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Assessing technical debt by identifying design flaws in software systems

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1 Author(s)
R. Marinescu ; LOOSE Research Group, Universitatea “Politehnica” din Timioara, Bvd. V. Pârvan 2 , Timisoara, Romania

Tough time-to-market constraints and unanticipated integration or evolution issues lead to design tradeoffs that usually cause flaws in the structure of a software system. Thus, maintenance costs grow significantly. The impact of these design decisions, which provide short-term benefits at the expense of the system’s design integrity, is usually referred to as technical debt. In this paper, I propose a novel framework for assessing technical debt using a technique for detecting design flaws, i.e., specific violations of well-established design principles and rules. To make the framework comprehensive and balanced, it is built on top of a set of metrics-based detection rules for well-known design flaws that cover all of the major aspects of design such as coupling, complexity, and encapsulation. I demonstrate the effectiveness of the framework by assessing the evolution of technical debt symptoms over a total of 63 releases of two popular Eclipse® projects. The case study shows how the framework can detect debt symptoms and past refactoring actions. The experiment also reveals that in the absence of such a framework, restructuring actions are not always coherent and systematic, not even when performed by very experienced developers.

Note: The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, Incorporated is distributing this Article with permission of the International Business Machines Corporation (IBM) who is the exclusive owner. The recipient of this Article may not assign, sublicense, lease, rent or otherwise transfer, reproduce, prepare derivative works, publicly display or perform, or distribute the Article.  

Published in:

IBM Journal of Research and Development  (Volume:56 ,  Issue: 5 )