Enforcing Abstract Immutability
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Researchers have recently proposed a number of systems for expressing, verifying, and inferring immutability declarations. These systems are often rigid, and do not support "abstract immutability". An abstractly immutable object is an object o which is immutable from the point of view of any external methods. The C++ programming language is not rigid–it allows developers to express intent by adding immutability declarations to methods. Abstract immutability allows for performance improvements such as caching, even in the presence of writes to object fields. This dissertation presents a system to enforce abstract immutability. First, we explore abstract immutability in real-world systems. We found that developers often incorrectly use abstract immutability, perhaps because no programming language helps developers correctly implement abstract immutability. We believe that this omission leads to incorrect usages. Specifically, we wrote a dynamic analysis that reports any writes through immutability declarations. To our knowledge, this work was the first to explore how objects implement abstract immutability (or fail to implement it). Our novel study found three uses of abstract immutability: caching, delayed initialization, and unit testing. Unit testing was a surprising application of abstract immutability, and we believe that the ability to modify state is needed for proper unit testing. Next, we explore developers' revealed needs for immutability in the source code. We found that the majority of classes contain a mix of immutable and mutable methods, with a majority of the overall methods being immutable. Immutability systems with only immutable or all-mutating classes are insufficient: developers need immutability declarations at method granularity. Our study then combined developer immutability declarations with results from a static analysis to estimate the true number of immutable methods. The static analysis checked that no transitive writes to a receiver object occurred. Our results indicated the need for a sophisticated analysis to check that these apparently abstractly immutable methods were indeed abstractly immutable. Finally, we created a novel static analysis which checks that developers follow abstract immutability. Specifically, we define abstract immutability to mean that a class's set of immutable methods is collectively free of writes to exposed fields. Our analysis found incorrect usages of abstract immutability, such as incorrect caching. This analysis is particularly valuable in the context of code evolution, whereby subsequent programmers may make changes that break previously-correct cache implementations, for instance. Our work allows developers to trust that their code is abstractly immutable.
Cite this version of the work
Jonathan Eyolfson (2018). Enforcing Abstract Immutability. UWSpace. http://hdl.handle.net/10012/13507