The reproducibility of programming-related issues in Stack Overflow questions

Author:- Saikat Mondal, Mohammad Masudur Rahman, Chanchal K. Roy & Kevin Schneider
Category:- Journal; Year:- 2021
Discipline:- Computer Science & Engineering Discipline
School:- Science, Engineering & Technology School


Software developers often look for solutions to their code-level problems using the Stack Overflow Q&A website. To receive help, developers frequently submit questions that contain sample code segments along with the description of the programming issue. Unfortunately, it is not always possible to reproduce the issues from the code segments they provide. Issues that are not easily reproducible may impede questions from receiving prompt and appropriate solutions. We conducted an exploratory study on the reproducibility of issues discussed in 400 Java and 400 Python questions. We parsed, compiled, executed, and carefully examined the code segments from these questions to reproduce the reported programming issues, expending 300 person-hours of effort. The outcomes of our study are three-fold. First, we can reproduce the issues for approximately 68% of Java and 71% of Python code segments. In contrast, we were unable to reproduce approximately 22% of Java and 19% of Python issues. Of the reproducible issues, approximately 67% of the Java and 20% of the Python code segments required minor or major modifications to reproduce the issues. Second, we carefully investigated why programming issues could not be reproduced and provided evidence-based guidelines to write effective code examples for Stack Overflow questions. Third, we investigated the correlation between the issue reproducibility status of questions and the corresponding answer meta-data, such as the presence of an accepted answer. According to our analysis, a reproducible question has at least two times higher chance of receiving an accepted answer than an irreproducible question. Besides, the median time delay in receiving accepted answers is double if the issues reported in questions could not be reproduced. We also investigated the confounding factors (e.g., user reputation) that can affect questions receiving answers besides reproducibility. We found that such factors do not hurt the correlation between reproducibility status and answer meta-data.

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