Everything you need to know about static code analysis
At Codacy, we know that testing your code is one of the most important parts of the entire software development lifecycle — that’s why we’re working every day to build the world’s best code analysis tool. One of the key characteristics of the product is static code analysis — in short, it’s the specific method we use to run tests on your code.
The term might not immediately ring a bell if you’re a beginning developer or feel like you need to brush up on your knowledge, we’ve got you covered. In this article we’ll take you through the basics of the term, explaining what it’s all about and why it’s such an important part of modern code review tools.
Static code analysis versus dynamic code analysis
When you’re talking about code review tools, it’s important to differentiate between the two most popular ways to go about it — and take a closer look at the reasons why you would want to use either of them.
On the one hand there’s static code analysis, a way for developers to test their code without actually executing it — this is called a non-runtime environment. Tools that use this method offer an incredibly efficient way to find programming faults and display them to developers. One of its main benefits is that errors can be picked up a long time before they end up causing havoc when the code is released or put live on a server. Static analysis is generally considered the more thorough way to perform code analysis, and it also has the potential to be the more economical option. If an error is caught during static code analysis — which can be done at an early stage — it’s relatively cheap to fix it, compared to an error that gets stuck in the system.
Then there’s dynamic code analysis, a way to test code while it’s being executed on a real or virtual processor. It’s especially effective for finding subtle defects or vulnerabilities, because it also looks at the code’s interaction with other databases, servers and services. Dynamic analysis definitely isn’t perfect, however, as it comes with quite some important caveats. For example, it’ll only ever find faults in the specific excerpt of the code that’s being executed – not the entire codebase. On the other hand, some of the errors that wouldn’t be found by static code analysis would show up clearly in a dynamic test, especially those related to parts of the source code that rely on external services.
To achieve the highest possible level of test coverage, it’s recommended to combine the two methods. Together, static and dynamic code analysis are often referred to as ‘glass-box testing’, because of their ability to have a peek inside the ‘box’ that’s the codebase.
Automating code review with static code analysis
Although static code analysis can be done manually, it can take lots of time when dealing with large amounts of code. Even if you have access to a sizable team of developers to peer review each other’s work, the results would be much more prone to error and false positives.
Fortunately, automated analysis is here to save the day — it’s a much faster and easier way to consistently check your code for errors. It’s also more accessible, because it doesn’t rely on the developer to have the deep knowledge that’s required to perform a proper analysis. Instead, it combines a large, predefined set of common and less-common errors with intelligent algorithms to efficiently track them down. This way, a great tool offering automated static code analysis is able to find certain bugs in a matter of seconds, while it would take a human auditor hours or days.
When the source code analysis is complete, the software then gives comprehensive feedback by displaying all security flaws, code style violations and other metrics to the user. This creates an actionable overview for the developer, who can immediately get to work on fixing their mistakes.
A modern tool for automated static code analysis
Automated static code analysis can be an incredibly powerful tool — it enables developers to write better code that’s free of security vulnerabilities, works without a hitch, is up to coding standards and respects best practices.
Codacy is a cutting-edge static analysis tool that’s trusted by thousands of developers at world-class companies like Adobe and PayPal. It offers all the benefits of automated reviews, wrapped up in a platform that’s as elegant as it is powerful. With customizable code analysis, intelligent project quality evaluation, extensive feedback on your code and easy integration in your existing workflow, it offers a comprehensive suite of automated tools for programmers that care about shipping top-notch code in any programming language. Give it a spin today by signing up for a free trial.