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How Do Developers React to API Evolution? The Pharo Ecosystem Case (ICSME 2015)


Published October 1, 2015 in Research

Software engineering research now considers that no system is an island, but it is part of an ecosystem involving other systems, developers, users, hardware. When one system (e.g., a framework) evolves, its clients often need to adapt. Client developers might need to adapt to functionalities, client systems might need to be adapted to a new API, client users might need to adapt to a new User Interface. The consequences of such changes are yet unclear, what proportion of the ecosystem might be expected to react, how long might it take for a change to diffuse in the ecosystem, do all clients react in the same way? This paper reports on an exploratory study aimed at observing API evolution and its impact on a large-scale software ecosystem, Pharo, which has about 3,600 distinct systems, more than 2,800 contributors, and six years of evolution. We analyze 118 API changes and answer research questions regarding the magnitude, duration, extension, and consistency of such changes in the ecosystem. The results of this study help to characterize the impact of API evolution in large software ecosystems, and provide the basis to better understand how such impact can be alleviated.