How bugs are born: a model to identify how bugs are introduced in software components

Gema Rodríguez-Pérez, Gregorio Robles*, Alexander Serebrenik, Andy Zaidman, Daniel M. Germán, Jesus M. Gonzalez-Barahona

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

14 Citations (Scopus)
167 Downloads (Pure)


When identifying the origin of software bugs, many studies assume that “a bug was introduced by the lines of code that were modified to fix it”. However, this assumption does not always hold and at least in some cases, these modified lines are not responsible for introducing the bug. For example, when the bug was caused by a change in an external API. The lack of empirical evidence makes it impossible to assess how important these cases are and therefore, to which extent the assumption is valid. To advance in this direction, and better understand how bugs “are born”, we propose a model for defining criteria to identify the first snapshot of an evolving software system that exhibits a bug. This model, based on the perfect test idea, decides whether a bug is observed after a change to the software. Furthermore, we studied the model’s criteria by carefully analyzing how 116 bugs were introduced in two different open source software projects. The manual analysis helped classify the root cause of those bugs and created manually curated datasets with bug-introducing changes and with bugs that were not introduced by any change in the source code. Finally, we used these datasets to evaluate the performance of four existing SZZ-based algorithms for detecting bug-introducing changes. We found that SZZ-based algorithms are not very accurate, especially when multiple commits are found; the F-Score varies from 0.44 to 0.77, while the percentage of true positives does not exceed 63%. Our results show empirical evidence that the prevalent assumption, “a bug was introduced by the lines of code that were modified to fix it”, is just one case of how bugs are introduced in a software system. Finding what introduced a bug is not trivial: bugs can be introduced by the developers and be in the code, or be created irrespective of the code. Thus, further research towards a better understanding of the origin of bugs in software projects could help to improve design integration tests and to design other procedures to make software development more robust.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1294-1340
Number of pages47
JournalEmpirical Software Engineering
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2020


  • Bug origins
  • Bug-introducing changes
  • Extrinsic bugs
  • First-failing change
  • Intrinsic bugs
  • SZZ algorithm


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