Visible to the public Exploring Language Support for ImmutabilityConflict Detection Enabled

TitleExploring Language Support for Immutability
Publication TypeConference Proceedings
Year of Publication2016
AuthorsMichael Coblenz, Joshua Sunshine, Jonathan Aldrich, Brad Myers, Sam Weber, Forrest Shull
Conference NameICSE '16 Proceedings of the 38th International Conference on Software Engineering
Date Published05/2016
PublisherACM New York, NY, USA ©2016
Conference LocationAustin, TX
KeywordsCMU, Empirical studies of programmers, Immutability, July'16, Mutability, Programmer productivity, Programming language design, Programming language usability

Programming languages can restrict state change by preventing it entirely (immutability) or by restricting which clients may modify state (read-only restrictions). The benefits of immutability and read-only restrictions in software structures have been long-argued by practicing software engineers, researchers, and programming language designers. However, there are many proposals for language mechanisms for restricting state change, with a remarkable diversity of techniques and goals, and there is little empirical data regarding what practicing software engineers want in their tools and what would benefit them. We systematized the large collection of techniques used by programming languages to help programmers prevent undesired changes in state. We interviewed expert software engineers to discover their expectations and requirements, and found that important requirements, such as expressing immutability constraints, were not reflected in features available in the languages participants used. The interview results informed our design of a new language extension for specifying immutability in Java. Through an iterative, participatory design process, we created a tool that reflects requirements from both our interviews and the research literature.

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