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LCA: Static analysis with GCC plugins

Feb 10, 2010, 03:02 (0 Talkback[s])
(Other stories by Jonathan Corbet)

"Taras Glek works for Mozilla, but he is not a browser hacker; instead, he works on GCC and other tools aimed at making the browser development process better. It is, he says, a good job. While carrying out his duties, Taras has been able to put a new GCC feature to work in ways which may prove to be useful well beyond Mozilla.

"Development tools are important; they can help us to produce software more quickly and with far fewer problems. Unfortunately, Taras says, we are stuck in the stone age of software development, using tools from the 1970's. Our code base is growing, though, to the point that developers often cannot understand the entirety of even a single application. We need some way to amplify our capabilities so that we can continue to make more powerful applications; static analysis tools can bring some of those capabilities.

"Static analysis, in essence, treats the code as data which is then the subject of further analysis. It has often been seen as a backwater, an area of primarily academic interest. When static analysis tools have found their way into more common use, it has generally been in their ability to find certain classes of bugs. But there's more that can be done with these tools: finding API abuse, generating library bindings, improved code base visualization, and more. Static analysis has been put to use with Mozilla to find dead code; thousands of lines of code have been found to be completely unused, despite the fact that engineers were putting their time into maintaining it."

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