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Automated Artifact Evaluation

A growing number of Computer Science conferences and journals incorporate an artifact evaluation process in which authors of articles submit artifact descriptions that are tested by a committee, in order to verify that experiments presented in a paper can be re-executed by others. In short, an artifact description is a 2-3 page narrative on how to replicate results, including steps that detail how to install software and how to re-execute experiments and analysis contained in a paper.

An alternative to the manual creation and verification of an Artifact Description (AD) is to use a continuous integration (CI) service such as GitLab-CI or Jenkins. Authors can make use of a CI service to automate the experimentation pipelines associated to a paper. By doing this, the URL pointing to the project on the CI server that holds execution logs, as well as the repository containing all the automation scripts, can serve as the AD. In other words, the repository containing the code for experimentation pipelines, and the associated CI project, serve both as a "self-verifiable AD". Thus, instead of requiring manually created ADs, conferences and journals can request that authors submit a link to a code repository (Github, Gitlab, etc.) where automation scripts reside, along with a link to the CI server that executes the pipelines.

While automating the execution of a pipeline can be done in many ways, in order for this approach to serve as an alternative to ADs, there are five high-level tasks that pipelines must carry out in every execution:

  • Code and data dependencies. Code must reside on a version control system (e.g. github, gitlab, etc.). If datasets are used, then they should reside in a dataset management system (datapackage, gitlfs, dataverse, etc.). The experimentation pipelines must obtain the code/data from these services on every execution.
  • Setup. The pipeline should build and deploy the code under test. For example, if a pipeline is using containers or VMs to package their code, the pipeline should build the container/VM images prior to executing them. The goal of this is to verify that all the code and 3rd party dependencies are available at the time a pipeline runs, as well as the instructions on how to build the software.
  • Resource allocation. If a pipeline requires a cluster or custom hardware to reproduce results, resource allocation must be done as part of the execution of the pipeline. This allocation can be static or dynamic. For example, if an experiment runs on custom hardware, the pipeline can statically allocate (i.e. hardcode IP/hostnames) the machines where the code under study runs (e.g. GPU/FPGA nodes). Alternatively, a pipeline can dynamically allocate nodes (using infrastructure automation tools) on CloudLab, Chameleon, Grid5k, SLURM, Terraform (EC2, GCE, etc.), etc.
  • Environment capture. Capture information about the runtime environment. For example, hardware description, OS, system packages (i.e. software installed by system administrators), remote services (e.g. a scheduler). Many open-source tools can aid in aggregating this information such as SOSReport or facter.
  • Validation. Scripts must verify that the output corroborates the claims made on the article. For example, the pipeline might check that the throughput of a system is within an expected confidence interval (e.g. defined with respect to a baseline obtained at runtime).

A list of example Popper pipelines meeting the above criteria:

More examples are listed here.

NOTE: A pipeline can be implemented by any means and does not need to be implemented using the Popper CLI. While the examples we link above are of Popper pipelines, this subsection has the intention to apply, in general, to any type of automated approach. Our intention is to define, in written form, the criteria for Automated Artifact Evaluation.

CI Infrastructure for Automated Artifact Evaluation

We have an instance of Jenkins running at http://ci.falsifiable.us, maintained by members of the Systems Research Lab (SRL) at UC Santa Cruz. Detailed instructions on how to create an account on this service and how to use it is available here (also includes instructions on how to self-host it). This service allows researchers and students to automate the execution and validation of experimentation pipelines without happing to deploy infrastructure of their own.

Self-paced Tutorial

A hands-on, self-paced tutorial is available here.