Bug Finding Methods for Multithreaded Student Programming Projects
Naciri, William Malik
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The fork-join framework project is one of the more challenging programming assignments in the computer science curriculum at Virginia Tech. Students in Computer Systems must manage a pool of threads to facilitate the shared execution of dynamically created tasks. This project is difficult because students must overcome the challenges of concurrent programming and conform to the project's specific semantic requirements. When working on the project, many students received inconsistent test results and were left confused when debugging. The suggested debugging tool, Helgrind, is a general-purpose thread error detector. It is limited in its ability to help fix bugs because it lacks knowledge of the specific semantic requirements of the fork-join framework. Thus, there is a need for a special-purpose tool tailored for this project. We implemented Willgrind, a debugging tool that checks the behavior of fork-join frameworks implemented by students through dynamic program analysis. Using the Valgrind framework for instrumentation, checking statements are inserted into the code to detect deadlock, ordering violations, and semantic violations at run-time. Additionally, we extended Willgrind with happens-before based checking in WillgrindPlus. This tool checks for ordering violations that do not manifest themselves in a given execution but could in others. In a user study, we provided the tools to 85 students in the Spring 2017 semester and collected over 2,000 submissions. The results indicate that the tools are effective at identifying bugs and useful for fixing bugs. This research makes multithreaded programming easier for students and demonstrates that special-purpose debugging tools can be beneficial in computer science education.
- Masters Theses