Learning Syntactic Program Transformations from Examples ICSE 2017

Abstract

Automatic program transformation tools can be valuable for programmers to help them with refactoring tasks, and for Computer Science students in the form of tutoring systems that suggest repairs to programming assignments. However, manually creating catalogs of transformations is complex and time-consuming. In this paper, we present Refazer, a technique for automatically learning program transformations. Refazer builds on the observation that code edits performed by developers can be used as input-output examples for learning program transformations. Example edits may share the same structure but involve different variables and subexpressions, which must be generalized in a transformation at the right level of abstraction. To learn transformations, Refazer leverages state-of-the-art programming-by-example methodology using the following key components: (a) a novel domain-specific language (DSL) for describing program transformations, (b) domain-specific deductive algorithms for efficiently synthesizing transformations in the DSL, and (c) functions for ranking the synthesized transformations.

We instantiate and evaluate Refazer in two domains. First, given examples of code edits used by students to fix incorrect programming assignment submissions, we learn program transformations that can fix other students’ submissions with similar faults. In our evaluation conducted on 4 programming tasks performed by 720 students, our technique helped to fix incorrect submissions for 87% of the students. In the second domain, we use repetitive code edits applied by developers to the same project to synthesize a program transformation that applies these edits to other locations in the code. In our evaluation conducted on 56 scenarios of repetitive edits taken from three large C# open-source projects, Refazer learns the intended program transformation in 84% of the cases using only 2.9 examples on average.