On the Nature of Code Cloning in Open-Source Java Projects

Yaroslav Golubev and Timofey Bryksin

October, 2021. Published in the proceedings of IWSC'21.

Abstract. Code cloning plays a very important role in open-source software engineering. The presence of clones within a project may indicate a need for refactoring, and clones between projects are even more interesting, since code migration takes place and violations are possible. But how is code being copied? How prevalent is the process and on what level does it happen?

In this general study, we attempt to shed some light on these questions by searching for clones in a large dataset of over 23 thousand Java projects on the level of both files and methods, and by studying the code fragments themselves and their clone pairs. We study the size and the age of code fragments, the prevalence of their clones, relationships between exact and non-exact clones, as well as between method-level and file-level clones. We also discover and describe various anomalies in the code clones that we discover.

Our research shows that the copying occurs all through the years of the Java code existence and that method-level copying is much more prevalent than file-level copying: only 35.4% of methods have no clones. Additionally, some of the discovered anomalies can be useful for future large-scale cloning research as they can be used for removing auto-generated code.