Detecting and Escaping Infinite Loops with Jolt

Infinite loops make applications unresponsive. Potential problems include lost work or output, denied access to application functionality, and a lack of responses to urgent events. We present Jolt, a novel system for dynamically detecting and escaping infinite loops. At the user's request, Jolt attaches to an application to monitor its progress. Specifically, Jolt records the program state at the start of each loop iteration. If two consecutive loop iterations produce the same state, Jolt reports to the user that the application is in an infinite loop. At the user's option, Jolt can then transfer control to a statement following the loop, thereby allowing the application to escape the infinite loop and ideally continue its productive execution. The goal is to enable the application to execute long enough to save any pending work, finish any in-progress computations, or respond to any urgent events.

We evaluated Jolt by applying it to detect and escape eight infinite loops in five benchmark applications. Jolt was able to detect seven of the eight infinite loops (the eighth changes the state on every iteration). We also evaluated the quality of escaping an infinite loop as an alternative to terminating the application. In all of our benchmark applications, escaping an infinite loop produced a more useful output than terminating the application. Finally, we evaluated how well escaping from an infinite loop approximated the correction that the developers later made to the application. For two out of our eight loops, escaping the infinite loop produced the same output as the fixed version of the application.


Detecting and Escaping Infinite Loops with Jolt
Michael Carbin, Sasa Misailovic, Michael Kling, and Martin Rinard
To Appear In Proceedings of European Conference on Object-Oriented Programming (ECOOP) 2011
(Paper) (Appendix)

Press Coverage

MIT News Article
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Ars Technica Article


Michael Carbin
Sasa Misailovic
Michael Kling
Martin Rinard