Source code readability improvement using heuristic-based dynamic error reporting during editing

Publication Type:
Thesis
Issue Date:
2007
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This research considers whether dynamically reporting poor identifier-naming practices at the time when the source code is written can improve readability and hence maintainability. Poor identifier-naming practices have little effect on the production phase of the software lifecycle. However, poor identifier-naming practices can have a substantial impact during the maintenance phase of the software life cycle, particularly for the maintenance of large (i.e., 1M SLOC) computer programs. Of the nineteen identifier-naming style guidelines employed to support the research and used to identity poor identifier-naming practices, thirteen were found to be useful in improving source code readability. A questionnaire was employed to ascertain whether expert programmers accepted these guidelines; a textbook survey was used to identify the potential to transmit poor identifier-naming practices; a survey of contemporary source code was used to ascertain current identifier-naming practices; and a survey of dated source code was used to ascertain how identifier-naming practices have changed over an extended period of time. In addition, a controlled experiment was used to evaluate the effects of poor identifier-naming during a maintenance exercise and to evaluate the generation of poor identifier-naming during a production activity. A novice programmer case study and a programming team case study were executed to identify the longer term effects of dynamically reporting poor identifier-naming practices. The benefit of dynamically reporting poor identifier-naming practices was most pronounced for novice programmers with the percentage of meaningful identifier names increasing from 12% to 28%. The results for expert programmers were less pronounced with the percentage of meaningful identifier names correspondingly increasing from 53% to 60%. The identifier-naming style guidelines that proved to be the most useful to programmers required that identifier names should be composed of from two to four Natural language words or project accepted acronyms; should not be composed only of abstract words; should not contain plural words; and should conform to the project naming conventions.
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