A wide spectrum type system for transformation theory




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De Montfort University


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Peer reviewed


One of the most difficult tasks a programmer can be confronted with is the migration of a legacy system. Usually, these systems are unstructured, poorly documented and contain complex program logic. The reason for this, in most cases, is an emphasis on raw performance rather than on clean and structured code as well as a long period of applying quick fixes and enhancements rather than doing a proper software reengineering process including a full redesign during major enhancements. Nowadays, the old programming paradigms are becoming an increasingly serious problem. It has been identified that 90% of the costs of a typical software system arise in the maintenance phase. Many companies are simply too afraid of changing their software infrastructure and prefer to continue with principles like "never touch a running system". These companies experience growing pressure to migrate their legacy systems onto newer platforms because the maintenance of such systems is expensive and dangerous as the risk of losing vital parts of sources code or its documentation increases drastically over time. The FermaT transformation system has shown the ability to automatically or semi-automatically restructure and abstract legacy code within a special intermediate language called WSL (Wide Spectrum Language). Unfortunately, the current transformation process only supports the migration of assembler as WSL lacks the ability to handle data types properly. The data structures in assembler are currently directly translated into C data types which involves many assumptional “hard coded” conversions. The absence of an adequate type system for WSL caused several flaws for the whole transformation process and limits its abilities significantly. The main aim of the presented research is to tackle these problems by investigating and formulating how a type system can contribute to a safe and reliable migration of legacy systems. The described research includes the definition of key aspects of type related problems in the FermaT migration process and how to solve them with a suitable type system approach. Since software migration often includes a change in programming language the type system for WSL has to be able to support various type system approaches including the representation of all relevant details to avoid assumptions. This is especially difficult as most programming languages are designed for a special purpose which means that their possible programming constructs and data types differ significantly. This ranges from languages with simple type systems whose program sare prone to unintended side-effects, to languages with strict type systems which are constrained n their flexibility. It is important to include as many type related details as necessary to avoid making assumptions during language to language translation. The result of the investigation is a novel multi layered type system specifically designed to satisfy the needs of WSL for a sophisticated solution without imposing too many limitations on its abilities. The type system has an adjustable expressiveness, able to represent a wide spectrum of typing approaches ranging from weak typing which allows direct memory access and down casting, via very strict typing with a high diversity of data types to object oriented typing which supports encapsulation and data hiding. Looking at the majority of commercial relevant statically typed programming languages, two fundamental properties of type strictness and safety can be identified. A type system can be either weakly or strongly typed and may or may not allow unsafe features such as direct memory access. Each layer of the Wide Spectrum Type System has a different combination of these properties. The approach also includes special Type System Transformations which can be used to move a given WSL program among these layers. Other emphasised key features are explicit typing and scalability. The whole approach is based on a sound mathematical foundation which assures correctness and integrates seamlessly into the present mathematical definition of WSL. The type system is formally introduced to WSL by constructing an attribute grammar for the language. Type checking and type inference are used to annotate the Abstract Syntax Tree of a given WSL program with type derivations which can be used to reveal and indicate possible typing errors or to infer types if the program did not feature explicit type declarations in the first place. Notable in this approach is also the fact that object orientation is introduced to a procedural programming language without the introduction of new semantics. It is shown that object orientation can be introduced just by adjusting type checking rules and adding some syntactical notations. The approach was implemented and tested on two case studies. The thesis describes and discusses both cases in detail and shows how a migration which ignores type systems could accidentally introduce errors due to assumptions during translation. Both case studies use all important aspects of the approach, Including type transformations and object identification. The thesis finalises by summarising the whole work, identifying limitations, presenting future perspectives and drawing conclusions



transformation theory, type system, software evolution, software migration, reengineering, FermaT, WSL, object identification, refactoring



Research Institute