Journal of Software Engineering and Applications, 2013, 6, 5-13 Published Online October 2013 (
Copyright © 2013 SciRes. JSEA
Towards Semantic Mutation Testing of Aspect-Oriented
Abdul Azim Abdul Ghani
Department of Software Engineering and Information System, Faculty of Computer Science and Information Technology, Universiti
Putra Malaysia, Serdang, Malaysia.
Received July 30th, 2013; revised August 28th, 2013; accepted September 5th, 2013
Copyright © 2013 Abdul Azim Abdul Ghani. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution
License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.
Aspect-oriented programs have received much attention from software testing researchers. Various testing techniques
and approaches have been proposed to tackle issues and challenges when testing aspect-oriented programs including
traditional mutation testing. In traditional mutation testing of aspect-oriented programs, mutants are generated by mak-
ing small changes to the syntax of the aspect-oriented language. Recently, a new approach known as semantic mutation
testing has been proposed. This approach mutates the semantics of the language in which the program is written. The
mutants generated misunderstandings of the language which are different classes of faults. Aspect-oriented program-
ming presents itself with different properties that can be further explored with respect to semantic mutation testing. This
paper describes various possible scenarios that semantic mutation testing strategy might have particular value in testing
aspect-oriented programs.
Keywords: Aspect-Oriented Program Testing; Mutation Testing; Semantic Mutation Testing
1. Introduction
Aspect-Oriented Programming (AOP) [1,2] was first in-
troduced in the middle of 1990s at the Xerox Palo Alto
Research Center. AOP provides means for modularizing
and separating crosscutting concerns in which it produces
a system with higher degree of modularity than the other
paradigms such as Object-Oriented Programs (OOPs).
However, since it has new constructs and properties that
other programming paradigms do not have, it brings new
challenges and aspect-related defects/faults [3,4], which
are not present when testing other types of programs,
which in turn cannot be addressed using traditional unit
or integration testing approaches [5,6]. For instance, an
aspect is given in a bank system that is supposed to im-
plement authentication (as crosscutting concern) before
calling to a set of methods. AOP can get this requirement
done by simply capturing any call to the given methods
(i.e. join points) in the core code by means of pointcuts
and then injects those identification functionalities or
behaviors (i.e. advice) before the method which were
invoked by callers. More specifically, if AOP misses to
capture some calls to the given methods therefore the
authentication will not properly be applied and it may
cause a severe failure in the system.
Therefore, this programming paradigm, although en-
hances the modularity, cannot provide correctness by itself
and thus like any other programs, it is prone to errors (by
developer, programmer, etc.) and requires the use of soft-
ware testing strategy to produce validated and high quality
AO software. Software testing is an essentially valuable
practice to ensure correctness of a program in finding
Testing is a central issue in aspect-oriented software de-
velopment. Since aspect-oriented programming introduces
new constructs and programming means for separation of
concerns, testing of AO programs is more sophisticated and
challenging in which the existing techniques for testing
cannot accommodate this matter and need to be leveraged
or extended. Furthermore, research in AO testing has fo-
cused on approaches such as code-based structural testing
[6,7], specification-based functional testing [8-10], use of
random testing [11], and mutation testing [12]. Surveys by
[13] and [14] have examined the effectiveness of testing
techniques for AO programs which include data flow
based unit testing, state-based approach, aspect flow
graph based technique, unit testing aspectual behaviour,
and model-based approach. Reference [15] provides an
Towards Semantic Mutation Testing of Aspect-Oriented Programs
Copyright © 2013 SciRes. JSEA
annotated bibliography of aspect-oriented program test-
In the context of this paper, mutation testing [16] (called
also as traditional mutation testing) is the basis. Mutation
testing aims to produce test cases that are good at distin-
guishing some description and variants of them. This is
done by producing mutants as a result of applying mutation
operators. In traditional mutation testing, the mutation op-
erators work at the syntactic level. Thus, the mutants do not
consider any mistakes or errors due to semantic misunder-
standing. A new strategy known as semantic mutation test-
ing [17,18] has shown that it is promising in tackling cer-
tain aspect of software defects. However this strategy has
not yet been investigated for AO testing. Therefore, the pur-
pose of this paper is to explore a semantic mutation testing
strategy for testing aspect-oriented programs.
The rest of the paper is structured as follows: Section 2
describes traditional mutation testing. Section 3 discusses
mutation testing applied to aspect-oriented programming.
Section 4 explains about semantic mutation testing. Section
5 discusses the issues and challenges faced in testing as-
pect-oriented software. Section 6 provides ways forward
in dealing with semantic mutation testing for aspect-
oriented software. These are scenarios that may have
particular value to be researched. Section 7 is the con-
2. Mutation Testing (Traditional)
Mutation testing (also known as mutation analysis [16])
is an approach originally to automate testing with the
purpose to produce test cases that are effective at distin-
guishing between a computer program and its variants.
Over the years, mutation testing has been remarkably
studied and applied not only to programs from different
programming paradigms such as Fortran programs [19,
20], C programs [21], Java programs [22], and AspectJ
programs [12,23], but also to specifications or models of
programs, such as Finite State Machine [24], Petri Nets
[25], and Security Policies [26]. Surveys and reviews on
work in mutation testing can be found in [27-29].
The main idea behind this approach is producing mu-
tants by introducing changes to the program. These
changes imitate classes of faults and test cases produced
are used to distinguish the original program from its mu-
tants. The process begins by systematically seeding faults
into a program. These faults are introduced through ap-
plication of some kind of predefined operators called
mutation operators to the original code. The mutation
operators involve syntactic changes. For example, re-
placing a variable with a constant, replacing + with , or
replacing > with >=. The mutation operators themselves
are typically derived from fault models for the specific
programs in context.
Each fault introduced results in a faulty version of
program called a mutant that slightly differs from the
original program. Then, the purpose is to run test cases
generated on the mutants to see if any of the test cases
distinguishes the faults introduced earlier into the code. If
a mutant produces different outputs than the original pro-
gram then the mutant is killed by the test cases. Other-
wise, the mutant is classified as either equivalent or live
mutant. Moreover, mutants that are functionally equiva-
lent, although syntactically different to the original pro-
gram, always produce the same output and thus no test
cases will be able to kill them. The mutants are called
undetected or live mutants.
In traditional mutation testing, mutation operators are
introduced at syntactic level. This represents errors due to
small slips or typos. Mutants that are produced only rep-
resent syntactically different programs, but do not repre-
sent misunderstanding of semantic mistake. Thus, to com-
plement the traditional mutation testing, semantic muta-
tion testing was proposed. Section 4 introduces semantic
mutation testing.
3. Mutation Testing for Aspect-Oriented
The introduction of AOP is to improve separation of
concerns by providing explicit concepts to modularize
the crosscutting concerns. AOP uses some improved ab-
stractions/constructs to represent concerns that crosscut
the program modules. Some examples of typical cross-
cutting concerns are security, synchronization policies,
and logging, which could span the entire systems. Ideally,
each crosscutting concern can be designed and imple-
mented independently. AOP separates crosscutting con-
cern from the rest of the code (core co ncern) into named
modules called aspects. It is claimed that by doing this,
the cohesion and reusability of the classes that implement
the core concerns will be increased, thus will increase the
overall quality of software.
An aspect is similar to class in object-oriented pro-
gramming (OOP). Besides having the properties of a
class in OOP, an aspect encapsulates the behavior, and
state of a crosscutting concern. In AOP languages, as-
pects can only be invoked at well-defined points in the
execution of a program. These points are called join
points. Examples of joint points are calling or execution
of methods, access to an attribute, and initialization of an
object. Join points can be determined in a pointcut or
pointcut designator. A pointcut describes a set of join
points where an advice needs to be invoked.
An advice is a method-like construct that contains be-
havior to execute at a matched joint point. For example,
this might be the security code to do authentication and
access control. The advice is woven into the join points
Towards Semantic Mutation Testing of Aspect-Oriented Programs
Copyright © 2013 SciRes. JSEA
when a pattern of a pointcut is matched. In other words,
an advice is used to express the crosscutting actions that
must take place within the method body at the matched
join point. There are three kinds of advices: before advice,
after advice, and around advice.
AspectJ [30], an extension of Java language, is widely
studied aspect-oriented programming language. It is the
most popular AOP language to date and most of the as-
pect-oriented testing papers base their work on AspectJ
language. AspectJ realizes crosscutting constructs in
AOP by providing many special constructs such as as-
pects, advice, joinpoints, and pointcuts.
As far as mutation testing for aspect-oriented programs
is concerned, the technique focuses on syntactic con-
structs of aspect-oriented programs to model faults by
means of mutation operators for aspect-oriented lan-
guages. References [4,31,32] generalize faults for general
aspect-oriented programs and produced three groups of
mutation operators. The mutation operators are grouped
into pointcut descriptor (PCD), intertype declaration
(ITD), and advices. Table 1 shows examples of as-
pect-oriented fault types listed according to each group.
These groups were obtained from a thorough analysis of
various work on aspect-oriented fault models and types
[3,33-42], fault classification [43], and bug patterns [44].
Other work that focus on mutation operators for as-
pect-oriented programs are [45-47]. Table 2 lists muta-
tion operators for aspect-oriented programs at pointcut
and advice levels for AspectJ language.
Table 1. Examples of fault types for AOP.
Pointcut related faults
Selection of a superset of join point
Selection of a subset of join point
Selection of a wrong set of join points,
including intended and unintended ones
Incorrect use of primitive pointcut designators
Incorrect pointcut composition rules
Incorrect matching based on dynamic values and events
Inter-type declaration related faults
Improper method introduction, resulting in
inconsistencies in method overriding
Incorrect changes in class hierarchy
Incorrect or omitted aspect precedence declaration
Advice related faults
Incorrect advice type specification
Incorrect control or data flow due to
execution of the original join point
Incorrect access to join point static information
Advice bound to incorrect pointcut
Table 2. Examples of mutation operators for AOP.
operators Description
Pointcut level
PWIW Inserts wildcards into pointcut expressions
PWAR Removes annotation tags from type, field,
method and constructor patterns
PSWR Removes wildcards from pointcut expressions
POPL Changes the parameter lists of primitive
Pointcut Designators/Descriptors (PCDs)
POEC Adds, omits or alters exception throwing clauses
PCTT Replaces a this PCD with a target one and vice versa
PCCE Replaces a call PCD with an execution/initialization/
preinitialization PCD and vice versa
PCGS Replaces a get PCD with a set one and vice versa
PCLO Changes the logical operators in PCDs compositions
PCCC Replaces a cflow PCD with a
cflowbelow one and vice versa
Advice level
ABAR Replaces a before clause with an after
(returning/throwing) one and vice versa
APSR Removes invocations to proceed statement
APER Removes guard conditions which
surround proceed statements
AJSC Replaces a thisEnclosingJoinPointStaticPart reference
with a thisJoinPointStaticPart one and vice versa
ABHA Removes implemented advice
ABPR Changes pointcut-advice binding by replacing
pointcuts which are bound to advice
Most work on mutation testing of aspect-oriented pro-
gramming focus AspectJ programs. Reference [48] pro-
poses a framework to automatically generate mutants for
pointcuts and to detect equivalent mutants. A tool that
implements the framework for mutation testing on point-
cut expression was proposed. A tool known as AjMutator
[49] was proposed to generate and detect mutants related
to pointcut descriptors. The tool detects equivalent mu-
tants by leveraging on the static analysis of the compiler.
Other tools that were proposed to automate generation of
mutants for AspectJ programs are MuAspectJ [50] and
Proteum/AJ [51].
4. Semantic Mutation Testing
Semantic mutation testing concept was proposed by
[17,18]. The idea behind this concept is that a description
language with semantics is mutated to represent likely
misunderstandings. Thus, it allows us to explore possible
variation of the semantics. In the case of programming
languages, there are situations that need specific imple-
Towards Semantic Mutation Testing of Aspect-Oriented Programs
Copyright © 2013 SciRes. JSEA
mentation that lead to different version of compilers be-
ing written, for example in handling of precision of
floating point [52]. As a consequence, a program involv-
ing manipulation of floating point numbers will semanti-
cally wrong in certain compilers. Mutation operators
could be applied to the semantics of the language to re-
flect the different or alternative semantics.
Semantic mutation testing formally can be represented
as follows [18]: Given a source code N written in a pro-
gramming language with semantic L, the behavior is de-
fined by the pair (N, L). The application of a semantic
mutation operator is of the form (N, L) (N, L') will
produce a first-order mutant (N, L') of (N, L) by applying
one mutation operator once to the semantics of the lan-
guage. Suppose that (N, L') is mutated from (N, L). Then
N has its meaning under L represented by NL and its
meaning under L' represented by NL'. Given a test case t,
NL(t) is the behavior produced when applying t to N un-
der semantics L and NL'(t) is the behavior produced when
applying t to N under semantics L'. The mutant (N, L') is
said to be killed by a test case t if and only if NL(t)
NL'(t). Moreover, this mutant (N, L') is an equivalent mu-
tant if t
|NL(t) = NL'(t).
In mutation testing of a source code N with semantics
L, a set of mutation operators are applied individually to
L. This will produce alternative semantics L1,….,Lm. The
mutants (N, L1),,(N, Lm) are used to evaluate a test suite
or to drive test generation in which a test suite should kill
every non-equivalent mutant in the set of mutants.
According to [17,18], three approaches to implement
semantic testing are:
Have a parameterisable system for interpreting a lan-
guage, the parameters allowing the semantic to be
Express the semantics in the form that can be mani-
Simulate a mutation of the semantic by making changes
to the syntax of the description.
Besides the work in [52], semantic mutation testing for
C language has also being implemented by using the third
approach in which semantic mutation are simulated by
making changes to the syntax of C program [53]. A tool
known as SMT-C was implemented to handle this. In this
tool, they implement a group of 13 semantic mutation
operators based on specific misunderstandings of C lan-
guages including 4 related to floating point numbers.
As far as we are concerned from our reading, there is
no work on semantic mutation testing for aspect-oriented
program. Only a few works using traditional mutation
testing have been reported in the literature as mentioned
in the above section. In traditional mutation testing, the
mutation operators work at the syntactic level and mostly
focusing on AspectJ language. Thus, the mutants pro-
duced do not consider any mistakes or errors due to se-
mantic misunderstanding of the aspect-oriented pro-
gramming language. Semantic mutation testing has
shown that it is promising in tackling certain type of
software defects, for example, floating-point numbers.
However this strategy has not been yet applied to AOP
5. Issues and Challenges of AO Programs
Aspect-oriented programming paradigm new concepts
and properties extend the capabilities of other pro-
gramming paradigms. In AOP, separate aspects are de-
fined (or coded) to contain crosscutting actions (obli-
viousness nature). These aspects then are woven into
classes to represent the core concerns of the system. The
woven code may vary between different compilers and
versions. Such concepts and properties pose new chal-
lenges and issues regarding testing. Testing aspect-
oriented programs must consider faults due to an aspect
code fragments or where the fragments are inserted
through pointcuts. Furthermore the types of code inserted
by an aspect can be different, thus different aspects may
need different testing strategies. Up to now many testing
strategies has been proposed.
The proposed testing strategies are the outcomes from
trying to handle the issues [3,54-56] faced in testing as-
pect-oriented programs:
Aspects do not have independent identity. Aspects
depend on the context of their use in a program with
respect to the base classes. Thus, an aspect could not
be separately tested as a unit. The aspect needs to be
woven together with its base classes to generate ex-
ecutable code before testing it.
Aspects can be tightly coupled to their woven context.
Aspects are often tightly coupled with their woven
classes. Thus, any change to these classes will likely
impact the aspects.
Control and data dependencies are not readily appar-
ent from the source code of aspects or classes. The
nature of weaving process results in difficulty in
comprehension of control and data dependencies by
developers. Thus, relating failures to corresponding
faults becomes difficult.
Interaction between classes and aspects results in
emergent behavior. The root cause of a fault may lie
in a class, or an aspect, or it may be as a side effect of
a particular weave order of multiple aspects. Thus,
resulting is potential faults that are difficult to diag-
Behavioral changes due to foreign aspects. The use of
foreign aspects in a software system can introduce
unexpected and undesired behavior. Thus, they can
affect program correctness, comprehension, and main-
Interference of aspects can result conflicting behavior.
Towards Semantic Mutation Testing of Aspect-Oriented Programs
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The introduction of different types of changes by as-
pects into a software system produces different types
of interferences that the aspects can cause.
Problems in pointcut descriptors (PCDs) if they are
wrongly formulated. Faults will be injected due to
wrong formulation of PCDs by developers. This in-
troduces additional behavior or fails to be applied to
related join points.
Besides the above issues, other issues that can influ-
ence aspect-oriented program testing are undisclosed type
of errors or bug patterns, and recurring or symptomatic
issues. Even though the current testing strategies test
AOP statically, we believe that the semantics of AOP
influence the behavior of the program.
Many researchers have investigated techniques with
the goal of understanding and verifying the effects of
aspect on the core concern as well as an aspect interac-
tion as the result of obliviousness nature of AOP. Refer-
ences [57,58] pointed out that new aspects introduce into
a program may cause certain modules cease to function
as expected due to conflicts between superimposed as-
pects. Thus the occurrence of the problems may be un-
predictable. This problem (also called semantic interfer-
ence conflicts) can occur when different aspects possibly
developed by different developers at different time are
superimposed on the same join point may semantically
interfere with each other. Potential conflicts may occur
depending on the model used or specification style for
expressing aspects [57].
These drawbacks are reflected as composition prob-
lems between aspects and base code. An aspect composi-
tion problem refers to an incorrect behaviour in an appli-
cation that is related to the use of AOP language. Work to
determine this category of problems has been reported in
recent years [59-62]. For example [61] classifies aspect
interference as the following:
Wildcards Pointcut Problem that refers to the use of
wildcards characters can lead to accidental joinpoints
capture and miss.
Conflicts between Aspects that refers to the order of
weaving of a set of aspects is very important to ensure
correct behaviour.
Circular Dependency between Aspects that refers to
the formation of circles of the semantic dependencies
between aspects.
Conflicts between Concerns that refers to functional-
ity needed by a concern is changed by another con-
A more recent work on the classification of aspect
composition problems is the work of [63]. The classifica-
tion is a three-dimensional taxonomy of aspect composi-
tion problems which include the following categories:
Functional versus Crosscutting Aspect Composition
Problems classify problems that impact the function-
alities of an aspect or a base program, and problems
that prevent the correct implementation of crosscut-
ting concerns respectively.
Inter-Aspects Problems versus System-Wide Prob-
lems refers respectively to the aspect compositions
problems during aspectual composition process, and
problems involving both aspect and base programs.
Semantic versus Syntax Problems refers problems that
occur due to inconsistencies that change the meanings
or logic of an AO programs, and problems that are
incurred by the insufficient of AOP languages to sup-
port implementation of crosscutting concerns.
The issues raised by the researchers are not only con-
cerned with syntax of AO program, but also the seman-
tics of it.
6. Way Forward
Since there are aspect and non-aspect code (i. e. base code)
in a program, the aspect code must be run properly with
the non-aspect code. This can be realized through aspect
weaving. Aspect weaving is the process by which be-
haviour on aspects are merged to the core concern code
to yield a working system. However as being mentioned
in previous section not all types of fault can be detected
by testing techniques. This situation provides avenue for
more research in AO testing as up to recently researchers
are focusing on testing syntactic-oriented of AO pro-
grams. Thus, inspired by semantic mutation testing tech-
nique, it is also desirable to study into detail the appli-
cability of the technique. Below are some possible sce-
narios that can be further explored.
Model transformation–refinement and translation
In aspect-oriented software development, various de-
scription of the underlying aspect-oriented software may
be generated by different activities. Requirements and de-
signs artifacts are transformed to aspect-oriented lan-
guage such as AspectJ or AspectC++. UML diagrams
have been extended for aspect-oriented modeling [64] at
the requirement and design levels. A more recent notation
is aspect-oriented user requirements notation [65,66] to
depict user requirements with respect to aspects has been
proposed which later can be transformed to aspect-ori-
ented design model [67]. The form of description of as-
pect-oriented software changes from abstract models to
concrete code in aspect-oriented programming language.
As transformation moves to the target description, se-
mantic misunderstanding can be introduced because of
the informality of either description or the semantic dif-
ferences between the source and target description. Se-
mantic mutation operators could change the semantics of
the target description to simulate the semantics given to
the source description.
Common misunderstanding
For a given set common misunderstandings for a par-
Towards Semantic Mutation Testing of Aspect-Oriented Programs
Copyright © 2013 SciRes. JSEA
ticular aspect-oriented description, a set of semantic mu-
tation operators could represent these misunderstandings.
Such a set of operators could be formed by analysis and
studies of common faults; such as the studies on mutation
analysis for model transformation [68], on mutation op-
erators for AspectJ language [31], on fault model for the
aspect composition at design level [41], and on the recur-
ring mistakes by programmers [69]. Given a mutation
operator representing a misunderstanding, a test set that
kills the mutants generated by this operator should be
good at locating faults that due to the misunderstanding.
Misunderstandings may occur through refactoring.
Refactoring is a process of changing a software system in
such a way to improve the code’s internal structure wi-
thout changing its external behaviour. In the perspective
of aspect-oriented applications, refactoring can be applied
in situation where an aspect can be introduced to an ex-
isting object-oriented program or legacy system, for ex-
ample, refactoring a Java program to an equivalent As-
pectJ program. The legacy system and the new system
may exhibit different semantics. However, support for
assuring that refactoring preserves behaviour is lacking.
Thus semantic mutation testing seems logical to be ap-
plied in order to test semantic differences between the
two systems. References [35,70] are worth to be consid-
ered involving refactoring of aspects and testing.
It can happen that a specific aspect-oriented language
used needs to be migrated to a different programming
language. For example migrating from AspectJ to As-
pectC++. The original language and the new one may
encompass different semantics. There is a tendency that
mistakes will be caused by this difference in semantics.
Further analysis of the languages need to be done to de-
termine the possible different in semantics. The process
of migration could be assisted using a tool to generate
test case that can locate mistakes caused by the differ-
ences in semantics. Mutation operators defined depend
on the original and new language semantics.
Aspect Composition
Multiple pieces of advice can be applied to the same
join point. Advice precedence determines the order in
which advice is woven. In AspectJ programming lan-
guage, precedence is dealt with differently depending on
where the pieces of advice are defined. It can be either in
the same aspect or in different aspects. AspectJ pro-
grammers have the option of declaring the order in which
aspects are woven by a precedence statement. It can hap-
pen that no precedence statement is declared. Thus, the
precedence of aspects is undefined in the semantics of
AspectJ. In this case, the AspectJ compiler chooses an
order in which to weave aspects. Generally this order
cannot be inferred by programmers prior to weaving. Un-
fortunately, different weaving orders can result in pro-
grams that behave differently. We need to know the
weaving order to be able to predict the result. If the
weaving order is undetermined, as in the absence of a
precedence declaration, the woven program will at the
least be not portable (since different compilers can
choose different weaving orders). Moreover, program-
mers will not be informed about the order the compiler
chooses. In another perspective, different pieces of advice
can appear within aspects in a certain textual order that
their precedence follows certain predetermined rules.
However these rules lead to the problems of circularity
and unable to express all weaving orders. In such cases,
programmers must manually modify the order the advice
is listed in the program text to ensure the resulting weav-
ing order eliminates circularity, and produce a semanti-
cally appropriate weaving for the task at hand which is a
non-trivial and lengthy process. However, if the pro-
grammers forget to do that or if it is not obvious to find
the precedence relation due to a big number of aspects or
the complexity of their properties then the result can be
disastrous. Semantic mutation testing can be used to ex-
plore the impact of undeclared precedence of pieces of
advice and aspects, and thus assists in determining of
portability of the program. Semantic mutation operator
would rearrange the order of the precedence. If the muta-
tion operator generates an equivalent mutant then the
behaviour of the program of the tested program is not
affected by portability issues. The above scenario on as-
pect composition only involves precedence. There are
other problems that can occur in aspect composition as
mentioned in [59-63]. These problems provide opportu-
nity for applying semantic mutation testing.
7. Conclusion
In this paper, the new type of mutation testing called
semantic mutation testing which has been introduced is
advocated to be applied in testing aspect-oriented pro-
gram. The aim is to represent mistakes due to the mis-
understandings of semantics of aspect-oriented pro-
grams. A range of scenarios in which semantics mutation
testing may have specific value has been initially de-
scribed. The scenarios provide opportunities for further
research in this area.
8. Acknowledgements
The author would like to thank Malaysia Ministry of
Education for providing grant under Fundamental Re-
search Grant Scheme (08-01-13-1222FR) for the project.
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