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National Institute of Standards and Technology

NIST Special Publication 500-235
Structured Testing: A Testing Methodology Using the Cyclomatic Complexity Metric

Arthur H. Watson
Thomas J. McCabe
Prepared under NIST Contract 43NANB517266

Dolores R. Wallace, Editor Computer Systems Laboratory
National Institute of Standards and Technology
Gaithersburg, MD 20899-0001

Document Details

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The purpose of this document is to describe the structured testing methodology for software testing, also known as basis path testing.

Based on the cyclomatic complexity measure of McCabe, structured testing uses the control flow structure of software to establish path coverage criteria. The resultant test sets provide more thorough testing than statement and branch coverage. Extensions of the fundamental structured testing techniques for integration testing and object-oriented systems are also presented. Several related software complexity metrics are described. Summaries of technical papers, case studies, and empirical results are presented in the appendices.

Basis path testing, cyclomatic complexity, McCabe, object oriented, software development, software diagnostic, software metrics, software testing, structured testing

The authors acknowledge the contributions by Patricia McQuaid to Appendix A of this report.

Certain trade names and company names are mentioned in the text or identified. In no case does such identification imply recommendation or endorsement by the National Institute of Standards and Technology, nor does it imply that the products are necessarily the best available for the purpose.

Executive Summary
This document describes the structured testing methodology for software testing and related software quality management techniques. The key requirement of structured testing is that all decision outcomes must be exercised independently during testing. The number of tests required for a software module is equal to the cyclomatic complexity of that module. The original structured testing document [NBS99] discusses cyclomatic complexity and the basic testing technique. This document gives an expanded and updated presentation of those topics, describes several new complexity measures and testing strategies, and presents the experience gained through the practical application of these techniques.

The software complexity measures described in this document are: cyclomatic complexity, module design complexity, integration complexity, object integration complexity, actual complexity, realizable complexity, essential complexity, and data complexity. The testing techniques are described for module testing, integration testing, and object-oriented testing.

A significant amount of practical advice is given concerning the application of these techniques. The use of complexity measurement to manage software reliability and maintainability is discussed, along with strategies to control complexity during maintenance. Methods to apply the testing techniques are also covered. Both manual techniques and the use of automated support are described.

Many detailed examples of the techniques are given, as well as summaries of technical papers and case studies. Experimental results are given showing that structured testing is superior to statement and branch coverage testing for detecting errors. The bibliography lists over fifty references to related information.

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