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Flavio Medeiros, Marcio Ribeiro, Rohit Gheyi, Sven Apel, Christian Kästner, Bruno Ferreira, Luiz Carvalho, Baldoino Fonseca.  2017.  Discipline Matters: Refactoring of Preprocessor Directives in the #ifdef Hell. IEEE Transactions on Software Engineering . (99)

The C preprocessor is used in many C projects to support variability and portability. However, researchers and practitioners criticize the C preprocessor because of its negative effect on code understanding and maintainability and its error proneness. More importantly, the use of the preprocessor hinders the development of tool support that is standard in other languages, such as automated refactoring. Developers aggravate these problems when using the preprocessor in undisciplined ways (e.g., conditional blocks that do not align with the syntactic structure of the code). In this article, we proposed a catalogue of refactorings and we evaluated the number of application possibilities of the refactorings in practice, the opinion of developers about the usefulness of the refactorings, and whether the refactorings preserve behavior. Overall, we found 5670 application possibilities for the refactorings in 63 real-world C projects. In addition, we performed an online survey among 246 developers, and we submitted 28 patches to convert undisciplined directives into disciplined ones. According to our results, 63% of developers prefer to use the refactored (i.e., disciplined) version of the code instead of the original code with undisciplined preprocessor usage. To verify that the refactorings are indeed behavior preserving, we applied them to more than 36 thousand programs generated automatically using a model of a subset of the C language, running the same test cases in the original and refactored programs. Furthermore, we applied the refactorings to three real-world projects: BusyBox, OpenSSL, and SQLite. This way, we detected and fixed a few behavioral changes, 62% caused by unspecified behavior in the C language.

Gabriel Ferreira, Momin Malik, Christian Kästner, Jurgen Pfeffer, Sven Apel.  2016.  Do #ifdefs influence the occurrence of vulnerabilities? an empirical study of the linux kernel SPLC '16 Proceedings of the 20th International Systems and Software Product Line Conference. :65-73.

Preprocessors support the diversification of software products with #ifdefs, but also require additional effort from developers to maintain and understand variable code. We conjecture that #ifdefs cause developers to produce more vulnerable code because they are required to reason about multiple features simultaneously and maintain complex mental models of dependencies of configurable code.

We extracted a variational call graph across all configurations of the Linux kernel, and used configuration complexity metrics to compare vulnerable and non-vulnerable functions considering their vulnerability history. Our goal was to learn about whether we can observe a measurable influence of configuration complexity on the occurrence of vulnerabilities.

Our results suggest, among others, that vulnerable functions have higher variability than non-vulnerable ones and are also constrained by fewer configuration options. This suggests that developers are inclined to notice functions appear in frequently-compiled product variants. We aim to raise developers' awareness to address variability more systematically, since configuration complexity is an important, but often ignored aspect of software product lines.

Flavio Medeiros, Christian Kästner, Marcio Ribeiro, Rohit Gheyi, Sven Apel.  2016.  A comparison of 10 sampling algorithms for configurable systems. ICSE '16 Proceedings of the 38th International Conference on Software Engineering. :643-654.

Almost every software system provides configuration options to tailor the system to the target platform and application scenario. Often, this configurability renders the analysis of every individual system configuration infeasible. To address this problem, researchers have proposed a diverse set of sampling algorithms. We present a comparative study of 10 state-of-the-art sampling algorithms regarding their fault-detection capability and size of sample sets. The former is important to improve software quality and the latter to reduce the time of analysis. In a nutshell, we found that sampling algorithms with larger sample sets are able to detect higher numbers of faults, but simple algorithms with small sample sets, such as most-enabled-disabled, are the most efficient in most contexts. Furthermore, we observed that the limiting assumptions made in previous work influence the number of detected faults, the size of sample sets, and the ranking of algorithms. Finally, we have identified a number of technical challenges when trying to avoid the limiting assumptions, which questions the practicality of certain sampling algorithms.

Claus Hunsen, Bo Zhang, Janet Siegmund, Christian Kästner, Olaf Lebenich, Martin Becker, Sven Apel.  2015.  Preprocessor-based variability in open-source and industrial software systems: An empirical study. Empirical Software Engineering. 20:1-34.

Almost every sufficiently complex software system today is configurable. Conditional compilation is a simple variability-implementation mechanism that is widely used in open-source projects and industry. Especially, the C preprocessor (CPP) is very popular in practice, but it is also gaining (again) interest in academia. Although there have been several attempts to understand and improve CPP, there is a lack of understanding of how it is used in open-source and industrial systems and whether different usage patterns have emerged. The background is that much research on configurable systems and product lines concentrates on open-source systems, simply because they are available for study in the first place. This leads to the potentially problematic situation that it is unclear whether the results obtained from these studies are transferable to industrial systems. We aim at lowering this gap by comparing the use of CPP in open-source projects and industry—especially from the embedded-systems domain—based on a substantial set of subject systems and well-known variability metrics, including size, scattering, and tangling metrics. A key result of our empirical study is that, regarding almost all aspects we studied, the analyzed open-source systems and the considered embedded systems from industry are similar regarding most metrics, including systems that have been developed in industry and made open source at some point. So, our study indicates that, regarding CPP as variability-implementation mechanism, insights, methods, and tools developed based on studies of open-source systems are transferable to industrial systems—at least, with respect to the metrics we considered.

Gabriel Ferreira, Christian Kästner, Jurgen Pfeffer, Sven Apel.  2015.  Characterizing complexity of highly-configurable systems with variational call graphs: analyzing configuration options interactions complexity in function calls. HotSoS '15 Proceedings of the 2015 Symposium and Bootcamp on the Science of Security.

Security has consistently been the focus of attention in many highly-configurable software systems. Several vulnerabilities on widely-used systems, such as the Linux kernel and OpenSSL, are reported every day in the National Vulnerability Database (NVD). The configurability of these systems enables the rapid generation of customized products, but also creates security challenges in the development and maintenance processes. For instance, interactions caused by configurations may create serious security threats and make generated products more susceptible to attacks [6], but the causes of these problems may be harder to detect because they occur only in specific configurations.