How Different Is It Between Machine-Generated and Developer-Provided Patches? An Empirical Study on The Correct Patches Generated by Automated Program Repair Techniques

Shangwen Wang, Ming Wen, Liqian Chen, Xin Yi, Xiaoguang Mao

Background: Over the years, Automated Program Repair (APR) has attracted much attention from both academia and industry since it can reduce the costs in fixing bugs. However, how to assess the patch correctness remains to be an open challenge. Two widely adopted ways to approach this challenge, including manually checking and validating using automated generated tests, are biased (i.e., suffering from subjectivity and low precision respectively). Aim: To address this concern, we propose to conduct an empirical study towards understanding the correct patches that are generated by existing state-of-the-art APR techniques, aiming at providing guidelines for future assessment of patches. Method: To this end, we first present a Literature Review (LR) on the reported correct patches generated by recent techniques on the Defects4J benchmark and collect 177 correct patches after a process of sanity check. We investigate how these machine-generated correct patches achieve semantic equivalence, but syntactic difference compared with developer-provided ones, how these patches distribute in different projects and APR techniques, and how the characteristics of a bug affect the patches generated for it. Results: Our main findings include 1) we do not need to fix bugs exactly like how developers do since we observe that 25.4% (45/177) of the correct patches generated by APR techniques are syntactically different from developer-provided ones; 2) the distribution of machine-generated correct patches diverges for the aspects of Defects4J projects and APR techniques; and 3) APR techniques tend to generate patches that are different from those by developers for bugs with large patch sizes. Conclusion: Our study not only verifies the conclusions from previous studies but also highlights implications for future study towards assessing patch correctness.

Knowledge Graph



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