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June 7, 2023

What Is Static Analysis? Source Code Analysis Tools + Static Code Analyzers Overview

Static Analysis
Security & Compliance

Static analysis helps development teams that are under pressure. Quality releases needed to be delivered on time. Coding and compliance standards need to be met. And mistakes are not an option.

That’s why development teams are using the best static analysis tools / source code analysis tools for the job. Here, we discuss static analysis and the benefits of using static code analyzers, as well as the limitations of static analysis.

Read along or jump to the section that interests you the most:

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What Is Static Analysis?

Static analysis is a method of debugging that is done by automatically examining the source code without having to execute the program. This provides developers with an understanding of their code base and helps ensure that it is compliant, safe, and secure.

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What Is Static Source Code Analysis?

Static code analysis refers to the operation performed by a static analysis tool, which is the analysis of a set of code against a set (or multiple sets) of coding rules.

Static code analysis and static analysis are often used interchangeably, along with source code analysis. 

Static code analysis addresses weaknesses in source code that might lead to vulnerabilities. Of course, this may also be achieved through manual source code reviews. But using automated tools is much more effective.

Static analysis is commonly used to comply with coding guidelines — such as  MISRA. And it’s often used for complying with industry standards — such as  ISO 26262.

📕 Related Resource:  How Static Code Analysis works  to help ensure high quality, secure, and reliable code.
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When Is Static Analysis Performed with a Static Code Analyzer / Source Code Analyzer?

Static code analysis is performed early in development, before software testing  begins. For organizations practicing DevOps, static code analysis takes place during the “Create” phase.

Static code analysis also supports DevOps by creating an automated feedback loop. Developers will know early on if there are any problems in their code. And it will be easier to fix those problems.

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Static Analysis vs Dynamic Analysis

So, what’s the difference between static analysis and dynamic analysis?

Both types of code analysis detect defects. The big difference is where they find defects in the development lifecycle.

Static Analysis vs Dynamic Analysis

Static analysis identifies defects before you run a program (e.g., between coding and unit testing).

Dynamic code analysis  identifies defects after you run a program (e.g., during unit testing). However, some coding errors might not surface during unit testing. So, there are defects that dynamic testing might miss that static code analysis can find.

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What Are the Limitations of Static Analysis Tools and Static Source Code Analysis Tools? 

Static code analysis is used for a specific purpose in a specific phase of development. But there are some limitations of a static code analysis tool.

No Understanding of Developer Intent

 

int calculateArea(int length, int width)
{
    return (length + width);
}

 

A static analysis tool may detect a possible overflow in this calculation. But it can’t determine that function fundamentally does not do what is expected!

Rules That Aren’t Statically Enforceable

Some coding rules depend on external documentation. Or they are open to subjective interpretation.

For example:

 

CERT-C MSC04:

Use comments consistently and in a readable fashion.

 

Possible Defects Lead to False Positives and False Negatives

In some situations, a tool can only report that there is a possible defect.

 

int divide(void)
{
    int x;
    if(foo())
    {
        x = 0;
    }
    else
    {
        x = 5;
    }
    return (10/x);
}

 

If we know nothing about foo(), we do not know what value x will have.

The result is undecidable. That means that tools may report defects that do not actually exist (false positives). Or they may fail to report real defects (false negatives). 

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What Are the Benefits of Using the Best Source Code Analyzer?

There are several benefits of static analysis tools — especially if you need to comply with an industry standard.

The best static code analysis tools offer speed, depth, and accuracy. 

Speed

It takes time for developers to do manual code reviews. Automated tools are much faster.

Static code checking addresses problems early on. And it pinpoints exactly where the error is in the code. So, you’ll be able to fix those errors faster. Plus, coding errors found earlier are less costly to fix.

Depth

Testing can’t cover every possible code execution path. But a static code analyzer can.

A static code analyzer checks the code as you work on your build. You’ll get an in-depth analysis of where there might be potential problems in your code, based on the rules you’ve applied.

Here's an example of in-depth code analysis in Helix QAC

Image Solution Automotive Compliance Helix QAC
An example of code analysis in Helix QAC.

Accuracy

Manual source code reviews are prone to human error. Automated tools are not.

They scan every line of code to identify potential problems. This helps you ensure the highest-quality code is in place — before testing begins. After all, when you’re complying with a  coding standard, quality is critical.  

📕 Related Resource: Discover how to improve the soundness of static analysis with the right tools and processes. 
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How Can Static Analysis Tools / Source Code Analysis Tools Help Developers Shift Left? 

Static analysis is an essential technique for ensuring reliability, security, and maintainability of software applications. It helps developers identify and fix issues early, improve code quality, enhance security, ensure compliance, and increase efficiency. Using static analysis tools, developers can build better quality software, reduce the risk of security breaches, and minimize the time and effort spend debugging and fixing issues. 

The term "shifting left" refers to the practice of integrating automated software testing and analysis tools earlier in the software development lifecycle (SDLC). Traditionally, testing and analysis were often performed after the code was written, resulting in a reactive approach to addressing issues. By shifting left, developers can catch issues before they become problems, thereby reducing the amount of time and effort required for debugging and maintenance. This is especially important in agile development, where frequent code changes and updates can result in many issues that need to be addressed. 

A key benefit of static analysis is that it can save you time and effort debugging and testing. By identifying potential issues early in the development process, you can address any issues before they become more difficult (and expensive) to fix. You'll also get higher quality applications that are more reliable and easier to maintain over time, plus prevent issues from propagating throughout the codebase and becoming harder to identify and fix later.

Benefits of shifting left with static analysis include: 

  1. Early detection of issues. By integrating static analysis into the development process, developers can catch issues early on, allowing them to be addressed before they become bigger problems. This reduces the time and effort required for debugging and maintenance and helps ensure that code is reliable and secure. 
  2. Reduced cost. Addressing issues earlier in the SDLC can reduce the cost of fixing bugs and other issues later in the process. This can save time and resources and reduce the risk of delays or other issues that can impact the project timeline. 
  3. Improve code quality. Static analysis helps identify coding standards violations and other issues that can impact code quality. By addressing these issues early on, developers can ensure that code is well-written, maintainable, and easier to debug.
  4. Enhanced security. Static analysis tools can identify security vulnerabilities in code, allowing developers to address these issues before the code is released into production. This can reduce the risk of security breaches and other issues that can impact the security of the application. 

How Shifting Left with the Best Static Analysis Tools Helps Improve Your Bottom Line

Shifting left through static analysis may also increase the estimated return on investment (ROI) and cost savings for your organization. 

One of the main advantages of static analysis is its ability to find defects and vulnerabilities early in the SDLC. Early detection can save your company time and money in the long run. According to a study by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), the cost of fixing a defect increases significantly as it progresses through the development cycle. A defect detected during the requirements phase may cost around $60 USD to fix, whereas a defect detected in production can cost up to $10,000! By adopting static analysis, organizations can reduce the number of defects that make it to the production stage and significantly reduce the overall cost of fixing defects. 

In addition to reducing the cost of fixing defects, static analysis can also improve code quality, which can lead to further cost savings. Improved code quality can reduce the time and effort required for testing, debugging, and maintenance. A study by IBM found that the cost of fixing defects can be reduced by up to 75% by improving code quality. 

Security is another area where static analysis can help with costs, especially those associated with security breaches and negative branding status. An IBM study found that the cost of a data breach can range from $1.25 million to $8.19 million. Static analysis can detect security vulnerabilities early in the SDLC, allowing organizations to fix them before the software is deployed. By doing so, organizations can significantly reduce the risk and cost of a security breach and protect their reputations. 

In addition to cost savings, static analysis can also bring productivity gains. By finding defects early in the development cycle, developers can reduce the time and effort required for debugging and fixing defects later on. This can free up time for other development activities like feature development or testing. By improving productivity, organizations can reduce the time and cost of software development and increase their capacity to deliver software more quickly. 

Adopting a shift-left approach in software development can bring significant cost savings and ROI to organizations. By detecting defects and vulnerabilities early, companies can significantly reduce the cost of fixing defects, improve code quality and security, and increase productivity. These benefits can lead to increased customer satisfaction, improved software quality, and reduced development costs. 

📕 Learn about using tools to find code vulnerabilities, ensure standards compliance, and reduce time-to-market early in the development process with Perforce's Shift Left 101 >>

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How to Choose a Static Analysis Tool?

Here are a few things to consider when deciding which tool is right for you.

Programming Language

Analyzers are designed for many different programming languages. So, it’s important to choose a tool that supports your language.

Standards

One the primary uses of static analyzers is to comply with standards. So, if you’re in a regulated industry that requires a coding standard, you’ll want to make sure your tool supports that standard.

Tips for Choosing a Source Code Analyzer

Interested in more tips for selecting a static code analysis tool? "How to Choose the Best Static Code Analyzer" covers:

  • Benefits and challenges of static code analysis.
  • Best practices for using it.
  • 6 requirements for choosing the right tool.
📕 Related White Paper: Learn how to choose the right Static Analysis  tool for your team.
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Why Choose a Perforce Static Code Analyzer Tool for Static Analysis?

Perforce static analysis solutions have been trusted for over 30 years to deliver the most accurate and precise results to mission-critical project teams across a variety of industries.  Helix QAC  and  Klocwork  are certified to comply with coding standards and compliance mandates. And they deliver fewer false positives and false negatives.

Experience firsthand the difference that a Perforce static code analysis tool can have on the quality of your software. Sign up for a free trial today.

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