Refactoring Debt: Myth or Reality? An Exploratory Study on the Relationship Between Technical Debt and Refactoring


To meet project timelines or budget constraints, developers intentionally deviate from writing optimal code to feasible code in what is known as incurring Technical Debt (TD). Furthermore, as part of planning their correction, developers document these deficiencies as comments in the code (i.e., self-admitted technical debt or SATD). As a means of improving source code quality, developers often apply a series of refactoring operations to their codebase. In this study, we explore developers repaying this debt through refactoring operations by examining occurrences of SATD removal in the code of 76 open-source Java systems. Our findings show that TD payment usually occurs with refactoring activities and developers refactor their code to remove TD for specific reasons. We envision our findings supporting vendors in providing tools to better support developers in the automatic repayment of technical debt.

Proceedings of the 19th International Conference on Mining Software Repositories