Test-Driven Code Review: An Empirical Study

Davide Spadini, Fabio Palomba, Tobias Baum, Stefan Hanenberg, Magiel Bruntink, Alberto Bacchelli

Research output: Chapter in Book/Conference proceedings/Edited volumeConference contributionScientificpeer-review

11 Citations (Scopus)
117 Downloads (Pure)


Test-Driven Code Review (TDR) is a code review practice in which a reviewer inspects a patch by examining the changed test code before the changed production code. Although this practice has been mentioned positively by practitioners in informal literature and interviews, there is no systematic knowledge of its effects, prevalence, problems, and advantages.

In this paper, we aim at empirically understanding whether this practice has an effect on code review effectiveness and how developers' perceive TDR. We conduct (i) a controlled experiment with 93 developers that perform more than 150 reviews, and (ii) 9 semi-structured interviews and a survey with 103 respondents to gather information on how TDR is perceived. 
Key results from the experiment show that developers adopting TDR find the same proportion of defects in production code, but more in test code, at the expenses of fewer maintainability issues in production code. Furthermore, we found that most developers prefer to review production code as they deem it more critical and tests should follow from it. Moreover, general poor test code quality and no tool support hinder the adoption of TDR. 
Public preprint: https://doi.org/10.5281/zenodo.2551217, data and materials: https://doi.org/10.5281/zenodo.2553139.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationProceedings - 2019 IEEE/ACM 41st International Conference on Software Engineering, ICSE 2019
Number of pages12
ISBN (Electronic)978-1-7281-0869-8
ISBN (Print)978-1-7281-0870-4
Publication statusPublished - 2019

Publication series

NameProceedings - International Conference on Software Engineering
ISSN (Print)0270-5257


  • MSR
  • TDR
  • code review
  • software testing


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