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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.

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.

Flavio Medeiros, Christian Kästner, Marcio Ribeiro, Sarah Nadi, Rohit Gheyl.  2015.  The Love/Hate Relationship with The C Preprocessor: An Interview Study.. European Conference on Object-Oriented Programming (ECOOP).

The C preprocessor has received strong criticism in academia, among others regarding separation of concerns, error proneness, and code obfuscation, but is widely used in practice. Many (mostly academic) alternatives to the preprocessor exist, but have not been adopted in practice. Since developers continue to use the preprocessor despite all criticism and research, we ask how practitioners perceive the C preprocessor. We performed interviews with 40 developers, used grounded theory to analyze the data, and cross-validated the results with data from a survey among 202 developers, repository mining, and results from previous studies. In particular, we investigated four research questions related to why the preprocessor is still widely used in practice, common problems, alternatives, and the impact of undisciplined annotations. Our study shows that developers are aware of the criticism the C preprocessor receives, but use it nonetheless, mainly for portability and variability. Many developers indicate that they regularly face preprocessor-related problems and preprocessor-related bugs. The majority of our interviewees do not see any current C-native technologies that can entirely replace the C preprocessor. However, developers tend to mitigate problems with guidelines, but those guidelines are not enforced consistently. We report the key insights gained from our study and discuss implications for practitioners and researchers on how to better use the C preprocessor to minimize its negative impact.