What factors make SQL test cases understandable for testers? A human study of automated test data generation techniques

Alsharif, Abdullah and Kapfhammer, Gregory M. and McMinn, Phil

Proceedings of the 35th International Conference on Software Maintenance and Evolution, 2019

Abstract

Since relational databases are a key component of software systems ranging from small mobile to large enterprise applications, there are well-studied methods that automatically generate test cases for database-related functionality. Yet, there has been no research to analyze how well testers — who must often serve as an "oracle" — both understand tests involving SQL and decide if they reveal flaws. This paper reports on a human study of test comprehension in the context of automatically generated tests that assess the correct specification of the integrity constraints in a relational database schema. In this domain, a tool generates INSERT statements with data values designed to either satisfy (i.e., be accepted into the database) or violate the schema (i.e., be rejected from the database). The study reveals two key findings. First, the choice of data values in INSERTs influences human understandability: the use of default values for elements not involved in the test (but necessary for adhering to SQL’s syntax rules) aided participants, allowing them to easily identify and understand the important test values. Yet, negative numbers and "garbage" strings hindered this process. The second finding is more far reaching: humans found the outcome of test cases very difficult to predict when NULL was used in conjunction with foreign keys and CHECK constraints. This suggests that, while including NULL s can surface the confusing semantics of database schemas, their use makes tests less understandable for humans.

Resources

Reference

Alsharif, A., Kapfhammer, G. M., & McMinn, P. (2019). What factors make SQL test cases understandable for testers? A human study of automated test data generation techniques. In Proceedings of the 35th International Conference on Software Maintenance and Evolution.

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