General Principles of Software Validation; Final Guidance for Industry and FDA Staff

  • Date: October 24, 2007
  • Source:
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This document is based on generally recognized software validation principles and, therefore, can be applied to any software. For FDA purposes, this guidance applies to any software related to a regulated medical device, as defined by Section 201(h) of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (the Act) and by current FDA software and regulatory policy. This document does not specifically identify which software is or is not regulated.

Table of Contents


SECTION 2. SCOPE  (2.1. Applicability ,2.2. Audience ,2.3. THE LEAST BURDENSOME APPROACH ,2.4. Regulatory Requirements for Software Validation ,2.4. Quality System Regulation vs Pre-Market Submissions)

SECTION 3. CONTEXT FOR SOFTWARE VALIDATION (3.1. Definitions and Terminology ,3.1.1 Requirements and Specifications , 3.1.2 Verification and Validation , 3.1.3 IQ/OQ/PQ ,3.2. Software Development as Part of System Design ,3.3. Software is Different from Hardware , 3.4. Benefits of Software Validation, 3.5  Design Review)

SECTION 4. PRINCIPLES OF SOFTWARE VALIDATION ( 4.1. Requirements, 4.2. Defect Prevention, 4.3. Time and Effort, 4.4. Software Life Cycle, 4.5. Plans, 4.6. Procedures, 4.7. Software Validation After a Change, 4.8. Validation Coverage, 4.9. Independence of Review, 4.10. Flexibility and Responsibility)

SECTION 5. ACTIVITIES AND TASKS ( 5.1. Software Life Cycle Activities, 5.2. Typical Tasks Supporting Validation, 5.2.1. Quality Planning, 5.2.2. Requirements, 5.2.3. Design, 5.2.4. Construction or Coding, 5.2.5. Testing by the Software Developer, 5.2.6. User Site Testing, 5.2.7. Maintenance and Software Changes)

SECTION 6. VALIDATION OF AUTOMATED PROCESS EQUIPMENT AND QUALITY SYSTEM SOFTWARE ( 6.1. How Much Validation Evidence Is Needed?, 6.2. Defined User Requirements, 6.3. Validation of Off-the-Shelf Software and Automated Equipment)


General Principles of Software Validation

General Principles of Software Validation

This document is intended to provide guidance. It represents the Agency's current thinking on this topic. It does not create or confer any rights for or on any person and does not operate to bind Food and Drug Administration (FDA) or the public. An alternative approach may be used if such approach satisfies the requirements of the applicable statutes and regulations.


This guidance outlines general validation principles that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) considers to be applicable to the validation of medical device software or the validation of software used to design, develop, or manufacture medical devices. This final guidance document, Version 2.0, supersedes the draft document, General Principles of Software Validation, Version 1.1, dated June 9, 1997.


This guidance describes how certain provisions of the medical device Quality System regulation apply to software and the agency's current approach to evaluating a software validation system. For example, this document lists elements that are acceptable to the FDA for the validation of software; however, it does not list all of the activities and tasks that must, in all instances, be used to comply with the law.

The scope of this guidance is somewhat broader than the scope of validation in the strictest definition of that term. Planning, verification, testing, traceability, configuration management, and many other aspects of good software engineering discussed in this guidance are important activities that together help to support a final conclusion that software is validated.

This guidance recommends an integration of software life cycle management and risk management activities. Based on the intended use and the safety risk associated with the software to be developed, the software developer should determine the specific approach, the combination of techniques to be used, and the level of effort to be applied. While this guidance does not recommend any specific life cycle model or any specific technique or method, it does recommend that software validation and verification activities be conducted throughout the entire software life cycle.

Where the software is developed by someone other than the device manufacturer (e.g., off-the-shelf software) the software developer may not be directly responsible for compliance with FDA regulations. In that case, the party with regulatory responsibility (i.e., the device manufacturer) needs to assess the adequacy of the off-the-shelf software developer's activities and determine what additional efforts are needed to establish that the software is validated for the device manufacturer's intended use.


This guidance applies to:

  • Software used as a component, part, or accessory of a medical device;
  • Software that is itself a medical device (e.g., blood establishment software);
  • Software used in the production of a device (e.g., programmable logic controllers in manufacturing equipment); and
  • Software used in implementation of the device manufacturer's quality system (e.g., software that records and maintains the device history record).

This document is based on generally recognized software validation principles and, therefore, can be applied to any software. For FDA purposes, this guidance applies to any software related to a regulated medical device, as defined by Section 201(h) of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (the Act) and by current FDA software and regulatory policy. This document does not specifically identify which software is or is not regulated.


This guidance provides useful information and recommendations to the following individuals:

  • Persons subject to the medical device Quality System regulation
  • Persons responsible for the design, development, or production of medical device software
  • Persons responsible for the design, development, production, or procurement of automated tools used for the design, development, or manufacture of medical devices or software tools used to implement the quality system itself
  • FDA Investigators
  • FDA Compliance Officers
  • FDA Scientific Reviewers

We believe we should consider the least burdensome approach in all areas of medical device regulation. This guidance reflects our careful review of the relevant scientific and legal requirements and what we believe is the least burdensome way for you to comply with those requirements. However, if you believe that an alternative approach would be less burdensome, please contact us so we can consider your point of view. You may send your written comments to the contact person listed in the preface to this guidance or to the CDRH Ombudsman. Comprehensive information on CDRH's Ombudsman, including ways to contact him, can be found on the Internet.


The FDA's analysis of 3140 medical device recalls conducted between 1992 and 1998 reveals that 242 of them (7.7%) are attributable to software failures. Of those software related recalls, 192 (or 79%) were caused by software defects that were introduced when changes were made to the software after its initial production and distribution. Software validation and other related good software engineering practices discussed in this guidance are a principal means of avoiding such defects and resultant recalls.

Software validation is a requirement of the Quality System regulation, which was published in the Federal Register on October 7, 1996 and took effect on June 1, 1997. (See Title 21 Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) Part 820, and 61 Federal Register (FR) 52602, respectively.) Validation requirements apply to software used as components in medical devices, to software that is itself a medical device, and to software used in production of the device or in implementation of the device manufacturer's quality system.

Unless specifically exempted in a classification regulation, any medical device software product developed after June 1, 1997, regardless of its device class, is subject to applicable design control provisions. (See of 21 CFR §820.30.) This requirement includes the completion of current development projects, all new development projects, and all changes made to existing medical device software. Specific requirements for validation of device software are found in 21 CFR §820.30(g). Other design controls, such as planning, input, verification, and reviews, are required for medical device software. (See 21 CFR §820.30.) The corresponding documented results from these activities can provide additional support for a conclusion that medical device software is validated.

Any software used to automate any part of the device production process or any part of the quality system must be validated for its intended use, as required by 21 CFR §820.70(i). This requirement applies to any software used to automate device design, testing, component acceptance, manufacturing, labeling, packaging, distribution, complaint handling, or to automate any other aspect of the quality system.

In addition, computer systems used to create, modify, and maintain electronic records and to manage electronic signatures are also subject to the validation requirements. (See 21 CFR §11.10(a).) Such computer systems must be validated to ensure accuracy, reliability, consistent intended performance, and the ability to discern invalid or altered records.

Software for the above applications may be developed in-house or under contract. However, software is frequently purchased off-the-shelf for a particular intended use. All production and/or quality system software, even if purchased off-the-shelf, should have documented requirements that fully define its intended use, and information against which testing results and other evidence can be compared, to show that the software is validated for its intended use.

The use of off-the-shelf software in automated medical devices and in automated manufacturing and quality system operations is increasing. Off-the-shelf software may have many capabilities, only a few of which are needed by the device manufacturer. Device manufacturers are responsible for the adequacy of the software used in their devices, and used to produce devices. When device manufacturers purchase "off-the-shelf'' software, they must ensure that it will perform as intended in their chosen application. For off-the-shelf software used in manufacturing or in the quality system, additional guidance is included in Section 6.3 of this document. For device software, additional useful information may be found in FDA's Guidance for Industry, FDA Reviewers, and Compliance on Off-The-Shelf Software Use in Medical Devices.


This document addresses Quality System regulation issues that involve the implementation of software validation. It provides guidance for the management and control of the software validation process. The management and control of the software validation process should not be confused with any other validation requirements, such as process validation for an automated manufacturing process.

Device manufacturers may use the same procedures and records for compliance with quality system and design control requirements, as well as for pre-market submissions to FDA. This document does not cover any specific safety or efficacy issues related to software validation. Design issues and documentation requirements for pre-market submissions of regulated software are not addressed by this document. Specific issues related to safety and efficacy, and the documentation required in pre-market submissions, should be addressed to the Office of Device Evaluation (ODE), Center for Devices and Radiological Health (CDRH) or to the Office of Blood Research and Review, Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research (CBER). See the references in Appendix A for applicable FDA guidance documents for pre-market submissions

  • Context for Software Validation
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