Aligning development tools with the way programmers think about code changes

Abstract

Software developers must modify their programs to keep up with changing requirements and designs. Often, a conceptually simple change can require numerous edits that are similar but not identical, leading to errors and omissions. Researchers have designed programming environments to address this problem, but most of these systems are counter-intuitive and difficult to use. By applying a task-centered design process, we developed a visual tool that allows programmers to make complex code transformations in an intuitive manner. This approach uses a representation that aligns well with programmers ’ mental models of programming structures. The visual language combines textual and graphical elements and is expressive enough to support a broad range of code-changing tasks. To simplify learning the system, its user interface scaffolds construction and execution of transformations. An evaluation with Java programmers suggests that the interface is intuitive, easy to learn, and effective on a representative editing task. Author Keywords Transformations, visual languages, cognitive dimensions

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