Special Topics in Software Engineering: Dependable Systems

ECE 1724, Winter 2009
University of Toronto

Instructor: Ashvin Goel
Course Number: ECE 1724
Course Time: Monday, 1-3 pm
Course Room: SF2104 (note the room change)
Start Date: Jan 12, 2009

Home Presentation Format Project Format Project Suggestions

Course Description

Modern computer systems have become tightly intertwined with our daily lives. However, they are failure-prone, insecure and difficult to manage and thus hardly dependable. These problems have become even more severe with increased networking and with easy availability of inexpensive, powerful and embedded devices. While these dependability problems dominate cost of ownership of computer systems, unfortunately they have no simple solutions. There is a realization that these problems cannot be decisively solved but are ongoing facts of life that must be dealt with regularly. To do so, systems should be designed to detect, isolate and recover from these problems.

This advanced graduate-level course focuses on dependability in software systems and examines current research that aims to address challenges caused by software defects, intrusions and software misconfiguration. Students are expected to read and critique recent research papers in operating systems and security that cover these areas. They are also expected to work on a research project and make class presentations. While there are no specific prerequisites for this course, students who have taken undergraduate or graduate courses in operating systems, security, networks and distributed systems will have an edge.


There are no required textbooks for this course. The optional textbooks are

Mailing List

Please subscribe to the class mailing list by joining this group. You will need a Yahoo account, although Yahoo will forward the group messages to any email address of your choice. The instructor will use this group to send instructions and reminders. All students who subscribe to the group can send email to the group by sending mail to this list. The group is not moderated. If you have a specific question for the instructor, please send an email to the instructor directly. For the first week of classes, you can join the group directly. After that the Yahoo groups website will require the instructor's approval to subscribe you.

Grading Policy

Grades will be based on class presentations, a class project, and class participation. There will be no final exam in this course. The grading breakup is as follows:

Note: If a student is unable to attend a class, he or she will lose 2% for non-participation.

Class Presentation

Each week this class will cover a group of papers that focuses on a specific aspect of the course. Students are expected to read all the papers in the group that will be presented. At the beginning of the term, each paper will be assigned to a student who will be presenting the paper. Presentations will be limited to 20 minutes.

More details about the presentation format. Please read very carefully.


There will be no assignments in this course.

Class Project

A major component of this course is devoted to a term-long project. The topic of the project is largely up to you, but to help you choose a project, a sample list of projects is provided below. This list should help students determine whether their own projects are of reasonable size and scope.

More details about the project format. Please read very carefully.

Project Ideas

Here is a list of project ideas.


This is a tentative list. These papers can be accessed from either the ACM or the Usenix web site. If you cannot access ACM articles directly, please read the following instructions for accessing the papers via the UoT online Library.

Week 1: Introduction (Jan 12)

  1. Why Do Computers Stop and What Can Be Done About It? SRDS 1986.
  2. Broad New OS Research: Challenges and Opportunities. HOTOS 2005.
  3. Introduction to Dependable Software Systems by Instructor.
  4. Efficient Readings of Papers in Science and Technology.
  5. How (and How Not) to Write a Good Systems Paper. Operating Systems Review 1983.

Week 2: Bug Detection and Diagnosis (Jan 19)

  1. Bugs as Deviant Behavior: A General Approach to Inferring Errors in Systems Code. SOSP 2001. Bilal
  2. Triage: Diagnosing Production Run Failures at the User's Site. SOSP 2007. Henry

     Optional reading:

  1. Using Model Checking to Find Serious File System Errors. OSDI 2004.

Week 3: Race and Deadlock Detection (Jan 26)

  1. RacerX: Effective, Static Detection of Race Conditions and Deadlocks, SOSP 2003. Volodymyr
  2. Finding and Reproducing Heisenbugs in Concurrent Programs. OSDI 2008. Bilal

     Optional reading:

  1. RaceTrack: Efficient Detection of Data Race Conditions via Adaptive Tracking, SOSP 2005.
  2. Deadlock Immunity: Enabling Systems to Defend Against Deadlocks. OSDI 2008.

Week 4: Software Fault Isolation (Feb 2)

  1. Efficient Software-Based Fault Isolation. SOSP 1993. Tony
  2. Hive: Fault Containment for Shared-Memory Multiprocessors. SOSP 1995. Mathew

     Optional reading:

  1. Hypervisor-based Fault-tolerance. SOSP 1995.
  2. Dealing With Disaster: Surviving Misbehaved Kernel Extensions. OSDI 1996.

Week 5: Software Fault Isolation (Feb 9)

  1. Unmodified Device Driver Reuse and Improved System Dependability via Virtual Machines. OSDI 2004. Mathew
  2. CuriOS: Improving Reliability through Operating System Structure. OSDI 2008. Maxim

     Optional reading:

  1. Improving the Reliability of Commodity Operating Systems. SOSP 2003.

Week 6: Reading Week (Feb 16)

Week 7: Failure Recovery (Feb 23)

  1. Rx: Treating Bugs As Allergies - A Safe Method to Survive Software Failures. SOSP 2005. Maxim
  2. Remus: High Availability via Asynchronous Virtual Machine Replication. NSDI 2008. Jon

     Optional reading:

  1. Recovering Device Drivers. OSDI 2004.
  2. Enhancing Server Availability and Security Through Failure-Oblivious Computing. OSDI 2004.
  3. SafeDrive: Safe and Recoverable Extensions Using Language-Based Techniques. OSDI 2006.

Week 8: Application-Specific Failure Recovery (Mar 2)

  1. Undo for Operators: Building an Undoable E-mail Store. Usenix 2003. Don
  2. Microreboot - A Technique for Cheap Recovery. OSDI 2004. Zoe

Week 9: Testing and Development (Mar 9)

  1. KLEE: Unassisted and Automatic Generation of High-Coverage Tests for Complex Systems Programs. OSDI 2008.Volodymyr
  2. R2: An Application-Level Kernel for Record and Replay. OSDI 2008. Zhengjun

Week 10: Secure Execution (Mar 16)

  1. Model-Carrying Code: A Practical Approach for Safe Execution of Untrusted Applications. SOSP 2003. Zhengjun
  2. Usable Mandatory Integrity Protection for Operating Systems. Security and Privacy (Oakland) 2007. Zoe

Week 11: Browser-Based Safe Execution (Mar 23)

  1. Protection and Communication Abstractions for Web Browsers in MashupOS. SOSP 2007. Tony
  2. Leveraging Legacy Code to Deploy Desktop Applications on the Web. OSDI 2008. Don

Week 12: Performance Misconfiguration (Mar 30)

  1. Correlating Instrumentation Data to System States: A Building Block for Automated Diagnosis and Control. OSDI 2004. Jon
  2. AjaxScope: A Platform for Remotely Monitoring the Client-Side Behavior of Web 2.0 Applications, SOSP 2007. Tony Zhao

     Optional reading:

  1. Performance Debugging for Distributed Systems of Black Boxes. SOSP 2003.
  2. Capturing, Indexing, Clustering, and Retrieving System History. SOSP 2005.

Week 13: System Misconfiguration (Apr 6)

  1. Understanding and Dealing with Operator Mistakes in Internet Services. OSDI 2004. Henry
  2. Staged Deployment in Mirage, an Integrated Software Upgrade Testing and Distribution System. SOSP 2007. Tony Zhao

     Optional reading:

  1. Configuration Debugging as Search: Finding the Needle in the Haystack. OSDI 2004.
  2. AutoBash: Improving Configuration Management with Operating System Causality Analysis. SOSP 2007.

Week 14: Project Presentations (Apr 13)