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Exploiting Context in Dealing with Programming Errors and Exceptions in the IDE



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Studies show that software developers spend about 19% of their development time in web surfing. While collecting necessary information using traditional web search, they face several practical challenges. First, it does not consider context (i.e., surroundings, circumstances) of the programming problems during search unless the developers do so in search query formulation, and forces the developers to frequently switch between their working environment (e.g., IDE) and the web browser. Second, technical details (e.g., stack trace) of an encountered exception often contain a lot of information, and they cannot be directly used as a search query given that the traditional search engines do not support long queries. Third, traditional search generally returns hundreds of search results, and the developers need to manually analyze the result pages one by one in order to extract a working solution. Both manual analysis of a page for content relevant to the encountered exception (and its context) and working an appropriate solution out are non-trivial tasks. Traditional code search engines share the same set of limitations of the web search ones, and they also do not help much in collecting the code examples that can be used for handling the encountered exceptions. In this thesis, we present a context-aware and IDE-based approach that helps one overcome those four challenges above. In our first study, we propose and evaluate a context-aware meta search engine for programming errors and exceptions. The meta search collects results for any encountered exception in the IDE from three popular search engines- Google, Bing and Yahoo and one programming Q & A site- StackOverflow, refines and ranks the results against the detailed context of the encountered exception, and then recommends them within the IDE. From this study, we not only explore the potential of the context-aware and meta search based approach but also realize the significance of appropriate search queries in searching for programming solutions. In the second study, we propose and evaluate an automated query recommendation approach that exploits the technical details of an encountered exception, and recommends a ranked list of search queries. We found the recommended queries quite promising and comparable to the queries suggested by experts. We also note that the support for the developers can be further complemented by post-search content analysis. In the third study, we propose and evaluate an IDE-based context-aware content recommendation approach that identifies and recommends sections of a web page that are relevant to the encountered exception in the IDE. The idea is to reduce the cognitive effort of the developers in searching for content of interest (i.e., relevance) in the page, and we found the approach quite effective through extensive experiments and a limited user study. In our fourth study, we propose and evaluate a context-aware code search engine that collects code examples from a number of code repositories of GitHub, and the examples contain high quality handlers for the exception of interest. We validate the performance of each of our proposed approaches against existing relevant literature and also through several mini user studies. Finally, in order to further validate the applicability of our approaches, we integrate them into an Eclipse plug in prototype--ExcClipse. We then conduct a task-oriented user study with six participants, and report the findings which are significantly promising.



Context-aware search, meta search, errors and exceptions, code example recommendation, post-search content analysis



Master of Science (M.Sc.)


Computer Science


Computer Science


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