An Overview of the SWEBOK Guide

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Lead Authors: Heidi Davidz, Alice Squires

Systems engineers are fortunate that the software community has developed its own body of knowledge. The introduction to Version 3 of the Guide to the Software Engineering Body of Knowledge states:

The purpose of the Guide is to describe the portion of the Body of Knowledge that is generally accepted, to organize that portion, and to provide topical access to it. (Bourque and Fairley 2014)

SWEBOK Guide Version 3

The purposes of SWEBOK V3 are as follows:

  • to characterize the contents of the software engineeringsoftware engineering discipline;
  • to promote a consistent view of software engineering worldwide;
  • to clarify the place of, and set the boundary of, software engineering with respect to other disciplines;
  • to provide a foundation for training materials and curriculum development; and
  • to provide a basis for certification and licensing of software engineers.

SWEBOK V3 contains 15 knowledge areas (KAs). Each KA includes an introduction, a descriptive breakdown of topics and sub-topics, recommended references, references for further reading, and a matrix matching reference material with each topic. An appendix provides a list of standards most relevant to each KA. An overview of the individual KAs presented in the guide is provided in the next two sections.

Knowledge Areas Characterizing the Practice of Software Engineering

Software Requirements

The Software Requirements KA is concerned with the elicitation, negotiation, analysis, specification, and validation of software requirements. It is widely acknowledged within the software industry that software engineering projects are critically vulnerable when these activities are performed poorly. Software requirements express the needs and constraints placed on a software product that contribute to the solution of some real-world problems.

Software Design

Design is defined as both the process of defining the architecture, components, interfaces, and other characteristics of a system or component and the result of [that] process (IEEE 1991). The Software Design KA covers the design process and the resulting product. The software design process is the software engineering life cycle activity in which software requirements are analyzed in order to produce a description of the software’s internal structure and its behavior that will serve as the basis for its construction. A software design (the result) must describe the software architecture – that is, how software is decomposed and organized into components and the interfaces between those components. It must also describe the components at a level of detail that enables their construction.

Software Construction

Software construction refers to the detailed creation of working software through a combination of detailed design, coding, unit testing, integration testing, debugging, and verification. The Software Construction KA includes topics related to the development of software programs that will satisfy their requirements and design constraints. This KA covers software construction fundamentals; managing software construction; construction technologies; practical considerations; and software construction tools.

Software Testing

Testing is an activity performed to evaluate product quality and to improve it by identifying defects. Software testing involves dynamic verification of the behavior of a program against expected behavior on a finite set of test cases. These test cases are selected from the (usually very large) execution domain. The Software Testing KA includes the fundamentals of software testing; testing techniques; human-computer user interface testing and evaluation; test-related measures; and practical considerations.

Software Maintenance

Software maintenance involves enhancing existing capabilities, adapting software to operate in new and modified operating environments, and correcting defects. These categories are referred to as perfective, adaptive, and corrective software maintenance. The Software Maintenance KA includes fundamentals of software maintenance (nature of and need for maintenance, categories of maintenance, maintenance costs); key issues in software maintenance (technical issues, management issues, maintenance cost estimation, measurement of software maintenance); the maintenance process; software maintenance techniques (program comprehension, re-engineering, reverse engineering, refactoring, software retirement); disaster recovery techniques, and software maintenance tools.

Software Configuration Management

The configuration of a system is the functional and/or physical characteristics of hardware, firmware, software, or a combination of these. It can also be considered as a collection of specific versions of hardware, firmware, or software items combined according to specific build procedures to serve a particular purpose. Software configuration management (SCM) is thus the discipline of identifying the configuration of a system at distinct points in time for the purposes of systematically controlling changes to the configuration, as well as maintaining the integrity and traceability of the configuration throughout the software life cycle. The Software Configuration Management KA covers management of the SCM process; software configuration identification, control, status accounting, and auditing; software release management and delivery; and software configuration management tools.

Software Engineering Management

Software engineering management involves planning, coordinating, measuring, reporting, and controlling a project or program to ensure that development and maintenance of the software is systematic, disciplined, and quantified. The Software Engineering Management KA covers initiation and scope definition (determining and negotiating requirements, feasibility analysis, and review and revision of requirements); software project planning (process planning, estimation of effort, cost, and schedule, resource allocation, risk analysis, planning for quality); software project enactment (measuring, reporting, and controlling; acquisition and supplier contract management); product acceptance; review and analysis of project performance; project closure; and software management tools.

Software Engineering Process

The Software Engineering KA is concerned with definition, implementation, assessment, measurement, management, and improvement of software life cycle processes. Topics covered include process implementation and change (process infrastructure, models for process implementation and change, and software process management); process definition (software life cycle models and processes, notations for process definition, process adaptation, and process automation); process assessment models and methods; measurement (process measurement, products measurement, measurement techniques, and quality of measurement results); and software process tools.

Software Engineering Models and Methods

The Software Engineering Models and Methods KA addresses methods that encompass multiple life cycle stages; methods specific to particular life cycle stages are covered by other KAs. Topics covered include modeling (principles and properties of software engineering models; syntax vs. semantics vs. invariants; preconditions, post-conditions, and invariants); types of models (information, structural, and behavioral models); analysis (analyzing for correctness, completeness, consistency, quality and interactions; traceability; and tradeoff analysis); and software development methods (heuristic methods, formal methods, prototyping methods, and agile methods).

Software Quality

Software quality is a pervasive software life cycle concern that is addressed in many of the SWEBOK V3 KAs. In addition, the Software Quality KA includes fundamentals of software quality (software engineering cultures, software quality characteristics, the value and cost of software quality, and software quality improvement); software quality management processes (software quality assurance, verification and validation, reviews and audits); and practical considerations (defect characterization, software quality measurement, and software quality tools).

Software Engineering Professional Practice

Software engineering professional practice is concerned with the knowledge, skills, and attitudes that software engineers must possess to practice software engineering in a professional, responsible, and ethical manner. The Software Engineering Professional Practice KA covers professionalism (professional conduct, professional societies, software engineering standards, employment contracts, and legal issues); codes of ethics; group dynamics (working in teams, cognitive problem complexity, interacting with stakeholders, dealing with uncertainty and ambiguity, dealing with multicultural environments); and communication skills.

Knowledge Areas Characterizing the Educational Requirements of Software Engineering

Software Engineering Economics

The Software Engineering Economics KA is concerned with making decisions within the business context to align technical decisions with the business goals of an organization. Topics covered include fundamentals of software engineering economics (proposals, cash flow, the time-value of money, planning horizons, inflation, depreciation, replacement and retirement decisions); not for-profit decision-making (cost-benefit analysis, optimization analysis); estimation; economic risk and uncertainty (estimation techniques, decisions under risk and uncertainty); and multiple attribute decision making (value and measurement scales, compensatory and non-compensatory techniques).

Computing Foundations

The Computing Foundations KA covers fundamental topics that provide the computing background necessary for the practice of software engineering. Topics covered include problem solving techniques, abstraction, algorithms and complexity, programming fundamentals, the basics of parallel and distributed computing, computer organization, operating systems, and network communication.

Mathematical Foundations

The Mathematical Foundations KA covers fundamental topics that provide the mathematical background necessary for the practice of software engineering. Topics covered include sets, relations, and functions; basic propositional and predicate logic; proof techniques; graphs and trees; discrete probability; grammars and finite state machines; and number theory.

Engineering Foundations

The Engineering Foundations KA covers fundamental topics that provide the engineering background necessary for the practice of software engineering. Topics covered include empirical methods and experimental techniques; statistical analysis; measurements and metrics; engineering design; simulation and modeling; and root cause analysis.

Related Disciplines

SWEBOK V3 also discusses related disciplines. The related disciplines are those that share a boundary, and often a common intersection, with software engineering. SWEBOK V3 does not characterize the knowledge of the related disciplines but, rather, indicates how those disciplines interact with the software engineering discipline. The related disciplines include:

  • Computer Engineering
  • Computer Science
  • General Management
  • Mathematics
  • Project Management
  • Quality Management
  • Systems Engineering


Works Cited

Bourque, P. and R.E. Fairley (eds.). 2014. Guide to the Software Engineering Body of Knowledge (SWEBOK). Los Alamitos, CA, USA: IEEE Computer Society. Available at:

Primary References

Bourque, P. and R.E. Fairley (eds.). 2014. Guide to the Software Engineering Body of Knowledge (SWEBOK). Los Alamitos, CA, USA: IEEE Computer Society. Available at:

Additional References


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