11 November 2018

Widespread Architectural Changes using IDEs

This is the second part of my list of tools to automate Widespread Architectural Changes. Now Widespread Architectural Change is a category of architectural refactoring which do not change the overall structure but need to be applied in many places consistently across a whole code base. For example, consider changing or unifying coding conventions or fixing violations. The main challenge of these changes is the high number of occurrences.

The goal of this article is to introduce you to ways to automate such changes. I have been using some of these techniques because as Code Cop I value code consistency, still this is a raw list. I have only used a few of the mentioned tools and need to explore many in more detail.

In the first part I listed some basic options, e.g. how to support manual changes with fast navigation, search and replace across the whole file system, use scripted search and replace using regular expressions, Macros and finally JetBrains' Structural Search and Replace. This time I focus on options available for modern IDEs. Tools like Eclipse or IntelliJ use an internal representation of the code, the Abstract Syntax Tree (AST). Structural Search and Replace works the AST and therefore belongs into this group as well.

Rescripter (Eclipse)
Modern IDEs support many Refactoring steps - why not use the existing tools to make our job easier? One of such tools is Rescripter, built for making large-scale changes that you can describe easily but are laborious to do by hand. Rescripter is an Eclipse plugin which runs JavaScript in the context of the Eclipse JDT. David Green added some helper objects to make searching, parsing and modifying Java code easier and wrapped a thin JavaScript layer around it. Rescripter scripts are working the AST.

Here are two examples from Rescripter's documentation: Finding a method named getName inside the class Person:
var type = Find.typeByName("Person");
var method = Find.methodByName(type, "getName").getElementName();
and adding a method getJobTitle to that type:
var edit = new SourceChange(type.getCompilationUnit());
edit.addEdit(ChangeType.addMethod(type, "\n\tpublic String getJobTitle() {\n" +
                                        "\t\treturn this.jobTitle;\n" +
Rescripter is an old project and has not been updated since 2011. While it has some demo code and documentation, it is a bit raw. I guess it is not compatible with newer versions of Eclipse. Still - like Structural Search and Replace - it is very powerful. If you have a large code base and a repetitive change that can be expressed in terms of the AST, the high effort to get into the tool and create a script will pay off. (A useful plugin to help you working the AST is the AST View. The AST View is part of the JDT but not installed out of the box. It is visualising the AST of a Java file open in the editor.)

JackpotJackpot (NetBeans)
Another, very interesting tool in this area is the Jackpot DSL for NetBeans used in the IDE actions Inspect and Transform aka Inspect and Refactor. Jackpot is a NetBeans IDE module for modelling, querying and transforming Java source files. In the Jackpot context, a program transformation is a script or Java class which queries sources in Java projects for patterns, changes them, and then writes these changes back to the original source files. [...] Jackpot transformations tend to be applied globally, such as at a project level or across several projects. Win! Unfortunately there is very little information about it. It took me hours just to find a little bit of information about it:

Dustin Marx describes how to create NetBeans 7.1 custom hints. He agrees that the most difficult aspect of using NetBeans's custom hints is finding documentation on how to use them. The best sources currently available appear to be the NetBeans 7.1 Release Notes, several Wielenga posts (Custom Declarative Hints in NetBeans IDE 7.1, Oh No Vector!, Oh No @Override!), and Jan Lahoda's jackpot30 Rules Language (covers the rules language syntax used by the custom inspections/hints). The Refactoring with Inspect and Transform in the NetBeans IDE Java Editor tutorial also includes a section on managing custom hints. All listed documentation is from 2011/2012. The most recent one I found is a short Jackpot demo from JavaOne Brazil 2016.

NetBeans hints are warnings that have a quick fix. For example the hint "Can Use Diamond" finds places where the diamond operator of Java 7 can be used instead of explicit type parameters. When the offered action is taken, the code is migrated. In the Inspect and Transform dialogue, the inspections can be managed. Custom hints are stored in .hint files. For example, Dustin Marx' hint to remove extraneous calls to System.currentTimeMillis() from new java.util.Date constructor is written as
<!description="Unnecessary use of System.currentTimeMillis on new Date">

new java.util.Date(java.lang.System.currentTimeMillis())
=> new java.util.Date()
The Java Declarative Hints Format allows matching on variables, modifiers and statements. Fixes can be applied conditionally too.

I do not know if Jackpot hints can be applied across a whole code base at once. As they are inspections, I expect them to be displayed for the whole project - making them fast navigation markers at least. Anyway this is very exciting. It is so exciting that some people wanted to port it to Eclipse (but they never did).

Using Specific Refactoring Plugins
There are a few specific plugins that combine various Refactoring. Eclipse's Source Clean Up Action deserves a honorary mention: It fixes basic warnings on a whole code base, but is very limited. An interesting plugin for Eclipse is Autorefactor which aims to fix language/API usage to deliver smaller, more maintainable and more expressive code bases. Spartan Refactoring is another Eclipse plugin that performs automatic refactoring of Java source code, making it shorter, more idiomatic and more readable.

All these plugins change a predefined, limited set of code patterns, mainly focusing on technical debt. Maybe someone implemented a refactoring plugin for part of the widespread change you need to perform. Search the market places first.

Using Refactoring APIs of IDEs
A possible way is to write your own refactoring plugin. Maybe start with code of a refactoring plugin listed above. Both Eclipse and IntelliJ IDEA offer APIs to manipulating Java code, i.e. the JDT and PSI APIs. I have not done that because it seems too much effort for one time migrations and widespread changes. And reusing the available refactoring tools might raise some problems like waiting for user input which is problematic.

Using (APIs of) Refactoring Browsers
The Refactoring Browser was the first tool that automated Refactoring for Smalltalk. It set the standard for all modern Refactoring tools. Today we have Refactoring Browsers for many languages, e.g. CScout - the C Refactoring Browser, Ruby Refactoring Browser for Emacs or PHP Refactoring Browser which is controlled via the command-line and has plugins for Vim and Emacs. Stand-alone Refactoring tools should be easier to use and script than full blown IDEs, especially if they were designed for different plugins. The idea would be to create code which controls Refactoring Browsers to apply certain changes - again and again.

RopePython Refactoring Libraries
While searching for Refactoring Browsers I just learnt that there are at least three stand-alone Python Refactoring libraries: Rope comes with Vim and Emacs plugins and is also used in VS Code. The second is Bicycle Repair Man. Further there is Bowler which supposedly is better suited for use from the command-line and encourages scripting. All these libraries are rich in features and used by Vim users. (Yeah, Vim is still going strong.)

Rope (Python)
For example, Rope can be used as a library, which allows custom refactoring steps. Even more, it offers something similar to Jackpot's hints, Restructurings. For example, we split a method f(self, p1, p2) of a class mod.A into f1(self, p1) and f2(self, p2). The following Restructuring updates all call sites:
pattern: ${inst}.f(${p1}, ${p2})

 inst: type=mod.A
The code to perform the Restructuring using Rope as a library is
from rope.base.project import Project
from rope.refactor import restructure

project = Project('.')

pattern = '${inst}.f(${p1}, ${p2})'
goal = '...'
args = '...'

restructuring = restructure.Restructure(project, pattern, goal, args)

I never used that but it looks cool. The promise of scripted refactoring makes me excited. Another item to add to my to-research list. ;-) And there are more tools on my list, which will have to wait for part 3.

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