Wow, when I look at the last entry, it was two months ago. Well, somewhere between the course in embedded systems for my students, delegation to Silicon Valley and all kinds of challenges, the time seemed to pass between my fingers.
Well, nevertheless, I would like to put a highlight to the article from our colleagues who specialize in defect predictions and systematic reviews. The article describes how companies use defect prediction models and when they do it.
It’s a nice sunday reading for those of you who are interested in the topic. It is a good source of best practices as well as a solid source for looking for datasets for defect prediction.
After my last post, and the visit to the workshop at MDU, I realized that there are a few tools that can be used automatically already now. So, this paper presents one of them.
What is interesting about this tool is that it uses github workflows, so it’s compatible with many modern CI/CD pipelines. The tool analyzes worflows and looks for security vulnerabilities. For example, if you keep sensitive information in a plain text file that is used in the workflow (secrets), or checks if the workflow enforces the “least privilege” principle.
Machine learning has been used in software engineering as a great tool for both research and development. The fact that we have access to TensorFlow, PyCharm, and other toolkits, provides almost endless possibilities. Combine that with the hundreds (if not thousands) of datasets from Zenodo and Co. and you can train a model for almost anything.
So far, so good, I would say. Problems (yes, there are always some problems) appear when we want to reproduce the results of others. Training a model on your own dataset and making it available is easy. Trusting such a model in a new context is not.
Imagine an example of an ML model trained on data from Company X. We have probably tuned the parameters a lot, so the model works great there, but does it work for Company Y? Most probably it will not. Well, it will work, but the performance of the predictions are not going to be great.
So, Google has partner up with academic partners to set up SIGMODELS, and TensorFlow garden, initiatives that are aimed at making ML models more portable, experiments more replicable, and all the other goodies.
In this paper, the authors provide a set of checks, which we can use to make the models more transparent, which is the first step towards reproducibility. In these guidelines, the authors advocate for reporting the models architecture, their input and output structure, building blocks, loss functions, etc.
Naturally, they also recommend to report metrics which were used to optimize the models, e.g. accuracy, F1-score, MCC or others. I know, these are probably essentials, but you would be surprised to see that many authors do not really report these metrics. If they are omitted, then how do we know if the metrics were just so poor that the authors omitted them (low performance of the model) or that they are not relevant (low relevance of the metrics – which is a good thing).
Whether we like it or not, software designers, programmers and architects use StackOverflow. Mostly because they want to be part of a community – help others and help themselves.
However, StackOverflow has become a de-facto go-to place to find programming answers. Oftentimes, these answers include usage of libraries or other solutions. These libraries solve the immediate problems, but they can also introduce vulnerabilities that the programmers are not aware of.
In this article, the authors review how C/C++ authors introduce and revise vulnerabilities in their code. From the introduction: “We scan 646,716 C/C++ code snippets from Stack Overflow answers. We observe that code weaknesses are detected in 2% of the C/C++ answers with code snippets; more specifically, there are 12,998 detected code weaknesses that fall into 36% (i.e., 32 out of 89) of all the existing C/C++ CWE types. “
I like that the paper presents a number of good examples, which can be used for training of software engineers. Both at the university level and later during their work. Some of them can even be used to create coding guidelines for companies – including good and bad examples.
The paper has a lot of great findings about the way in which weaknesses and vulnerabilities are introduced, for example ” 92.6% (i.e., 10,884) of the 11,748 Codew has weaknesses introduced when their code snippets were initially created on Stack Overflow, and 69% (i.e., 8,103 out of 11,748) of the Codew has never been revised “
I strongly recommend to read the paper and give it to your software engineers to scan….
concept of crowdsourcing is well known in our community. We are accustomed to
reading other’s code and learning from it at the same time improving it. Even
the “captcha’s” are a good example of crowdsourcing.
crowdsmelling? Well, the idea is not as outrageous as one might think. It’s
actually an interesting one. It is essentially a way of using collective
knowledge about code smells to design machine learning to recognize them. It’s
actually the very idea which we use in our Software Center project, and which
paper, the authors focus on special kind of code smells – the ones linked to
technical debt. The results are promising and we should keep an eye on this
work in order to see if this improves.
From the abstract: “Good performances were obtained for God Class detection (ROC=0.896 for
Naive Bayes) and Long Method detection (ROC=0.870 for AdaBoostM1), but much
lower for Feature Envy (ROC=0.570 for Random Forrest).”
Technical debt is a great metaphor in software engineering. It provides software engineers with the toolkit to communicate how bad design can affect the product in a long run, and how much it can cost to fix these problems. The metaphor has been implemented in many static analysis tools like SonarQube.
Despite its power in communicating, its not clear whether this metaphor is actually useful. It has some dark sides, which makes it a bit tricky to use it. For example, the “conversion” from a problem to the debt, e.g. lack of getter and setter methods to 0.5 days in debt, is one of these challenges. Its also not always clear which of the technical debt categories apply to which products.
What I like about this paper is that it presents a survey of technical debt. For example, it identifies the top causes of technical debt, such as:
lack of knowledge, and
lack of well-defined process.
These challenges are present in most companies today, and the first two – deadlines and inappropriate planning – are often associated with start-ups and agile organizations. I recommend to take a closer look at the mindmap in the paper (Fig. 5) to dive deeper into the causes.
Quote from the abstract: We identified a total of 78 causes and 66 effects, which confirm and also extend the current knowledge on causes and effects of TD. Then, we organized the identified set of causes and effects in probabilistic cause-effect diagrams. The proposed diagrams highlight the causes that can most contribute to the occurrence of TD as well as the most common effects that occur as a result of debt.
Working with continuous integration is an exciting new filed. You get your code into the main branch directly. Well, that’s what the theory says. What you really get is feedback directly, at least the feedback from the automated checks for technical debt, testing and similar.
What you do not get quickly is the review of your code by your colleagues. In larger organizations, things like code reviews do not get prioritized. Therefore they tend to slow down software development rather than speed up!
In this paper, we set of to understand how to fix that. We used Gerrit as the tool to extract lines of code to review, instead of reviewing all of the lines. Here is a short video about this: https://play.gu.se/media/t/0_h7hx95d2
The abstract of the paper is included:
Code reviews are one of the first quality assurance tasks in continuous software integration and delivery. The goal of our work is to reduce the need for manual reviews by automatically identify which code fragments should be further reviewed manually. We conducted an action research study with two companies where we extracted code reviews and build machine learning classifiers (AdaBoost and Convolutional Neural Network — CNN). Our results show that the accuracy of recognizing code fragments that require manual review, measured with Matthews Correlation Coefficient, was 0.70 in the combination of our own feature extraction and CNN. We conclude that this way of combining automation with manual code reviews can improve the speed of reviews while providing organizations with the possibility to support knowledge transfer among the designers.
In the process of reviewing code, we can identify refactoring pretty easy. We read the code, try to understand it and provide comments. In the understanding phase we also get ideas about possible alternative – why is this done this way?
Now, when writing the comments, we rarely have the time to refactor the code. In CI, this process of reviewing comes when we commit the code to the main branch and therefore we expect this to be delivered and used soon. So, it’s too late to refactor, we need to do it in the next iteration.
But the next iteration is the same, we need to deliver new functions, not “golden plate” the existing code, deliver it to the main branch, etc. When is the time for refactoring then? How do we document the possibilities and use them when we have a bit of time?
In this work, the authors look at the commit messages and identify refactoring possibilities for that, complementing the static and dynamic analysis of code. The method presented in the paper is based on the analysis of code from open source projects, the refactoring applied to the code and the analysis of the QMOOD quality attributes that were related to these commits.
The following quote from the paper explains a bit how the gist of the extraction of the refactored code works:
Identifying refactoring rationale has two parts. The first part is the detection of the files that are refactored by developers in a commit. The second part is the identification of changes in the QMOOD quality attributes then comparing these changes with the information in the commit message.
For the first part, we used the GitHub API to identify the changed files in each commit. In the second part, we compared the QMOOD quality attribute values before and after the commit to capture the actual quality changes for each file. Once the changed files and quality attributes were identified, we checked if the developers intended to actually improve these files and quality attributes. In fact, we preprocessed the commit messages and we used the names of code elements in the changed files and the changed quality metrics as keywords to match with words in the commit message. Once the refactoring rationale is automatically detected using this procedure, we continue with the next step to find better refactoring recommendations that can fully meet the developer’s intentions and expectations. In case that no quality changes were identified at all then a warning will be generated to developers that the manually applied refactorings are not addressing the quality issues described in his commit message.
Assigning defects is a task that is not so much fun. Companies need to do that, but the persons who do it often change as the task is quite labor intensive and tiresome. There is, of course, a significant body of research about this and here is one example of it.
What is interesting in this article is that the authors use temporal data about the defect reports to assign teams. From the abstract: “In this article, we describe a new BA approach that relies on two key intuitions. Similar to traditional BA methods, our method constructs the expertise profile of project developers, based on the textual elements of the bugs they have fixed in the past; unlike traditional methods, however, our method considers only the programming keywords in these bug descriptions, relying on Stack Overflow as the vocabulary for these keywords. The second key intuition of our method is that recent expertise is more relevant than past expertise, which is why our method weighs the relevance of a developer’s expertise based on how recently they have fixed a bug with keywords similar to the bug at hand. “
The method uses text similarity measures to match defects and performs better than existing methods based on the meta-parameters. What it means in practice is that the only thing that is needed is the actual defect description, or actually a failure report in order to make the predictions.
Very interesting work to apply, it seems that the entry level is not that high for new companies.
Recently, I’ve read an article in Empirical Software Engineering about automated code refactoring. I must admit that I do refactoring quite seldom. It’s a tedious task and for the software that I write, quite unnecessary. My software is often a set of scripts to solve a specific task and then the key is to document it, not refactor. A good documentation helps me to understand what I did in that code and how it works. Yes, I know it sounds like a cliché, but that’s how it is for me. I’m switching tasks so often that I forget what the code was doing.
Nevertheless, I recognize the code that is nicely written, formatted and refactored. Therefore, I was on a lookout for a tool that could do something like that for me – suggest a refactoring that I could implement.
So, this is a paper that I found, which I would like to try out. It is a tool that was evaluated through interviews with designers and developers. Although they can recognize that the code was refactored, but they seemed to be happy about it. So, I’m off to try out the tool:)
Abstract: Refactoring is a maintenance activity that aims to improve design quality while preserving the behavior of a system. Several (semi)automated approaches have been proposed to support developers in this maintenance activity, based on the correction of anti-patterns, which are “poor” solutions to recurring design problems. However, little quantitative evidence exists about the impact of automatically refactored code on program comprehension, and in which context automated refactoring can be as effective as manual refactoring. Leveraging RePOR, an automated refactoring approach based on partial order reduction techniques, we performed an empirical study to investigate whether automated refactoring code structure affects the understandability of systems during comprehension tasks. (1) We surveyed 80 developers, asking them to identify from a set of 20 refactoring changes if they were generated by developers or by a tool, and to rate the refactoring changes according to their design quality; (2) we asked 30 developers to complete code comprehension tasks on 10 systems that were refactored by either a freelancer or an automated refactoring tool. To make comparison fair, for a subset of refactoring actions that introduce new code entities, only synthetic identifiers were presented to practitioners. We measured developers’ performance using the NASA task load index for their effort, the time that they spent performing the tasks, and their percentages of correct answers. Our findings, despite current technology limitations, show that it is reasonable to expect a refactoring tools to match developer code. Indeed, results show that for 3 out of the 5 anti-pattern types studied, developers could not recognize the origin of the refactoring (i.e., whether it was performed by a human or an automatic tool). We also observed that developers do not prefer human refactorings over automated refactorings, except when refactoring Blob classes; and that there is no statistically significant difference between the impact on code understandability of human refactorings and automated refactorings. We conclude that automated refactorings can be as effective as manual refactorings. However, for complex anti-patterns types like the Blob, the perceived quality achieved by developers is slightly higher.