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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Investigating data-flow reachability questions Yoo, James


Software developers frequently ask and answer questions about code that involve data and its path through a program, such as “How was this value created?” or “How is this value modified?” These questions are instances of reachability questions, which require developers to locate points of interest within program paths. Despite how frequently developers encounter reachability questions, existing tools place the burden on the developer to translate the question of interest into a low-level analysis, or to examine analysis results out of context of the reachability question, or both. In this thesis, we introduce the ReachHover tool to investigate whether direct user interface support for asking and answering reachability questions makes it easier for developers to answer these questions accurately. We focused ReachHover’s support on data-flow reachability questions after conducting a formative study of 72 practicing developers about the type and frequency of reachability questions they encounter in their work. We evaluated ReachHover through a controlled user study with 20 practicing developers, finding that participants who used ReachHover answered data-flow reachability questions involving multiple files more correctly than those who used standard tooling, and that those developers better maintained context while determining their answers.

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