Visible to the public Biblio

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Joshua Sunshine, James Herbsleb, Jonathan Aldrich.  2015.  Searching the State Space: A Qualitative Study of API Protocol Usability. International Conference on Software Engineering (ICSE).

Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) often define protocols --- restrictions on the order of client calls to API methods. API protocols are common and difficult to use, which has generated tremendous research effort in alternative specification, implementation, and verification techniques. However, little is understood about the barriers programmers face when using these APIs, and therefore the research effort may be misdirected.

To understand these barriers better, we perform a two-part qualitative study. First, we study developer forums to identify problems that developers have with protocols. Second, we perform a think-aloud observational study, in which we systematically observe professional programmers struggle with these same problems to get more detail on the nature of their struggles and how they use available resources. In our observations, programmer time was spent primarily on four types of searches of the protocol state space. These observations suggest protocol-targeted tools, languages, and verification techniques will be most effective if they enable programmers to efficiently perform state search.

James Herbsleb, Christian Kästner, Christopher Bogart.  2015.  Intelligently Transparent Software Ecosystems. IEEE Software. 33(1)

Today's social-coding tools foreshadow a transformation of the software industry, as it relies increasingly on open libraries, frameworks, and code fragments. Our vision calls for new intelligently transparent services that support rapid development of innovative products while helping developers manage risk and issuing them early warnings of looming failures. Intelligent transparency is enabled by an infrastructure that applies analytics to data from all phases of the life cycle of open source projects, from development to deployment. Such an infrastructure brings stakeholders the information they need when they need it.

Joshua Sunshine, James Herbsleb, Jonathan Aldrich.  2014.   Structuring Documentation to Support State Search: A Laboratory Experiment about Protocol Programming. Proceedings of the 28th European Conference on ECOOP 2014 --- Object-Oriented Programming. 8586

Application Programming Interfaces APIs often define object protocols. Objects with protocols have a finite number of states and in each state a different set of method calls is valid. Many researchers have developed protocol verification tools because protocols are notoriously difficult to follow correctly. However, recent research suggests that a major challenge for API protocol programmers is effectively searching the state space. Verification is an ineffective guide for this kind of search. In this paper we instead propose Plaiddoc, which is like Javadoc except it organizes methods by state instead of by class and it includes explicit state transitions, state-based type specifications, and rich state relationships. We compare Plaiddoc to a Javadoc control in a between-subjects laboratory experiment. We find that Plaiddoc participants complete state search tasks in significantly less time and with significantly fewer errors than Javadoc participants.

Christopher Bogart, Christian Kästner, James Herbsleb, Ferdian Thung.  2016.  How to break an API: cost negotiation and community values in three software ecosystems. FSE 2016 Proceedings of the 2016 24th ACM SIGSOFT International Symposium on Foundations of Software Engineering.

Change introduces conflict into software ecosystems: breaking changes may ripple through the ecosystem and trigger rework for users of a package, but often developers can invest additional effort or accept opportunity costs to alleviate or delay downstream costs. We performed a multiple case study of three software ecosystems with different tooling and philosophies toward change, Eclipse, R/CRAN, and Node.js/npm, to understand how developers make decisions about change and change-related costs and what practices, tooling, and policies are used. We found that all three ecosystems differ substantially in their practices and expectations toward change and that those differences can be explained largely by different community values in each ecosystem. Our results illustrate that there is a large design space in how to build an ecosystem, its policies and its supporting infrastructure; and there is value in making community values and accepted tradeoffs explicit and transparent in order to resolve conflicts and negotiate change-related costs

Raman Goyal, Gabriel Ferreira, Christian Kästner, James Herbsleb.  2017.  Identifying Unusual Commits on GitHub. JOURNAL OF SOFTWARE: EVOLUTION AND PROCESS.

Transparent environments and social-coding platforms as GitHub help developers to stay abreast of changes during the development and maintenance phase of a project. Especially, notification feeds can help developers to learn about relevant changes in other projects. Unfortunately, transparent environments can quickly overwhelm developers with too many notifications, such that they loose the important ones in a sea of noise. Complementing existing prioritization and filtering strategies based on binary compatibility and code ownership, we develop an anomaly-detection mechanism to identify unusual commits in a repository, that stand out with respect to other changes in the same repository or by the same developer. Among others, we detect exceptionally large commits, commits at unusual times, and commits touching rarely changed file types given the characteristics of a particular repository or developer. We automatically flag unusual commits on GitHub through a browser plugin. In an interactive survey with 173 active GitHub users, rating commits in a project of their interest, we found that, though our unusual score is only a weak predictor of whether developers want to be notified about a commit, information about unusual characteristics of a commit change how developers regard commits. Our anomaly-detection mechanism is a building block for scaling transparent environments.