Smelling Faults in Spreadsheets

Smelling Faults in Spreadsheets, Abreu, Rui, Cunha Jácome, Fernandes João Paulo, Martins Pedro, Perez Alexandre, and Saraiva João , Proceedings of the 30th IEEE International Conference on Software Maintenance and Evolution, Washington, DC, USA, p.111–120, (2014)


Despite being staggeringly error prone, spreadsheets are a highly flexible programming environment that is widely used in industry. In fact, spreadsheets are widely adopted for decision making, and decisions taken upon wrong (spreadsheet-based) assumptions may have serious economical impacts on businesses, among other consequences. This paper proposes a technique to automatically pinpoint potential faults in spreadsheets. It combines a catalog of spreadsheet smells that provide a first indication of a potential fault, with a generic spectrum-based fault localization strategy in order to improve (in terms of accuracy and false positive rate) on these initial results. Our technique has been implemented in a tool which helps users detecting faults. To validate the proposed technique, we consider a well-known and well-documented catalog of faulty spreadsheets. Our experiments yield two main results: we were able to distinguish between smells that can point to faulty cells from smells and those that are not capable of doing so; and we provide a technique capable of detecting a significant number of errors: two thirds of the cells labeled as faulty are in fact (documented) errors.



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