PPIG 2006 - 18th Annual Workshop
Abstraction levels in editing programs
John C G Sturdy
Abstract: Traditionally, text editors for program text have operated largely at the level of lines and characters, and their users have made their changes largely character by character, with “cut and paste” and “find and replace” as their only more powerful actions.
Some editor users may think of changes to source code in those terms, too, but it is also possible that some, perhaps the more experienced programmers, think at a higher level of abstraction, such as syntax trees, and would be able to work more efficiently with tools that match the way they think.
Some such tools have now begun to appear, typically described as “refactoring tools”; some of them are integrated into editors and Integrated Development Environments (IDEs) such as Eclipse, NetBeans, IntelliJ, and Visual Studio; and some are separate command-line programs.
It may also be the case that the provision of such tools will help to train or educate programmers to think of their work in a more abstract way; this effect may appear naturally as experienced programmers go about their work, or could be done deliberately in the training of novice programmers.
This research sets out to explore some editing tools that work at higher levels of abstraction than lines and characters, investigating first their design, and then moving on to empirical research to find their usefulness and effects.