FWF - DEOS - Debugging of spreadsheets

Project: Research project

Project Details


Spreadsheets are the most successful example of the End User
Programming approach to software development. Today, spreadsheet
applications, e.g., based on Microsoft Excel, can be found nearly
everywhere in companies and are used for a variety of purposes.
Studies showed for example that in over 80% of the examined
companies spreadsheets are used for financial reporting.
Furthermore, companies often use dozens or even hundreds of
spreadsheet applications which often tend to be large and complex
comprising hundreds or even thousands of formulas. Despite the fact
that in many cases business-critical decisions depend on
spreadsheets, a complete lack of quality control measures for this
type of software applications can be observed in many companies.
Not surprisingly, spreadsheets - which are usually developed by nonprogrammers
-contain errors of various types. In some studies,
researchers found at least one error in every single spreadsheet they
analyzed. However, when business decisions are based on
spreadsheets, such errors can lead to a significant financial loss or to
other business risks as reported by the European Spreadsheet Risk
Interest Group. Over the last decades, academics from different fields
as well as industry have produced a rich set of methods, techniques
and tools to ensure or improve the quality of traditional software
artifacts. Only in recent years, the question of how to improve the
quality of End User Programs and in particular spreadsheets has
gained more attention in research and in practice. These
developments led to a number of first proposals ranging, e.g., from
process-related measures over visualization and software testing
approaches to debugging techniques. In this project, we focus on the
debugging stages of the spreadsheet development cycle. Therefore,
our goal is to provide the spreadsheet developer with tools that
support him or her in identifying the possible problem causes (error
localization). These possible causes are called diagnoses and
represent subsets of all formulas used in a spreadsheet that should
be modified in order to make a spreadsheet application work as
expected. In particular, we will analyze and systematically evaluate in
which ways various existing approaches to software debugging can
be applied, extended or combined to cope with the particularities of
spreadsheet debugging. Based on these technical and algorithmic
contributions, we aim to develop a classification system that helps us
understand which error-spotting techniques are particularly well suited
for which types of programs and application settings. Furthermore, we
plan to conduct laboratory studies with real users at different stages of
the project, in which we want to obtain a better understanding of how
and to which extent the participants profit from using the provided
debugging tools and how the interaction with an intelligent debugger
for end users should be designed.
Effective start/end date1/05/1531/10/18


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