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A Theory of Dual Channel Constraints

Casalnuovo, Casey, Barr, Barr, Dash, Santanu Kumar and Devanbu, Prem (2020) A Theory of Dual Channel Constraints In: 42nd International Conference on Software Engineering (New Ideas and Emerging Results) (ICSE NIER 2020), 23-29 May 2020, Seoul, Korea.

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The surprising predictability of source code has triggered a boom in tools using language models for code. Code is much more predictable than natural language, but the reasons are not well understood. We propose a dual channel view of code; code combines a formal channel for specifying execution and a natural language channel in the form of identifiers and comments that assists human comprehension. Computers ignore the natural language channel, but developers read both and, when writing code for longterm use and maintenance, consider each channel’s audience: computer and human. As developers hold both channels in mind when coding, we posit that the two channels interact and constrain each other; we call these dual channel constraints. Their impact has been neglected. We describe how they can lead to humans writing code in a way more predictable than natural language, highlight pioneering research that has implicitly or explicitly used parts of this theory, and drive new research, such as systematically searching for cross-channel inconsistencies. Dual channel constraints provide an exciting opportunity as truly multi-disciplinary research; for computer scientists they promise improvements to program analysis via a more holistic approach to code, and to psycholinguists they promise a novel environment for studying linguistic processes.

Item Type: Conference or Workshop Item (Conference Paper)
Divisions : Faculty of Engineering and Physical Sciences > Computer Science
Authors :
Casalnuovo, Casey
Barr, Barr
Dash, Santanu
Devanbu, Prem
Date : 2020
DOI : 10.1145/3377816.3381720
Copyright Disclaimer : © 2020 Copyright held by the owner/author(s). Publication rights licensed to ACM.
Related URLs :
Depositing User : Clive Harris
Date Deposited : 14 May 2020 16:08
Last Modified : 14 May 2020 16:08

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