Automated Identification of On-hold Self-admitted Technical Debt

by   Rungroj Maipradit, et al.

Modern software is developed under considerable time pressure, which implies that developers more often than not have to resort to compromises when it comes to code that is well written and code that just does the job. This has led over the past decades to the concept of "technical debt", a short-term hack that potentially generates long-term maintenance problems. Self-admitted technical debt (SATD) is a particular form of technical debt: developers consciously perform the hack but also document it in the code by adding comments as a reminder (or as an admission of guilt). We focus on a specific type of SATD, namely "On-hold" SATD, in which developers document in their comments the need to halt an implementation task due to conditions outside of their scope of work (e.g., an open issue must be closed before a function can be implemented). We present an approach, based on regular expressions and machine learning, which is able to detect issues referenced in code comments, and to automatically classify the detected instances as either "On-hold" (the issue is referenced to indicate the need to wait for its resolution before completing a task), or as "cross-reference", (the issue is referenced to document the code, for example to explain the rationale behind an implementation choice). Our approach also mines the issue tracker of the projects to check if the On-hold SATD instances are "superfluous" and can be removed (i.e., the referenced issue has been closed, but the SATD is still in the code). Our evaluation confirms that our approach can indeed identify relevant instances of On-hold SATD. We illustrate its usefulness by identifying superfluous On-hold SATD instances in open source projects as confirmed by the original developers.


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