Linux Variability Anomalies: What Causes Them and How Do They Get Fixed?

TitleLinux Variability Anomalies: What Causes Them and How Do They Get Fixed?
Publication TypeConference Proceedings
Year of Publication2013
AuthorsNadi, S, Dietrich, C, Tartler, R, Holt, RC, Lohmann, D
Refereed DesignationRefereed
Secondary Title10th Working Conference on Mining Software Repositories
Date Published05/2013

The Linux kernel is one of the largest configurable open source software systems implementing static variability. In Linux, variability is scattered over three different artifacts: source code files, Kconfig files, and Makefiles. Previous work detected inconsistencies between these artifacts that led to anomalies in the intended variability of Linux. We call these variability anomalies. However, there has been no work done to analyze how these variability anomalies are introduced in the first place, and how they get fixed. In this work, we provide an analysis of the causes and fixes of variability anomalies in Linux. We first perform an exploratory case study that uses an existing set of patches which solve variability anomalies to identify patterns for their causes. The observations we make from this dataset allow us to develop four research questions which we then answer in a confirmatory case study on the scope of the whole Linux kernel. We show that variability anomalies exist for several releases in the kernel before they get fixed, and that contrary to our initial suspicion, typos in feature names do not commonly cause these anomalies. Our results show that variability anomalies are often introduced through incomplete patches that change Kconfig definitions without properly propagating these changes to the rest of the system. Anomalies are then commonly fixed through changes to the code rather than to Kconfig files.

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