Behind the scenes: On the relationship between developer experience and refactoring

Abstract

Refactoring is widely recognized as one of the efficient techniques to manage technical debt and maintain a healthy software project through enforcing best design practices, or coping with design defects. Previous refactoring surveys have shown that code refactoring activities are mainly executed by developers who have sufficient knowledge of the system’s design, and disposing of leadership roles in their development teams. However, these surveys were mainly limited to specific projects and companies. In this paper, we explore the generalizability of the previous results by analyzing 800 open-source projects. We mine their refactoring activities, and we identify their corresponding contributors. Then, we associate an experience score to each contributor in order to test various hypotheses related to whether developers with higher scores tend to (1) perform a higher number of refactoring operations, (2) exhibit different motivations behind their refactoring, and (3) better document their refactoring activity. We found that (1) although refactoring is not restricted to a subset of developers, those with higher contribution scores tend to perform more refactorings than others; (2) although there is no correlation between experience and motivation behind refactoring, top contributed developers are found to perform a wider variety of refactoring operations, regardless of their complexity; and (3) top contributed developer tend to document less their refactoring activity. Our qualitative analysis of three randomly sampled projects shows that the developers who are responsible for the majority of refactoring activities are typically in advanced positions in their development teams, demonstrating their extensive knowledge of the design of the systems they contribute to.

Publication
Journal of Software: Evolution and Process

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