Industry Experiences with Large-Scale Refactoring

by   James Ivers, et al.

Software refactoring plays an important role in software engineering. Developers often turn to refactoring when they want to restructure software to improve its quality without changing its external behavior. Studies show that small-scale (floss) refactoring is common in industry and can often be performed by a single developer in short sessions, even though developers do much of this work manually instead of using refactoring tools. However, some refactoring efforts are much larger in scale, requiring entire teams and months of effort, and the role of tools in these efforts is not as well studied. In this paper, we report on a survey we conducted with developers to understand large-scale refactoring, its prevalence, and how tools support it. Our results from 107 industry developers demonstrate that projects commonly go through multiple large-scale refactorings, each of which requires considerable effort. While there is often a desire to refactor, other business concerns such as developing new features often take higher priority. Our study finds that developers use several categories of tools to support large-scale refactoring and rely more heavily on general-purpose tools like IDEs than on tools designed specifically to support refactoring. Tool support varies across the different activities, with some particularly challenging activities seeing little use of tools in practice. Our study demonstrates a clear need for better large-scale refactoring tools and an opportunity for refactoring researchers to make a difference in industry. The results we summarize in this paper is one concrete step towards this goal.


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