Structuring Documentation to Support State Search: A Laboratory Experiment about Protocol Programming
Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) often define object protocols. Objects with protocols have a finite number of states and in each state a different set of method calls is valid. Many researchers have developed protocol verification tools because protocols are notoriously difficult to follow correctly. However, recent research suggests that a major challenge for API protocol programmers is effectively searching the state space. Verification is an ineffective guide for this kind of search. In this paper we instead propose Plaiddoc, which is like Javadoc except it organizes methods by state instead of by class and it includes explicit state transitions, state-based type specifications, and rich state relationships. We compare Plaiddoc to a Javadoc control in a between-subjects laboratory experiment. We find that Plaiddoc participants complete state search tasks in significantly less time and with significantly fewer errors than Javadoc participants.