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Assessing the state and improving the art of parallel testing for C

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Abstract

The execution latency of a test suite strongly depends on the degree of concurrency with which test cases are executed. However, if test cases are not designed for concurrent execution, they may interfere, causing result deviations compared to sequential execution. To prevent this, each test case can be provided with an isolated execution environment, but the resulting overheads diminish the merit of parallel testing. Our large-scale analysis of the Debian Buster package repository shows that existing test suites in C projects make limited use of parallelization. We present an approach to (a) analyze the potential of C test suites for safe concurrent execution, i.e., result invariance compared to sequential execution, and (b) execute tests concurrently with different parallelization strategies using processes or threads if it is found to be safe. Applying our approach to 9 C projects, we find that most of them cannot safely execute tests in parallel due to unsafe test code or unsafe usage of shared variables or files within the program code. Parallel test execution shows a significant acceleration over sequential execution for most projects. We find that multi-threading rarely outperforms multi-processing. Finally, we observe that the lack of a common test framework for C leaves make as the standard driver for running tests, which introduces unnecessary performance overheads for test execution.