Is seeding a good strategy in multi-objective feature selection when feature models evolve?
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Information & Software Technology
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Context: When software architects or engineers are given a list of all the features and their interactions (i.e., a Feature Model or FM) together with stakeholders’ preferences – their task is to find a set of potential products to suggest the decision makers. Software Product Lines Engineering (SPLE) consists in optimising those large and highly constrained search spaces according to multiple objectives reflecting the preference of the different stakeholders. SPLE is known to be extremely skill- and labour-intensive and it has been a popular topic of research in the past years. Objective: This paper presents the first thorough description and evaluation of the related problem of evolving software product lines. While change and evolution of software systems is the common case in the industry, to the best of our knowledge this element has been overlooked in the literature. In particular, we evaluate whether seeding previous solutions to genetic algorithms (that work well on the general problem) would help them to find better/faster solutions. Method: We describe in this paper a benchmark of large scale evolving FMs, consisting of 5 popular FMs and their evolutions – synthetically generated following an experimental study of FM evolution. We then study the performance of a state-of-the-art algorithm for multi-objective FM selection (SATIBEA) when seeded with former solutions. Results:Our experiments show that we can improve both the execution time and the quality of SATIBEA by feeding it with previous configurations. In particular, SATIBEA with seeds proves to converge an order of magnitude faster than SATIBEA alone. Conclusion: We show in this paper that evolution of FMs is not a trivial task and that seeding previous solutions can be used as a first step in the optimisation - unless the difference between former and current FMs is high, where seeding has a limited impact.