Software evolution: the lifetime of fine-grained elements

Diomidis Spinellis, Panos Louridas, Maria Kechagia

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)
57 Downloads (Pure)


A model regarding the lifetime of individual source code lines or tokens can estimate maintenance effort, guide preventive maintenance, and, more broadly, identify factors that can improve the efficiency of software development. We present methods and tools that allow tracking of each line’s or token’s birth and death. Through them, we analyze 3.3 billion source code element lifetime events in 89 revision control repositories. Statistical analysis shows that code lines are durable, with a median lifespan of about 2.4 years, and that young lines are more likely to be modified or deleted, following a Weibull distribution with the associated hazard rate decreasing over time. This behavior appears to be independent from specific characteristics of lines or tokens, as we could not determine factors that influence significantly their longevity across projects. The programing language, and developer tenure and experience were not found to be significantly correlated with line or token longevity, while project size and project age showed only a slight correlation.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-33
Number of pages33
JournalPeerJ Computer Science
Publication statusPublished - 2021


  • Code decay
  • Hazard rate
  • Repository mining
  • Software aging
  • Software evolution


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