On using Stack Overflow comment-edit pairs to recommend code maintenance changes

Henry Tang, Sarah Nadi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Code maintenance data sets typically consist of a before version of the code and an after version that contains the improvement or fix. Such data sets are important for various software engineering support tools related to code maintenance, such as program repair, code recommender systems, or Application Programming Interface (API) misuse detection. Most of the current data sets are typically constructed from mining commit history in version-control systems or issues in issue-tracking systems. In this paper, we investigate whether Stack Overflow can be used as an additional source for building code maintenance data sets. Comments on Stack Overflow provide an effective way for developers to point out problems with existing answers, alternative solutions, or pitfalls. Given its crowd-sourced nature, answers are then updated to incorporate these suggestions. In this paper, we mine comment-edit pairs from Stack Overflow and investigate their potential usefulness for constructing the above data sets. These comment-edit pairs have the added benefit of having concrete descriptions/explanations of why the change is needed as well as potentially having less tangled changes to deal with. We first design a technique to extract related comment-edit pairs and then qualitatively and quantitatively investigate the nature of these pairs. We find that the majority of comment-edit pairs are not tangled, but find that only 27% of the studied pairs are potentially useful for the above applications. We categorize the types of mined pairs and find that the highest ratio of useful pairs come from those categorized as Correction, Obsolete, Flaw, and Extension. These categories can provide data for both corrective and preventative maintenance activities. To demonstrate the effectiveness of our extracted pairs, we submitted 15 pull requests to popular GitHub repositories, 10 of which have been accepted to widely used repositories such as Apache Beam (https://beam.apache.org/) and NLTK (https://www.nltk.org/). Our work is the first to investigate Stack Overflow comment-edit pairs and opens the door for future work in this direction. Based on our findings and observations, we provide concrete suggestions on how to potentially identify a larger set of useful comment-edit pairs, which can also be facilitated by our shared data.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number68
JournalEmpirical Software Engineering
Issue number4
StatePublished - Jul 2021


  • Bug-fix data sets
  • Comment-edit pairs
  • Stack Overflow

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Software


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