Measuring the Level of Reuse


Object-Oriented Development



Jeffrey S. Poulin


Loral Federal Systems

MD 0210, Owego, NY 13827

Tel: (607) 751-6899, fax: (607) 751-6025



28 August 1995






Defining what software to count as “reused” software constitutes the most difficult and meaningful problem in reuse metrics.  Experience reports routinely report impressive reuse levels and benefits due to reuse.  However, the reader cannot trust the report without understanding what the report counted; e.g., modified software, ported software, generated software, etc. To date, only one model exists for defining a consistent method of counting and reporting software reuse.  Although this model applies equally to various development paradigms to include object-oriented programming, this paper clarifies the model with respect to objects and expands on issues related to object-oriented reuse metrics.


Keywords: Software Reuse, Reuse Metrics, Object-Oriented Programming


Workshop Goals: Learn and discuss current reuse issues and methods.


Working Groups: Useful and collectible metrics; Domain analysis and engineering; Software Architectures

1         Background


To date, only one model exists for defining a consistent method of counting and reporting software reuse [Poulin93a].  This model methodically makes recommendations as to what to count as a Reused Source Instruction (RSI).  The rationale for the model applies equally to the functional, procedural, and object-oriented (OO) paradigms because the rationale does not depend on any paradigm-specific methods.  However, recent work in OO metrics often either fails to address this issue or the OO work identifies the need for a common counting model.  As OO metrics mature and the community identifies the most meaningful metrics and ranges of values for each [Poulin93b], the metrics must include consistent definitions to serve as a basis for comparing results.

2         Position

The definition of Reused Source Instruction (RSI) applies to all programming paradigms.

3         Approach

This paper describes the three primary OO reuse methods and briefly discusses the benefits and drawbacks of each.  It compares each of these methods to the analogous practice in traditional procedural development.  Finally, the paper presents some issues that an organization should address when instituting reuse metrics for OO development.

3.1      Reuse in the Object-Oriented Paradigm

Expectations of high reuse levels provide one of the most important motivations for OO software development.  In fact, the OO paradigm provides three primary ways to support reuse:


1.        Classes.  The encapsulation of function and data provides for their use via multiple instantiation and in aggregation relationships with other classes.

2.        Inheritance. The extension of a class into subclasses by specializing the existing class allows subclasses to share common features.

3.        Polymorphism. The reduction of program complexity by providing the same operation on several data types via several implementations for a common interface.


Each of these reuse approaches involves some trade-offs in terms of application and desirability.  These trade-offs include the cleanliness of the reuse; in other words, whether or not each component has a traceable heritage of evolution and consequently whether or not changes to a component will result in changes throughout the system [Cockburn93].  For example, creating a subclass and overloading a method through polymorphism can cause unexpected results at execution time in the case of an unintentional name conflict.  Modifying source code, whether for the method implementation or simply the interface, will propagate changes to all parts of the system using that method.  Alternately, simple sub-classing (without polymorphism) or use of a method without modification of source code provides for clean and safe reuse.


This view of OO reuse corresponds to the subsequent testing requirements incurred by the implications of inheritance and polymorphism [Binder95].  For testing purposes, each inherited methods requires retesting and each possible binding of a polymorphic component requires a separate test.  The extent of testing depends on the cleanliness of the reuse.


If the features of OO languages do not guarantee reuse [Griss94], they certainly do not guarantee good programming.  In traditional procedural development programmers should use language features such as macros, functions, and procedures when they must repeatedly execute the same operations.  The programmer may use techniques (depending on the implementation language) such as variable macros (a method for overloading macro definitions) or generic packages (a method for overloading abstract data types in Ada).      


We consider the use of these language features and techniques good programming or good design.  Likewise, we expect OO programmers to use the language features at their disposal (e.g., classes, inheritance, and polymorphism) to abstract features common to objects and to minimize the amount of code they must write and maintain.


In traditional development, we consider a component reused when the programmer avoided having to write software by means of obtaining it from someplace else.  Within small teams or organizations, we expect the use of macros, functions, and procedures for common functions.  Repeated calls to these components do not count as reuse; calling components simply uses the features of procedural languages.  However, if the organization obtains the software from another organization or product we count it as reuse.


Likewise, a small team or organization may build a class hierarchy in which subclasses incrementally specialize the common aspects of parent classes.  We expect sub-classing, inheritance, and polymorphism in OO development.  Of course, multiple instantiations of an object do not count as reuse for the same reason multiple calls to a function do not count.  Reuse in OO programs comes from the use of classes and methods obtained from other organizations or products, thereby resulting in a savings of development effort.


I call the issue of determining when an organization has saved effort by using software from another organization or product the boundary problem.  In practice, however, boundaries become obvious due to the structure of the organization (the people) and/or the structure of the software (in most cases management structure maps to the software structure).  On small projects, reused classes come from pre-existing class libraries, commercially licensed class libraries, or other projects.  On large projects, the many organizations working on the project will reuse each other’s software as well as reuse software from commercial sources and reuse software perhaps developed for that purpose by a team dedicated to building shared classes.

3.2      Issues

One issue involves counting extra code in a reused class.  In traditional development, generalizing a component may require additional code.  Take the case of a variable macro instantiation.  Do you count reuse based on:


1.            the code produced in that instantiation.

2.            the average code produced over all possible instantiations.

3.            the maximum code produced of all possible instantiations.

4.            the macro source code needed for that instantiation including error checking on input parameters and environment variables.

5.            the total macro source, to include code for all possible macro instantiations and the error checking for each, in which case you may give reuse credit for a significant amount of software the programmer would not have written.


Likewise, generalizing objects may require additional code to support many possible applications.  Take the case of a reused class stack, which contains numerous methods for testing the status of and manipulating the stack.  However, a developer may only need the push and pop methods.  Do you count reuse based on:


·         code used by the developer (push, pop)

·         total code in the reused stack class.


In practice I have found that this occurrences happens rarely, in part because other constraints (such as on object code size) restrict the practical ability to include more code than a developer needs.  In addition to encouraging the use of pre-existing classes, this realization supports the counting of the entire class versus trying to determine the subset of methods actually used.


In fact, data collection affects reuse metrics because an analyst must usually work with available or easily obtainable data.  For traditional development, the reuse analyst must know the size of each reused component, the total size of the software, and the developers and users of each component.  Likewise, the OO analyst must know the size of each class, the total size of the program, and all the developers and users of each class.  Currently, traditional metrics use lines of code for measuring component size; although this measure holds for OO, other measures of effort may include the total number of classes or the total number of methods.

3.3      How to Quantify Reuse in OO Programs

The definition of reuse and what should count as a Reused Source Instruction (RSI) (or reused objects) applies to

all programming paradigms.  The use of language features such as:


·         functions, procedures, generics, and (variable) macros in the procedural paradigm

·         classes, inheritance, and polymorphism in the OO paradigm


do not, by themselves, constitute reuse as much as they represent a particular method to solve a problem.  The rationale for defining reuse in any paradigm depends not on language features but rather on an assessment of whether someone saved effort through the use of software they obtained from someplace else; in short, software they did not have to write.


The solution to determining reuse levels in programs lies in the boundary problem.  We expect organizations to call procedures and inherit methods that the organization developed for its own use.  When an organization avoided development by using software it obtained from someplace else, then we say it reused the software.

4         Comparison

Numerous references cite reuse as a principal benefit of object-oriented technology.  Kain admits the limited availability of quantitative evidence of reuse in object-oriented programming and observes that few experience reports say how they measure reuse [Kain94].  Kain cites evidence that some reports count reuse as the use of classes and methods across applications (as explained above) and not, for example, inheritance within an application.  Other reports count inheritance as reuse of the super class; these differences prevent the comparison of OO experience reports.


Although Kain recognizes the need to evaluate OO reuse in the context of multiple teams and organizations (not individual programmers), Henderson-Sellers claims reuse comes from sub-classing via inheritance and from multiple instantiations of the same class [HS93].  Although he focuses on the reuse of classes from reusable class libraries, he includes references to the reuse of classes from one project to another and from classes built for reuse within the organization.  Henderson-Sellers discusses OO reuse economics using a simple Cost-Benefit Model but he fails to compare the model to most other work done in the field.

5         Bibliography

[Bin95] R.V. Binder.  Testing Object-Oriented Systems: A Status Report.  Crosstalk, 8(4):16-20, April 1995.


[Coc93]  A.A. Cockburn.  The Impact of Object-Orientation on Application Development.   IBM Systems Journal, 32(3):420-444, 1993.


[Gri94]  M.L. Griss.  PANEL: Object-Oriented Reuse.  In Proceedings of the Third International Conference on Software Reuse, 1-4 November 1994.


[HS93]  B. Henderson-Sellers.  The Economics of Reusing Library Classes.  Journal of Object-Oriented Programming, 6(4):43-50, July-August 1993.


[Kai94]  J.B. Kain.  Making Reuse Cost Effective.  Object Magazine, 4(3):48-54, June 1994.


[Pou93a] J.S. Poulin.  Issues in the Development and Application of Reuse Metrics in a Corporate Environment.  In Proceedings of the 5th International Conference on Software Engineering and Knowledge Engineering, 16-18 June 1993.


[Pou93b]  J.S. Poulin.  Panel: Metrics for Object-Oriented Software Development.  In Proceedings of the 6th IBM Object-Oriented Software Development Conference, 19-23 July 1993.

6         Biography


Jeffrey S. Poulin works as a Senior Programmer with Loral Federal Systems (formally IBM Federal Systems Company) in Owego, NY.  As a member of the Advanced Technology Group, he serves as the Principal Investigator and leader of research into new open systems standards-compliant technologies in the areas of distributed UNIX system management, networking, and object-oriented software development.  His responsibilities in Owego include lead architect for the LFS reuse program, technical lead for a contract in support of reuse across the U.S. Army, and the reuse strategy for a major Army MIS development program.


From 1991-1993 Dr. Poulin worked in the IBM Reuse Technology Support Center (RTSC) where he led the development and acceptance of the IBM software reuse metrics and return on investment (ROI) model.  He also organized, edited, contributed to, and published a complete library of resources on the IBM Reuse Method.  Active in many professional activities, Dr. Poulin has published over 30 papers on software measurement and reuse.  In addition to serving on numerous conference committees and panels, he chaired the IEEE Computer Society 6th Annual Workshop on Software Reuse (WISR’93) in November 1993.  A Hertz Foundation Fellow, Dr. Poulin earned his Bachelors degree at the United States Military Academy at West Point and his Masters and Ph.D. degrees at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York.