On the performance of method-level bug prediction: A negative result

Luca Pascarella*, Fabio Palomba, Alberto Bacchelli

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

17 Citations (Scopus)


Bug prediction is aimed at identifying software artifacts that are more likely to be defective in the future. Most approaches defined so far target the prediction of bugs at class/file level. Nevertheless, past research has provided evidence that this granularity is too coarse-grained for its use in practice. As a consequence, researchers have started proposing defect prediction models targeting a finer granularity (particularly method-level granularity), providing promising evidence that it is possible to operate at this level. Particularly, models mixing product and process metrics provided the best results. We present a study in which we first replicate previous research on method-level bug-prediction, by using different systems and timespans. Afterwards, based on the limitations of existing research, we (1) re-evaluate method-level bug prediction models more realistically and (2) analyze whether alternative features based on textual aspects, code smells, and developer-related factors can be exploited to improve method-level bug prediction abilities. Key results of our study include that (1) the performance of the previously proposed models, tested using the same strategy but on different systems/timespans, is confirmed; but, (2) when evaluated with a more practical strategy, all the models show a dramatic drop in performance, with results close to that of a random classifier. Finally, we find that (3) the contribution of alternative features within such models is limited and unable to improve the prediction capabilities significantly. As a consequence, our replication and negative results indicate that method-level bug prediction is still an open challenge.

Original languageEnglish
Article number110493
Pages (from-to)1-15
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of Systems and Software
Publication statusPublished - 2020


  • Defect prediction
  • Empirical software engineering
  • Mining software repositories


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