Static code analysis is the analysis of computer software that is performed without actually executing programs built from that software (analysis performed on executing programs is known as dynamic analysis). In most cases the analysis is performed on some version of the source code and in the other cases some form of the object code. The term is usually applied to the analysis performed by an automated tool, with human analysis being called program understanding, program comprehension or code review.
The sophistication of the analysis performed by tools varies from those that only consider the behavior of individual statements and declarations, to those that include the complete source code of a program in their analysis. Uses of the information obtained from the analysis vary from highlighting possible coding errors (e.g., the lint tool) to formal methods that mathematically prove properties about a given program (e.g., its behavior matches that of its specification).
It can be argued that software metrics and reverse engineering are forms of static analysis.
A growing commercial use of static analysis is in the verification of properties of software used in safety-critical computer systems and locating potentially vulnerable code. For example, medical software is increasing in sophistication and complexity, and the FDA has identified the use of static code analysis as a means of improving the quality of software.
Formal methods is the term applied to the analysis of software (and hardware) whose results are obtained purely through the use of rigorous mathematical methods. The mathematical techniques used include denotational semantics, axiomatic semantics, operational semantics, and abstract interpretation.
It has been proven that, barring some hypothesis that the state space of programs is finite and small, finding all possible run-time errors, or more generally any kind of violation of a specification on the final result of a program, is undecidable: there is no mechanical method that can always answer truthfully whether a given program may or may not exhibit runtime errors. This result dates from the works of Church, Gödel and Turing in the 1930s (see the halting problem and Rice's theorem). As with most undecidable questions, one can still attempt to give useful approximate solutions.
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