possible faults or exceptional situations can will result in mishaps.

  • Beatty, Where testing fails, Embedded Systems Programming, Aug 2003, pp. 36-41.
  • Butler et al., The infeasibility of quantifying the reliability of life-critical real-time software,  IEEE Trans. Software Engineering, Jan 1993, pp. 3-12.
  • IEC 61508, Functional Safety of Electrical/Electronic/Programmable Electronic Safety-related Systems (E/E/PE, or E/E/PES), International Electrotechnical Commission, 1998. Part 7.
  • Kendall, “The safety assurance of the AJV8 electronic throttle,” IEE Colloquium on the Electrical System of the Jaguar XK8, Oct 18, 1996, pp. 2/1-2/8.
  • Knutson, C. & Carmichael, S., Safety First: avoiding software mishaps, Embedded Systems Programming, November 2000, pp. 28-40.
  • Kopetz, H., On the fault hypothesis for a safety-critical real-time system, ASWSD 2004, LNCS 4147, pp. 31-42, 2006.
  • Littlewood, B., Strigini, L. (1993) “Validation of Ultra-High Dependability for Software-Based Systems,” Communications of the ACM, 36(11):69-80, November 1993.
  • MISRA, (MISRA C), Guideline for the use of the C Language in Vehicle Based Software, April 1998.
  • MISRA, Development Guidelines for Vehicle Based Software, November 1994 (PDF version 1.1, January 2001).
  • MISRA, Report 2: Integrity, February 1995.
  • NASA-GB-8719.13, NASA Software Safety Guidebook, NASA Technical Standard, March 31, 2004.
  • Rivett, "Emerging Software Best Practice and how to be Compliant", Proceedings of the 6th International EAEC Congress July 1997.

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