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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Supporting conceptual queries over integrated sources of program information De Alwis, Brian

Abstract

A software developer explores a software system by asking and answering a series of questions. To answer these questions, a developer may need to consult various sources providing information about the program, such as the static relationships expressed directly in the source code, the run-time behaviour of a program recorded in a dynamic trace, or evolution history as recorded in a source management system. Despite the support afforded by software exploration tools, developers often struggle to find the necessary information to answer their questions and may even become disoriented, where they feel mentally lost and are uncertain of what they were trying to accomplish. This dissertation advances a thesis that a developer's questions, which we refer to as conceptual queries, can be better supported through a model to represent and compose different sources of information about a program. The basis of this model is the sphere, which serves as a simple abstraction of a source of information about a program. Many of the software exploration tools used by a developer can be represented as a sphere. Spheres can be composed in a principled fashion such that information from a sphere may replace or supplement information from a different sphere. Using our sphere model, for example, a developer can use dynamic runtime information from an execution trace to replace information from the static source code to see what actually occurred. We have implemented this model in a configurable tool, called Ferret. We have used the facilities provided by the model to implement 36 conceptual queries identified from the literature, blogs, and our own experience, and to support the integration of four different sources of program information. Establishing correspondences between similar elements from different spheres allows a query to bridge across different spheres in addition to allowing a tool's user interface to drive queries from other sources of information. Through this effort we show that sphere model broadens the set of possible conceptual queries answerable by software exploration tools. Through a small diary study and a controlled experiment, both involving professional software developers, we found the developers used the conceptual queries that were available to them and reported finding Ferret useful.

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Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International

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