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Supporting program comprehension in large preprocessor-based software product lines

Supporting program comprehension in large preprocessor-based software product lines

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Software product line (SPL) engineering provides an effective mechanism to implement variable software. However, using preprocessors to realise variability, which is typical in industry, is heavily criticised, because it often leads to obfuscated code. Using background colours to highlight code annotated with preprocessor statements to support comprehensibility has proved to be effective, however, scalability to large SPLs is questionable. The authors’ aim is to implement and evaluate scalable usage of background colours for industrial-sized SPLs. They designed and implemented scalable concepts in a tool called FeatureCommander. To evaluate its effectiveness, the authors conducted a controlled experiment with a large real-world SPL with over 99 000 lines of code and 340 features. They used a within-subjects design with treatment colours and no colours. They compared correctness and response time of tasks for both treatments. For certain kinds of tasks, background colours improve program comprehension. Furthermore, the subjects generally favour background colours compared with no background colours. In addition, the subjects who worked with background colours had to use the search functions less frequently. The authors show that background colours can improve program comprehension in large SPLs. Based on these encouraging results, they continue their work on improving program comprehension in large SPLs.

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