E6998-2: How to Make Reliable Software

Fall 2008 -- Junfeng Yang


General Information

  • Location: ENG 253
  • Time: Wednesday 4:10-6:00pm
  • Credits: 3 units
  • Instructor: Junfeng Yang
  • Office Hours: After class or by appointment
  • Address: 460 CSB
Prerequisite Students are expected to have done some significant programming, for example, via taking an advanced programming course (COMS W4118 OS, COMS W4115 PLT, etc) or working in industry.


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Course Description

Despite our increasing reliance on computing platforms, making reliable software systems remains difficult. Software errors have been reported to take lives and cost billions of dollars annually. Making reliable software is one of the most important problems in computer science. In recent years, this problem has drawn huge attentions from researchers in systems, software engineering, and programming language communities. A number of automated techniques have been developed to increase software reliability. In this course, we will study the most practical and most important of these reliability techniques. Specifically, we will study: In addition, we will have the opportunity to hear guest speakers who have built large software systems or effective checking tools talking about their first-hand experiences.

Course Format and Student Workload

This course will center around two entities: readings and a final project. In the first half of most every class meeting, students briefly present a few papers (as assigned); in the second half, we will discuss the papers in depth. For the in-depth discussions to be possible, you will have to read the papers carefully before class. To help achieve this, you will have to write a review of each paper and turn it in before class. The real key to the class will be your final project: a mini-research project on the topic of your choice. Though I will provide some suggestions, you are strongly encouraged to come up with a topic of your own (after all, that's what research is all about). More details will be available below in the weeks to come.


The course readings include a list of papers selected from top system, software engineering, and programming language conferences. You can find the papers at the Course Syllabus page. You have three basic responsibilities for the papers covered in the course.
  1. Read the assigned papers carefully, before class. One of the main goals of the course is to have interesting in-class discussions so that students can hopefully understand the topics better. To this end, I recommend you read each paper at least three times: twice very carefully, the last time focusing on the hard parts.
  2. Write a short review of each paper. The review should include at least three good technical points of the paper, and one shortcoming that can be improved. The review should not exceed one page in length. All reviews will be made available to students and will serve as the starting seed of the in-class discussion. Turn in your review via email to me (junfeng@cs) before 9am on the day of the class where we discuss the paper, with the class and date in the subject line (e.g. E6998-2 Reading 9/10). Reviews should be in plain text so I can easily parse them with any mailer. You are free to form discussion groups, but your review must be individually written.
  3. Present papers. Each student should present roughly two papers they choose; the exact number depends on the actual class size. Each presentation should be within 25 minutes to cover the key points of the paper. Student presenters should get their slides ready and show them to me two days before they give presentations (i.e. on the Monday of the week when they present). I will bring a sign-up sheet to the first few class meetings.


The final project is the key of the course. It must involve new research and have the potential of being published in a major conference. It can be a novel technique, an improvement to an existing technique, an application of a technique to a new domain, etc. I will provide a list of project suggestions for you to pick from, although you are strongly encouraged to think of a project on your own, which I can help to refine. You can work on your project alone or with a partner; I will not allow a team of more than two students. The timeline of the project is as follows:

Grading Guidelines

Course Materials

There is no required textbook; all relevant materials will be made available online.