Generating Precise Error Specifications for C: A Zero Shot Learning Approach
In C programs, error specifications, which specify the value range that each function returns to indicate failures, are widely used to check and propagate errors for the sake of reliability and security. Various kinds of C analyzers employ error specifications for different purposes, e.g., to detect error handling bugs, yet a general approach for generating precise specifications is still missing. This limits the applicability of those tools.
In this paper, we solve this problem by developing a machine learning-based approach named MLPEx. It generates error specifications by analyzing only the source code, and is thus general. We propose a novel machine learning paradigm based on transfer learning, enabling MLPEx to require only one-time data labeling from us (as the tool developers) and zero manual labeling efforts from users. To improve the accuracy of generated error specifications, MLPEx extacts and exploits project-specific information. We evaluate MLPEx on 10 projects, including 6 libraries and 4 applications. An investigation of 3,443 functions and 17,750 paths reveals that MLPEx generates error specifications with a precision of 91% and a recall of 94%, significantly higher than those of state-of-the-art approaches. To further demonstrate the usefulness of the generated error specifications, we use them to detect 57 bugs in 5 tested projects.