The life cycle of features in highly-configurable software systems evolving in space and time
Sprache des Titels:
GPCE '21: Concepts and Experiences, Chicago, IL, USA, October 17 - 18, 2021
Feature annotation based on preprocessor directives is the most common mechanism in Highly-Configurable Software Systems (HCSSs) to manage variability. However, it is challenging to understand, maintain, and evolve feature fragments guarded by #ifdef directives. Yet, despite HCSSs being implemented in Version Control Systems, the support for evolving features in space and time is still limited. To extend the knowledge on this topic, we analyze the feature life cycle in space and time. Specifically, we introduce an automated mining approach and apply it to four HCSSs, analyzing commits of their entire development life cycle (13 to 20 years and 37,500 commits). This goes beyond existing studies, which investigated only differences between specific releases or entire systems. Our results show that features undergo frequent changes, often with substantial modifications of their code. The findings of our empirical analyses stress the need for better support of system evolution in space and time at the level of features. In addition to these analyses, we contribute an automated mining approach for the analysis of system evolution at the level of features. Furthermore, we also make available our dataset to foster new studies on feature evolution in HCSSs.