posted on April 17: New lab aims to become leading source of expertise on software quality assurance


The goal for McMaster's new Software Quality Research Lab (SQRL) is to become a leading source of expertise on software quality assurance.
The research laboratory, recently approved by Senate, will be housed in the T-16 building, now undergoing renovations. The Faculty of Engineering has dedicated $50,000 for start-up costs towards the new lab that is affiliated with the Department of Computing & Software Engineering.

A team of researchers, software professionals and graduate students will work together to:

  • conduct academic research related to software quality
  • provide courses for developers on how to inspect and test software
  • cultivate personnel who are highly trained by supporting graduate theses on software quality assurance
  • provide software quality assessment with and for industry on a contract basis
  • perform joint research with developers.

In documentation to Senate, David Parnas, director of the software engineering program, said there are three approaches to software quality assurance: testing, systematic inspection and automated verification.

Testing is part of every software developer's work, Parnas said.
“Over the years there has been a great deal of research on testing but this is rarely applied in industrial practice,” Parnas wrote. “Unfortunately, testing is very often done on an ad hoc basis and doesn't yield the information that could be obtained by scientific/systematic testing.”

SQRL will include testing experts who will make their expertise available to the quality assurance projects and conduct research on new testing methods and tools, he added.

As well, security will be a high priority for research, Parnas said.
“One only has to follow the TV news to recognize that high quality software must be secure against attempt to misuse a system, deny service to legitimate users, or steal information from a system,” he said. “Research in this area has been extensive but, except for work in cryptography, little of it has helped industry.”

Parnas said researchers will be developing tools applicable to testing, inspection and verification to ensure the lab becomes a centre of expertise for software quality assurance.

In order to achieve this expertise, researchers will work in groups on interdisciplinary projects examining the following areas: numerical/scientific computing, symbolic computing, mathematical models of programs and analysis of programs and documents and program design.

Parnas said once the lab is established with an operating budget it will develop a brochure to publicize the type of services that can be provided, prepare a mock “SQA Report” that demonstrates what researchers would do with a software product that they were asked to evaluate, develop workshops to showcase SQRL's work and prepare research grants on specific quality assurance topics.