The Power of 10: Rules for Developing Safety-Critical Code

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The Power of 10 Rules were created in 2006 by Gerard J. Holzmann of the NASA/JPL Laboratory for Reliable Software.[1] The rules are intended to eliminate certain C coding practices which make code difficult to review or statically analyze. These rules are a complement to the MISRA C guidelines and have been incorporated into the greater set of JPL coding standards.[2]


The ten rules are:[1]

  1. Avoid complex flow constructs, such as goto and recursion.
  2. All loops must have fixed bounds. This prevents runaway code.
  3. Avoid heap memory allocation.
  4. Restrict functions to a single printed page.
  5. Use a minimum of two runtime assertions per function.
  6. Restrict the scope of data to the smallest possible.
  7. Check the return value of all non-void functions, or cast to void to indicate the return value is useless.
  8. Use the preprocessor sparingly.
  9. Limit pointer use to a single dereference, and do not use function pointers.
  10. Compile with all possible warnings active; all warnings should then be addressed before release of the software.


The NASA study of the Toyota Electronic throttle control firmware found at least 243 violations of these rules.[3][4]

See also[edit]

Further reading[edit]

  • G.J. Holzmann (2006-06-19). "The Power of 10: Rules for Developing Safety-Critical Code". IEEE Computer. 39 (6): 95–99. doi:10.1109/MC.2006.212.