CMSC 838Y Paper Reviews

Skip down to paper 0: Deepak Gupta, Pankaj Jalote, and Gautam Barua. A formal framework for on-line software version change. Transactions on Software Engineering, 22(2):120-131, February 1996. [ .html ]

Reviews for paper 0

Review from Bryan Payne <bdpayne@cs> at Wed Feb 26 16:25:01 EST 2003:

Due to the theoretical content throughout, I found this paper to be a slow 
read.  However, I also found it to be well written.  The authors did a nice job 
of taking a detailed look at the issues invovled with on-line software updates. 
 Some of the results provided a good theoretical understanding of problems that 
would have otherwise been difficult to solve.

For example, the first major conclusion reached is that validity is 
undecidable.  While an interesting conclusion, at first this seemed like a huge 
stumbling block for the software update process.  However, the author was able 
to show simplify that problem enough in order to continue moving toward a 

In the end, as is often the case with theoretical papers, the authors had to 
make several such simplifications to reach their conclusions.  Normally I find 
this irritating because it makes the work seems less applicable to read-world 
problems.  However, in the case of this paper, I found that the restrictions 
were flexable enough so as to allow for better applicability.

After reading the paper I'm left with one major question:  Why is this 
something that we want to do?  I suppose that question may seem naive on the 
surface, but it seems that software tends to fall under two categories of use: 
1) software is used in an environment that can afford downtime now and then, 2) 
software downtime is completely unacceptable.  In (1), the update problem is 
simply not a problem because the program can just be restarted.  And in (2), it 
seems that code would be run in a redundent environment such that updates could 
be made incrementally throughout the environment without causing any percivable 
downtime to the end users.  I image that there are cases when this logic fails, 
and perhaps those would be good candidates for the techniques discussed in this 
paper.  But I also suspect that such cases are less frequent that many people 
may think.

Review from piyushbhagat<> at Wed Feb 26 17:26:33 EST 2003:

The paper describes a formal framework for online software version change. 
Online software version change means software of older version is changed to a 
newer version without shutting down the programs running on the older version. 
This is a very important concept and has got far reaching consequences in real 
time applications. The paper does not propose it own online software version 
change mechanism but gives formal ways to analyze existing online software 
version change mechanisms fro validity. The paper describes a formal framework 
for online version change and says that it deals with three issues: Programs 
Processes and Process States. On the basis of these three concepts the paper 
defines the validity of an online version change. It says that any change in 
the process from an old program to a new program is valid only if the process 
is able to reach any reachable state of the new program in finite time. At the 
same time paper also gives the concept of undecidability of the validity. It 
says that it is impossible to predict the reachable state of the new program to 
which we are switching. The paper also describes sufficient conditions for 
validity and proves them on procedural and object oriented languages. The paper 
makes a very good point that while practically implementing a version change 
our main concern is the time taken to actually install the version change 
rather than the time taken to analyze the control points at which changes can 
be made. The paper has not dealt with real time applications and has left it 
for research. 

Review from Prashant Lamba<> at Wed Feb 26 17:44:40 EST 2003:

This paper on On-line Software version Change emphasises the need of the online 
software system.I found this paper to be hard to understand .The framework is 
based on the concept of process states.According to the paper the program can 
be divided into the two components ie.process and a state.The concept of state 
is defined in the paper pretty well.In the begining of the paper the author has 
shown that the problem of the validity is undeciable.The paper also explains 
the timing for the updation to be applied.The major issue involved in online 
software version change is validity.The validity can be infered as testing of 
Author has given a lot of proofs to support his implemetation
So due to undeciablity of the vaidity it is not possible to have automatic 
validity .Validation of the online change is the important aspect of the any 
version change.The paper doesn't say much about these validations and opens a 
room for research in this area.

Review from Yuan Yuan<yuanyuan@cs> at Wed Feb 26 22:43:35 EST 2003:

This paper addressed the theoretical aspects of software updating on-line. By 
modeling the process of dynamic program transition and the validity, they 
proved that the validity of an on-line change couldnĄŻt be decided. This 
conclusion is useful and referred by HicksĄŻ paper to provide an alternative 
way to ensure the robustness of dynamic updating. Authors built up several 
models from simple model to general one to prove their point and try to find 
general conditions for validity, which is the main purpose of the paper. 

Although this paper tried to use formal language to model software process, I 
think it is readable. Also the theorems and proofs are not that hard to 

Review from Brian Krznarich bjkrz@cs at Thu Feb 27 08:07:39 EST 2003:

This paper introduces a small framework for deciding conditions for which an 
online version change is valid.  The base definition is (paraphrase)'a 
transition is valid if in a finite amount of time the updated version enters a 
state that would be reachable if the new version was seperately compiled, 
loaded, and run with no updating'.  The authors move to a functional language, 
and then focus on the unit of replacement being a function.  Their model for 
transitions is then based on determining which functions must be off the stack 
for a transition to be valid.
The authors make the obseration that it is sufficient for a valid upgrade to 
consist only of 'functional enhancements', where the pre and postconditions of 
said functions are unchanged- or all changed functions that are not functional 
enhancements are called only from functions that are.

Somewhere in the beginning of their paper they comment on the necessity of 
speed in an upgrade.  At the end though there implementation, for which they 
understandably give no performance results, is to load an entire separate copy 
of the program being updated and map the state of the old program to the new.  
This seems like a lot of overhead for what might be a very small function 

One of the key points of this paper, which I think was drastically 
overemphasized, was the "Undecidability of Validity".  After sever pages were 
spent proving it, undecidability was repeatedly invoked as a justification for 
lack of automation. Paraphrasing: 'it's undecidable so we couldn't hope to 
automate everything, let the programmer do it'.  Are humans somehow exempt from 
halting problem results?  

My favorite quote: 
"The user can, based on his knowledge of the semantics of the change, determine 
which of the theorems applies and then use the result to determine F" ( F the 
set of functions which much be off the stack for a transition to be valid).  
Yes, the programmer will *study the theorems* to see which apply.... 

Review from Polyvios Pratikakis <polyvios@cs> at Thu Feb 27 10:48:17 EST 2003:

In this paper an effort is made to create a notational framework that could be 
used to describe and analyze the dynamic patching of running code. At first, 
the problem is presented for a very simple hypothesis, a language without 
functions. The undecidability of the problem is proved, and a way to define 
validity of the transition is defined. Following, he authors discuss a language 
using functions and place restrictions that should apply for validity to be 
ensured. The handling of variables and changed functions is discussed in 
detail, followed by a brief presentation of what could be done in 
object-oriented languages and distributed programs.
Overall, I think the main contribution of this paper is the notation it 
introduces to be used in encoding the constraints of dynamic upgrading in a 
concise mathematical way. It's models are simple, and the more realistic 
(obj.oriented & distributed) cases are overlooked.

Review from Nathaniel Waisbrot <waisbrot@cs> at Thu Feb 27 11:09:09 EST 2003:

	Gupta et al.'s paper attempts to capture the task of altering a running 
program in a formal manner.  They begin by defining points in the program's 
execution where it is safe to transition to a different program (probably a 
modified version of the original).  There is a transition period, where the new 
program modifies variables after which the new program behaves as if it had 
been started normally.  Unfortunately, they point out that it is undecidable 
whether or not a program will do this.  Therefore, they find a subset of the 
control points, for which the validity of the change will be decidable.  This 
set of points is chosen by control-flow analysis, so they suggest a further 
subset to allow large programs with functions to be modified.  To do this, they 
declare the changed functions and some of the functions that call changed 
functions to be off-limits.  The switch can only happen when those functions 
are not running.  This is conservative, but it means that inside the functions 
where the switch can happen, it can happen at any control point, and it will be 
a valid change.
	Although this paper is written in formal terms, the authors also made it 
directly relevant to applied work in this area.  They've spelled out what is 
undecidable, and they've suggested ways to get conservative estimates for 
correct behavior.  The only thing I disliked about this paper was the downbeat 
ending.  "No realistic system can hope to automatically guarantee validity?" 
That is sad news.

Review from Jeff Odom <> at Thu Feb 27 11:52:37 EST 2003:

This paper discusses the theoretical requirements for performing online 
software updating.  It introduces the notion of a state mapping from a state in 
a current program (P) to a state in the new program (P'), and that the new 
state does not have to be a reachable state of P' (that is, the new state may 
not be reachable from any initial state of P')  The paper does not treat the 
case of replacing a procedure while the PC is inside that procedure.  It also 
proves several actions are undecidable, including the validity of a state 
change.  While these are good assumptions from a theoretical standpoint, in 
practice they would severely reduce the usefulness of dynamic updating - 
meaning that additional conditions are required to make this framework useful.

Review from James Rose <rosejr@cs> at Thu Feb 27 12:15:02 EST 2003:

	This paper presents an abstract system for dynamic software
updating.  Since arbitrary updates to a program mean arbitrary output,
some conditions are necessary to determine what forms of updates are
valid.  Undecidability makes this task much more complicated, because
many sets of conditions are not decidable.  There are trade-offs
involved between the power of updates, when updates can occur, and
decidability of validity of updates.  As a result, there are many
design decisions to be made at even the most abstract level, where
this paper works.
	In general, I found the paper confusing.  It did not seem to
provide any decidable guarantees for validity except in trivial cases
(though I may have missed it).  Also, it is not clear that the notion
of validity based on reachability given in this paper is a very useful
one, because it gives neither necessary nor sufficient conditions for
an update to do "what the programmer wants".  If validity encompassed
preservation of type safety, then it at least would be a necessary
condition.  Sufficient conditions are of course undecidable, just as
in the case of a static program, so it seems that preserving the
guarantees that we can provide for static programs is a reasonable

Review from Mujtaba Ali <> at Thu Feb 27 12:28:44 EST 2003:

The authors explain their stipulations well, with plenty of examples, and that 
made this paper much easier to read than most theory papers.  At first, I was 
surprised that Computer Scientists had continued hacking on the online software 
change problem without proper formalization for such an extended period of 
time; however, then I realized that this problem does not naturally lend itself 
to formalization.  I see this as a greater issue moving forward - as we 
introduce more and more complex areas, formalization will become increasingly 
difficult.  When function enhancements were first introduced by the authors, I 
came up with many useful scenarios that would not work with Theorem 3 and I was 
relieved to see that the model was relaxed, yet still sound, with the 
introduction of Theorem 4.

I think the methodology started in this paper will play a big role in bringing 
high-availability to the masses.  So far, the most common solution has been to 
throw a lot of money a the problem.  This paper also popped some questions in 
my head.  For example, what if the mapping process is more time consuming then 
rerunning Prog' with the same set of inputs Prog saw in its lifetime? 

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