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Practical Combinatorial Testing



David R. Kuhn, Raghu N. Kacker, Yu Lei


Combinatorial testing can help detect problems like this early in the testing life cycle. The key insight underlying t-way combinatorial testing is that not every parameter contributes to every fault and most faults are caused by interactions between a relatively small number of parameters. This publication provides a self-contained tutorial on using combinatorial testing for real-world software, including how to use it effectively for system and software assurance. It introduces the key concepts and methods, explains use of software tools for generating combinatorial tests (freely available on the NIST web site, and discusses advanced topics such as the use of formal models of software to determine the expected results for each set of test inputs. With each topic, a section on costs and practical considerations explains tradeoffs and limitations that may impact resources or funding. The material is accessible to an undergraduate student of computer science or engineering, and includes an extensive set of references to papers that provide more depth on each topic.
Special Publication (NIST SP) - 800-142
Report Number


Combinatorial methods, computer security, software assurance, software testing


Kuhn, D. , Kacker, R. and Lei, Y. (2010), Practical Combinatorial Testing, Special Publication (NIST SP), National Institute of Standards and Technology, Gaithersburg, MD, [online], (Accessed June 12, 2024)


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Created October 7, 2010, Updated November 10, 2018