What Would Other Programmers Do? Suggesting Solutions to Error Messages

Björn Hartmann, MacDougall, D., Brandt, J., and Klemmer, S.R.
ACM Human Factors in Computing Systems (2010)


Interpreting compiler errors and exception messages is challenging for novice programmers. Presenting examples of how other programmers have corrected similar errors may help novices understand and correct such errors. This paper introduces HelpMeOut, a social recommender system that aids the debugging of error messages by suggesting solutions that peers have applied in the past. HelpMeOut comprises IDE instrumentation to collect examples of code changes that fix errors; a central database that stores fix reports from many users; and a suggestion interface that, given an error, queries the database for a list of relevant fixes and presents these to the programmer. We report on implementations of this architecture for two programming languages. An evaluation with novice programmers found that the technique can suggest useful fixes for 47% of errors after 39 person-hours of programming in an instru- mented environment.