The Effectiveness of Supervised Machine Learning Algorithms in Predicting Software Refactoring

Maurício Aniche, Erick Maziero, Rafael Durelli, Vinicius Durelli

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

23 Citations (Scopus)
62 Downloads (Pure)


Refactoring is the process of changing the internal structure of software to improve its quality without modifying its external behavior. Empirical studies have repeatedly shown that refactoring has a positive impact on the understandability and maintainability of software systems. However, before carrying out refactoring activities, developers need to identify refactoring opportunities. Currently, refactoring opportunity identification heavily relies on developers' expertise and intuition. In this paper, we investigate the effectiveness of machine learning algorithms in predicting software refactorings. More specifically, we train six different machine learning algorithms (i.e., Logistic Regression, Naive Bayes, Support Vector Machine, Decision Trees, Random Forest, and Neural Network) with a dataset comprising over two million refactorings from 11,149 real-world projects from the Apache, F-Droid, and GitHub ecosystems. The resulting models predict 20 different refactorings at class, method, and variable-levels with an accuracy often higher than 90 percent. Our results show that (i) Random Forests are the best models for predicting software refactoring, (ii) process and ownership metrics seem to play a crucial role in the creation of better models, and (iii) models generalize well in different contexts.

Original languageEnglish
Article number9186715
Pages (from-to)1432 - 1450
Number of pages19
JournalIEEE Transactions on Software Engineering
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2020


  • software refactoring
  • machine learning for software engineering
  • refactoring recommendation


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