What is computer science

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CS 124 Slide

What is computer science?

The discipline of computing is the systematic study of the algorithmic processes that describe and transform information: their theory, analysis, design, efficiency, implementation, and application. The fundamental question underlying all of computing is, ‘What can be (efficiently) automated?’ ”

Denning et al., “Computing as a Discipline,” Communications of the ACM 32, 1 (Jan 1989) pp. 9–23.

  • a young discipline that arose from several more established fields (mathematics, science, engineering)

key words: algorithm, information (“informatics”)

  • term coined by George Forsythe, a numerical analyst and founding head (1965-1972) of Stanford Univ. CS Department

  • CS at Waterloo: formally founded in 1967 as the Department of Applied Analysis and Computer Science

Aspects of computer science

  • Design (from engineering)

  • establish requirements and specifications; create artefacts based on sound design principles

  • application: create hardware and software that is flexible, efficient, and usable

  • Theory (from mathematics)

  • develop model; prove theorems

  • application: analyze the efficiency of algorithms before implementation; discover limits to computation

  • Experimentation (from science)

  • form hypothesis, design experiments, and test predictions

  • application: simulate real-world situations; test effectiveness of programs whose behaviour cannot be modelled well

These aspects appear throughout CS, occasionally concurrently.

Ariane 5

On 4 June 1996, the maiden flight of the Ariane 5 launcher ended in failure. Only about 40 seconds after initiation of the flight sequence, at an altitude of about 3700 m, the launcher veered off its flight path, broke up and exploded.

[Ariana 5 Flight 501 Failure, Report by the Inquiry Board, July 1996]

What happened?

  • “At 36.7 seconds after H0 (approx. 30 seconds after lift-off) the computer within the back-up inertial reference system, which was working on stand-by for guidance and attitude control, became inoperative. This was caused by an internal variable related to the horizontal velocity of the launcher exceeding a limit which existed in the software of this computer.

  • “Approx. 0.05 seconds later the active inertial reference system, identical to the back-up system in hardware and software, failed for the same reason. Since the back-up inertial system was already inoperative, correct guidance and attitude information could no longer be obtained and loss of the mission was inevitable.

  • “As a result of its failure, the active inertial reference system transmitted essentially diagnostic information to the launcher's main computer, where it was interpreted as flight data and used for flight control calculations.

  • “On the basis of those calculations the main computer commanded the booster nozzles, and somewhat later the main engine nozzle also, to make a large correction for an attitude deviation that had not occurred.”

Ariane 5 (cont’d)

The inertial reference system of Ariane 5 is essentially common to a system which is presently flying on Ariane 4.

So, how did the failure happen?

  • “The part of the software which caused the interruption in the inertial system computers is used before launch to align the inertial reference system and, in Ariane 4, also to enable a rapid realignment of the system in case of a late hold in the countdown. This realignment function, which does not serve any purpose on Ariane 5, was nevertheless retained for commonality reasons and allowed, as in Ariane 4, to operate for approx. 40 seconds after lift-off.

  • “In Ariane 4 flights using the same type of inertial reference system there has been no such failure because the trajectory during the first 40 seconds of flight is such that the particular variable related to horizontal velocity cannot reach, with an adequate operational margin, a value beyond the limit present in the software.

  • “Ariane 5 has a high initial acceleration and a trajectory which leads to a build-up of horizontal velocity which is five times more rapid than for Ariane 4. The higher horizontal velocity of Ariane 5 generated, within the 40-second timeframe, the excessive value which caused the inertial system computers to cease operation.”

Lessons learned:

R5 … Identify all implicit assumptions made by the code and its justification documents on the values of quantities provided by the equipment. Check these assumptions against the restrictions on use of the equipment….

R11 Review the test coverage of existing equipment and extend it where it is deemed necessary.

R12 Give the justification documents the same attention as code. Improve the technique for keeping code and its justifications consistent….

Software in the real world

  • Specifications change

  • People change

  • Support systems change

  • Intended applications change

Programs must survive these changes.

  • well-designed programs are adaptable

  • well-designed components can be reused

Guideline: Design and document software components as you would have others others design and document them for you.

The “Software Life Cycle”

Iterative model of software evolution

[Hume, West, Holt, and Barnard]

  • Note the cycle!

  • more accurate than including a maintenance box as part of the traditional “waterfall model”

  • for correcting software

  • for responding to new marketing information

  • Throughout the whole life cycle, documentation is critical: to capture rationale and communicate intent


Fundamentally, computer science is a science of abstraction – creating the right model for a problem and devising the appropriate mechanizable techniques to solve it. Confronted with a problem, we must create an abstraction of that problem that can be represented and manipulated inside a computer. Through these manipulations, we try to find a solution to the original problem.”

A. V. Aho & J. D. Ullman, Foundations of Computer Science
Object-oriented design concentrates on data abstraction:

  1. identify entities occurring in problem domain

  2. partition similar entities into sets

  3. identify properties and operations common to all entities in each set

  4. define interfaces to support operations on objects that belong to each entity set

  5. define code modules to implement the entity sets

  • choose representations for objects

  • implement methods for constructing and manipulating objects conforming to the interfaces

Abstract Data Types

  • An abstract data type (ADT) includes

  • set of values (data space)

  • set of operators (methods)

  • examples:

  • whole numbers with addition, subtraction, absolute value, square root, ...

  • ordered sequences of characters with concatenate, substring, length, ...

  • sets of objects with union, intersection, size, ...

  • points in the plane with x-coordinate, distance, ...

  • allows us to define further types tailored to applications’ needs

  • independent of programming language

  • also applicable to procedural programming languages

  • independent of data representation and operator implementation

ADTs (cont'd)

  • Use the principle of information hiding

coined by David Parnas in 1972

“Every module [should be] characterized by its knowledge of a design decision which it hides from all others.”

  • particularly important to hide decisions that are likely to change (when they are found to be wrong or the environment has changed)

  • benefits software maintenance and reuse

  • ADT List

  • collection of n objects indexed from 1 to n

  • 1, i2, i3, … , in>

  • can create an empty list

  • createList()

  • can get the number of items

  • s.size()

  • can access element at an arbitrary index of List s

  • s.get(index)

  • can insert new elements

  • s.add(index, item)

  • can remove elements

  • s.remove(index) or s.removeAll()

  • special check for empty List

  • s.isEmpty()  (s.size() == 0)

Assertions in programs

  • An assertion is:

  • a logical claim about the state of a program

  • located at a specific point in the program

  • assumed true whenever that point is reached

Example: 0  i < a.length

  • precise, concise, and convincing documentation

  • can be used to

  • guide the creation of a program (design)

  • reason formally about a program and verify its correctness (theory)

  • drive formulation of test cases and debugging strategy (experiment)

Properties of assertions

  • comments

  • snapshots of what is claimed to be true during execution at some specific point in the code

  • noteworthy static statements

  • not descriptions of action or change

Specification by assertions

  • preconditions: assertions that must be true when the method is invoked

  • p
    Specify the syntax and semantics of each method:

    • its signature :

    • assumed properties of its inputs

    • intended effects of its execution

    public static int valueAt (int[] a, int i);

    // pre: 0  i < a.length

    // post: returns a[i]

    public boolean equals (Object other);

    // post: returns true iff this has the same value as other

    : assertions that will be true when the method returns

  • A method with preconditions and postconditions specifies a contract between the implementer and its users.

  • preconditions need not be checked within method

  • Pre- and postconditions give the basis of testing and of formal verification.

Specification of ADT List
public interface ListInterface {

/* finite (possibly empty) collection of objects,

indexed from 1 to size() */

public boolean isEmpty();

// post: Returns true iff this is empty

public int size();

// post: Returns the number of items that are currently in this

public void removeAll();

// post: this is empty

public void add(int index, Object item)

throws ListIndexOutOfBoundsException,


// post: If index >= 1, index <= size()+1 and this is not full, then, item is at

// index and other items are renumbered accordingly; if index < 1 or

// index > size() + 1, throws ListIndexOutOfBoundsException; if list is full,

// throws ListException

public Object get(int index)

throws ListIndexOutOfBoundsException;

// post: If 1 <= index <= size(), the item at position index in the list is

// returned; throws ListIndexOutOfBoundsException if index < 1 or

// index > size()

public void remove(int index)

throws ListIndexOutOfBoundsException;

// post: If 1 <= index <= size(), the item at position index in the list is

// deleted, and other items are renumbered accordingly; throws

// ListIndexOutOfBoundsException if index < 1 or index > size().


ADTs in Java

  • Classes provide representations and implementations of an ADT allowing for their instantiation

  • We would like to separate these details from the ADT's specification

  • Java provides specific mechanism that it calls an interface.

  • Java “interface” is a set of method signatures.

  • no code for the methods

  • no constructors

  • Java interfaces can extend other Java interfaces.

  • interfaces form a hierarchy

  • A class implements one or more interfaces.

  • For each method in an interface, such a class must provide a method that matches the interface method signature exactly.

interface TA extends Student, Employee { ... }

class teachAsst implements TA, Cloneable { ... }

  • syntax and semantics of the operators are defined by the interface

Java Data Types

  • Program variables contain either

  • values of primitive types (int, char, etc.), or

  • references to arrays or to objects (values of subclasses of the class Object)

int temperature;

int [] dailyHighTemperatures;

Object highAndLowTemperatures;

ListInterface temperatureReadings;

  • Variable declared with a class name can refer to objects in any subclass.

  • Variables declared with an interface name can refer to objects in any class implementing that interface.

  • Casting

  • When an object is constructed (using new), its type is established.

Square sq = new Square(3);

  • An object of type T can always be treated as if it were of a supertype of T (upcast).

Rectangle rec = sq;

  • Thus all objects can be treated as type Object.

  • If an object is cast to some supertype (upcast), it can later be downcast to its original type.

sq = (Square) rec; /* could raise exception */

Wrapper classes

To use primitive values in situations requiring objects, need to “wrap” them. For example:

public final class java.lang.Integer

extends java.lang.Number {


public Integer(int value);

// post: constructs wrapper object to hold value

public boolean equals(Object obj);

// post: returns true iff this.intValue() == obj.intValue()

public int intValue();

// post: returns value wrapped by this

public String toString();

// post: returns string representation of this.intValue();



  • N.B. These wrapper classes define “immutable” objects: there are no “set” or “update” methods.

  • Similar classes exist for booleans, doubles, etc.

ADT Hierarchy

  • ADT SortedList is a finite collection of objects maintained in a specified order together with the operations:

  • createSortedList, sortedIsEmpty, sortedSize, sortedAdd(item), sortedRemove(item), sortedGet(index), locateIndex(item)

  • operations in common with ADT List can be put into a more general ADT

  • BasicList ADT

  • methods: size, isEmpty, removeAll, get

  • hierarchy is reflected in the Java interfaces, not the Java classes

  • classes that implement this interface must provide

  • one or more constructors

  • basic constructor inherits default implementation

  • correct implementation for each method

  • semantics of each method specified by pre-and postconditions

  • equals and toString inherit default implementations from Object

Representation independence

  • Define all variables using the name of the ADT’s interface, not any of the classes that implement that interface.

ListInterface s;



  • ADT user need not be aware of representation.

  • Implementation can be changed without altering any user code.

  • Use a “data factory” to create all objects.

  • cannot define a constructor in an interface

  • therefore cannot create instance of ADT without reference to its representation

  • problem: every use of new exposes the representation

  • solution: restrict new to special “creator” methods

public static ListInterface makeList() {

return new ListArrayBased();


    and collect all such constructing methods (at least one per ADT) in a “data factory” class.

    Then, wherever needed in an application:

ListInterface s = DataFactory.makeList();

Advantages of using ADTs

  • Choice of which implementation to use is isolated within data factory.

  • System recognizes actual types of objects and connects method calls to correct classes implicitly.

  • result: increased modularity

Software testing

  • part of initial development effort and integral part of the maintenance cycle

  • provides some evidence that software meets its specifications

  • Must be systematic, not haphazard

  • Must be well-documented

  • Must be repeatable

  • Unit testing: purpose is to show that components meet their specifications

  • System testing: … integrated whole meets its specifications

To be most effective, software testers must adopt the attitude that their goal is to show that the software does not meet its specifications.

Black-box testing

  • Design test cases based on specifications

  • Recall: pre- and postconditions define a contract.

  • test input should meet preconditions

  • test runs should compare output to expected results implied by postconditions

  • “typical” input: values of data expected to be common in practice

  • boundary values: data that makes the precondition(s) “barely” true

For example,

public void removeMe (Object[] array);

// pre: array not null

// post: removes first occurrence of this, if any, closing

// gap and setting the last entry to null

test cases involving x.removeMe(a):


a.length == 0


x is the only member


null is the only member


x is in the middle


x is at the start


x is at the end


x is not in the array


x repeats

White-box testing

  • Design test cases based on the structure of the code.

  • Execute every line of code.

  • Branch testing: tests for each alternative

  • Loop testing: tests to iterate

    • 0 times

    • exactly once

    • several times

    • as often as possible

  • Exit testing: tests to cause each condition for loop or method exit

  • Exception testing: test of exception handling

Continuing example:

public void removeMe (Object[] array) {

// pre: array not null

// post: removes first occurrence of this, if any, closing

// gap and setting the last entry to null

int i;

for (i = 0; i < array.length; i++) {

if (array[i] == this) break;


if (i == array.length) return;

while (i < array.length-1) {

array[i] = array[i+1];



array[i] = null;

Systematic testing

    Test plan: collection of tests to perform; for each test:

  • describe condition(s) being tested

  • input data

  • expected results

    Test log: record of the results of running tests

  • pairing test from test plan to output produced

    Test harness: program that reads test plan from a data file, executes it, and writes test log to output file

    Regression testing: testing modified code with identical inputs used to test that code previously

  • Test each class implementing an ADT

  • include main method to invoke the test harness with suitable test plan

  • test each constructor and each method

  • rerun after each code change to ensure changes eliminated errors without introducing new ones

  • Test application (system)

  • black-box: use system specifications only

  • white-box: use knowledge of components and their interactions

  • Prepare system test report

  • test log for system as a whole

  • explain any deviations from specifications

Implementation of List

  • might choose a data structure that will allow random access to elements at a given index

  • a partially filled array of a fixed size might be a reasonable choice if an upper bound on the number of items to be inserted into the List is known

  • a partially filled array which is resized when full is a data structure that will grow and shrink gracefully as objects are inserted into and removed from a List

  • Carrano & Prichard only discuss this briefly on page 158

  • this is precisely what a Vector or ArrayList is (java.util)

  • N.B. A Vector or ArrayList is not really an ADT because of trimToSize() and capacity()

Dynamic storage in Java

  • Space to hold the value of a variable “local” to a method is allocated automatically.

  • Space to hold the value of an object or array is explicitly allocated and initialized upon construction.

  • in response to use of new or array initializer

Using references in Java

Assume Student is a class that includes:

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