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Learning to Answer Semantic Queries over Code

Surya Prakash Sahu
Madhurima Mandal
Shikhar Bharadwaj
Aditya Kanade
Shirish Shevade
Google Research (2022)


During software development, developers need answers to queries about semantic aspects of code. Even though extractive question-answering using neural approaches has been studied widely in natural languages, the problem of answering semantic queries over code using neural networks has not yet been explored. This is mainly because there is no existing dataset with extractive question and answer pairs over code involving complex concepts and long chains of reasoning. We bridge this gap by building a new, curated dataset called CodeQueries, and proposing a neural question-answering methodology over code. We build upon state-of-the-art pre-trained models of code to predict answer and supporting-fact spans. Given a query and code, only some of the code may be relevant to answer the query. We first experiment under an ideal setting where only the relevant code is given to the model and show that our models do well. We then experiment under three pragmatic considerations: (1) scaling to large-size code, (2) learning from a limited number of examples and (3) robustness to minor syntax errors in code. Our results show that while a neural model can be resilient to minor syntax errors in code, increasing size of code, presence of code that is not relevant to the query, and reduced number of training examples limit the model performance. We are releasing our data and models to facilitate future work on the proposed problem of answering semantic queries over code.