How Developers Search for Code: A Case Study

Kathryn T. Stolee
Sebastian Elbaum
Joint Meeting of the European Software Engineering Conference and the Symposium on the Foundations of Software Engineering (ESEC/FSE ), 1600 Amphitheatre Parkway(2015)
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With the advent of large code repositories and sophisticated search capabilities, code search is increasingly becoming a key software development activity. In this work we shed some light into how developers search for code through a case study performed at Google, using a combination of survey and log-analysis methodologies. Our study provides insights into what developers are doing and trying to learn when performing a search, search scope, query properties, and what a search session under different contexts usually entails. Our results indicate that programmers search for code very frequently, conducting an average of five search sessions with 12 total queries each workday. The search queries are often targeted at a particular code location and programmers are typically looking for code with which they are somewhat familiar. Further, programmers are generally seeking answers to questions about how to use an API, what code does, why something is failing, or where code is located.