Section: Research Program

Software Reengineering

Strong coupling among the parts of an application severely hampers its evolution. Therefore, it is crucial to answer the following questions: How to support the substitution of certain parts while limiting the impact on others? How to identify reusable parts? How to modularize an object-oriented application?

Having good classes does not imply a good application layering, absence of cycles between packages and reuse of well-identified parts. Which notion of cohesion makes sense in presence of late-binding and programming frameworks? Indeed, frameworks define a context that can be extended by subclassing or composition: in this case, packages can have a low cohesion without being a problem for evolution. How to obtain algorithms that can be used on real cases? Which criteria should be selected for a given remodularization?

To help us answer these questions, we work on enriching Moose, our reengineering environment, with a new set of analyses [45], [44]. We decompose our approach in three main and potentially overlapping steps:

  1. Tools for understanding applications,

  2. Remodularization analyses,

  3. Software Quality.

Tools for understanding applications

Context and Problems. We are studying the problems raised by the understanding of applications at a larger level of granularity such as packages or modules. We want to develop a set of conceptual tools to support this understanding.

Some approaches based on Formal Concept Analysis (FCA) [75] show that such an analysis can be used to identify modules. However the presented examples are too small and not representative of real code.

Research Agenda.

FCA provides an important approach in software reengineering for software understanding, design anomalies detection and correction, but it suffers from two problems: (i) it produces lattices that must be interpreted by the user according to his/her understanding of the technique and different elements of the graph; and, (ii) the lattice can rapidly become so big that one is overwhelmed by the mass of information and possibilities [34]. We look for solutions to help people putting FCA to real use.

Remodularization analyses

Context and Problems. It is a well-known practice to layer applications with bottom layers being more stable than top layers [61]. Until now, few works have attempted to identify layers in practice: Mudpie [77] is a first cut at identifying cycles between packages as well as package groups potentially representing layers. DSM (dependency structure matrix) [76], [69] seems to be adapted for such a task but there is no serious empirical experience that validates this claim. From the side of remodularization algorithms, many were defined for procedural languages [57]. However, object-oriented programming languages bring some specific problems linked with late-binding and the fact that a package does not have to be systematically cohesive since it can be an extension of another one [78], [48].

As we are designing and evaluating algorithms and analyses to remodularize applications, we also need a way to understand and assess the results we are obtaining.

Research Agenda. We work on the following items:

Layer identification.

We propose an approach to identify layers based on a semi-automatic classification of package and class interrelationships that they contain. However, taking into account the wish or knowledge of the designer or maintainer should be supported.

Cohesion Metric Assessment.

We are building a validation framework for cohesion/coupling metrics to determine whether they actually measure what they promise to. We are also compiling a number of traditional metrics for cohesion and coupling quality metrics to evaluate their relevance in a software quality setting.

Software Quality

Research Agenda. Since software quality is fuzzy by definition and a lot of parameters should be taken into account we consider that defining precisely a unique notion of software quality is definitively a Grail in the realm of software engineering. The question is still relevant and important. We work on the two following items:

Quality models.

We studied existing quality models and the different options to combine indicators — often, software quality models happily combine metrics, but at the price of losing the explicit relationships between the indicator contributions. There is a need to combine the results of one metric over all the software components of a system, and there is also the need to combine different metric results for any software component. Different combination methods are possible that can give very different results. It is therefore important to understand the characteristics of each method.

Bug prevention.

Another aspect of software quality is validating or monitoring the source code to avoid the emergence of well known sources of errors and bugs. We work on how to best identify such common errors, by trying to identify earlier markers of possible errors, or by helping identifying common errors that programmers did in the past.