Runtime visualisation of object-oriented software
Software is a complex and invisible entity, yet one which is core to modem life. The development and maintenance of such software includes one staple task, the need to understand the software at the implementation level. This process of program comprehension is difficult and time consuming. Yet, despite its importance, there remains very limited tool support for program comprehension activities. The results of this research show the role that runtime visualisation can play in aiding the comprehension of object-oriented software by highlighting both its static and dynamic structure. Previous work in this area is discussed, both in terms of the representations used and the methods of extracting runtime information. Building on this previous work, this thesis develops new representations of object-oriented software at runtime, which are then implemented in a proof of concept tool. This tool allowed the representations to be investigated on real software systems. The representations are evaluated against two feature-based evaluation frameworks. The evaluation focuses on generic software visualisation criteria, due to the lack of any specific frameworks for visualising dynamic information. The evaluation also includes lessons learnt in the implementation of a prototype visualisation tool. The object-oriented paradigm continues to grow in popularity and provides advantages to program comprehension activities. However, it also brings a number of new challenges to program comprehension due to the discrepancies between its static definition and its runtime structure. Therefore, techniques that highlight both the static definition and the runtime behaviour of object-oriented systems offer benefits to their comprehension. Software visualisation offers an approach to aid program comprehension activities through providing a means to deal with the size and complexity of the software and its invisible nature. This thesis highlights the generic issues that software visualisation faces, before focusing on how the visualisation of runtime information affects these issues. Many of the issues are compounded by the dynamic nature of the information to be visualised and the explosive growth in the volume of information that this dynamism can bring. Wider results of this research have allowed the proposal of the necessary concepts that should be considered in the design and evaluation of runtime visualisations. Software visualisation at runtime is still a relatively unexplored area and there remains many research challenges within it. This thesis aims to act as a first step to addressing these challenges and aims to promote interest and future development within this area.