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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Beyond Similar Code: Leveraging Social Coding Websites

  • Author(s): Yang, Di
  • Advisor(s): Lopes, Cristina V
  • et al.

Programmers often write code with similarity to existing code written somewhere. Code search tools can help developers find similar solutions and identify possible improvements. For code search tools, good search results rely on valid data collection. Social coding websites, such as Question & Answer forum Stack Overflow (SO) and project repository GitHub, are popular destinations when programmers look for how to achieve certain programming tasks. Over the years, SO and GitHub have accumulated an enormous knowledge base of, and around, code. Since these software artifacts are publicly available, it is possible to leverage them in code search tools. This dissertation explores the opportunities of leveraging software artifacts from the social coding websites in searching for not just similar, but related, code.

Programmers query SO and GitHub extensively to search for suitable code for reuse, however, not much is known about the usability or quality of the available code from each website. This dissertation first investigates under what circumstances the software artifacts found in social coding websites can be leveraged for purposes other than their immediate use by developers. It points out a number of problems that need to be addressed before those artifacts can be leveraged for code search and development tools. Specifically, triviality, fragility, and duplication, dominate these artifacts. However, when these problems are addressed, there is still a considerable amount of good quality artifacts that can be leveraged.

SO and GitHub are not only two separate data resources, moreover, they together, belong to a larger system of software development process: the same users that rely on facilities of GitHub often seeks support on SO for their problems, and return to GitHub to apply the knowledge acquired. This dissertation further studies the crossover of software artifacts between SO and GitHub, and categorizes the adaptations from a SO code snippet to its GitHub counterparts.

Existing search tools only recommend other code locations that are syntactically or semantically similar to the given code but do not reason about other kinds of relevant code that a developer should also pay attention to, e.g., auxiliary code to accomplish a complete task. With the good quality software artifacts and crossover between the two systems available, this dissertation presents two approaches that leverage these artifacts in searching for related code. Aroma indexes GitHub projects, takes a partial code snippet as input, searches the corpus for methods containing the partial code snippet, and clusters and intersects the results of the search to recommend. Aroma is evaluated on randomly selected queries created from the GitHub corpus, as well as queries derived from SO code snippets. It recommends related code for error checking and handling, objects configuring, etc. Furthermore, a user study is conducted where industrial developers are asked to complete programming tasks using Aroma and provide feedback. The results indicate that Aroma is capable of retrieving and recommending relevant code snippets efficiently. CodeAid reuses the crossover between SO and GitHub and recommends related code outside of a method body. For each SO snippet as a query, CodeAid retrieves the co-occurring code fragments for its GitHub counterparts and clusters them to recommend common ones. 74% of the common co-occurring code fragments represent related functionality that should be included in code search results. Three major types of relevancy--complementary, supplementary, and alternative methods, are identified.

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