Parallel Delta Debugging Framework
Picire (pronounced as /pitsirE/) is a Python 3 implementation of the
Delta Debugging algorithm supporting parallelization and further
configuration options. It can be used either as a command line tool
or as a library.
Just like the original algorithm, picire automatically reduces “interesting”
tests while keeping their “interesting” behaviour. A common use case is
minimizing failing tests so that they still reproduce the original failure.
The tool (and the algorithm) works iteratively. As a first step, it splits up
the input into n chunks either by lines or characters. Then, iteratively,
it inspects smaller test cases composed of these chunks whether they are still
interesting. The selection of chunks can happen two ways: either a small subset
of the chunks is kept (subset-based reduce), or that small subset is removed
and everything else is kept (complement-based reduce). If a new interesting
test case is found, it becomes the input of the next iteration. The iterations
stop if removing any further chunks would make the test uninteresting (e.g. the
test is 1-minimal).
- Python >= 3.4
- pip and setuptools Python packages (the latter is automatically installed by
The quick way:
pip install picire
Alternatively, by cloning the project and running setuptools:
python setup.py install
picire has two mandatory command line arguments: one that defines the input
test case to be reduced (--input) and another describing an executable
tester script or program (--test) that can decide about the interestingness
of an arbitrary input. This will be run in every iteration to check a test case.
- --parallel: Enables picire to run in multiprocess mode. (Otherwise, the
original single-process variant will run.)
- -j <num>: Defines the maximum number of parallel jobs.
- --combine-loops: The base algorithm had a dependency between subset and
complement-based reduce loops, but because of the sequential nature of its
implementation, it had no effect on efficiency. However, in parallel mode,
this separation becomes a potential sub-optimality. With this option, the
two reduce loops run combined for additional performance. Further details
about the algorithm variants are available in the cited papers.
- --complement-first: For some input types, subset-based reduce is not as
effective as the complement-based one (sometimes, aggressively removing too
big parts of the input eliminates the interestingness as well). By default,
picire performs subset-based reduce before complement-based reduce, which
can result in many superfluous checks for such inputs. This flag forces to
start with complement checks.
- --subset-iterator / --complement-iterator: Guide the iteration
strategies of the subset and complement-based reduce loops.
- forward: Start investigating subsets (or complements) from the beginning
of the input.
- backward: Start investigating subsets (or complements) from the end of
the input. The goal is to reduce the number of semantic violations
(assuming that definitions - like variable declarations - appear before
- skip: Completely avoids the subset or complement checks (mostly used
For the detailed options, see picire --help.
The tester script is expected to take one command line argument, the path of a
test case, and it has to exit with 0 if the test is interesting and with
non-zero otherwise. An example tester script that runs an arbitrary target
application and checks if it fails on an assertion might look like the one
timeout --foreground 10 <path/to/the/target/application> $1 2>&1 | grep -q "Assertion failed";
- $1 is the single and mandatory command line argument containing the path
of a test case.
- If the target application is not guaranteed to exit, then it’s worth running
it with timeout to limit the amount of time waiting for producing the
- If the target is run with timeout then the --foreground flag can also be
useful as it allows forwarding the KILL signals (used by the parallel
implementation) through the timeout’s process group. This enables us to
stop all alive parallel processes when a new interesting configuration
is found already.
- If the interestingness decision is based on the content of the output then
using grep (perhaps with -q or --quiet) might be a right choice,
since it returns 0 if the pattern was found and 1 if not. Exactly the
return value picire expects.
A common form of picire’s usage:
picire --input=<path/to/the/input> --test=<path/to/the/tester> \
--parallel --subset-iterator=skip --complement-iterator=backward
picire was tested on:
- Linux (Ubuntu 14.04 / 15.10)
- Mac OS X (OS X El Capitan - 10.11).
Acknowledgement and Citations
This software uses the delta debugging algorithm as described in (A. Zeller:
“Yesterday, my program worked”, ESEC/FSE 1999) and (R. Hildebrandt, A. Zeller:
“Simplifying failure-inducing input”, ISSTA 2000).
Further improvements are described in (R. Hodovan, A. Kiss: “Practical
Improvements to the Minimizing Delta Debugging Algorithm”, ICSOFT-EA 2016).
Copyright and Licensing
Download the file for your platform. If you're not sure which to choose, learn more about installing packages.