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Demystifying Practices, Challenges and Expected Features of Using GitHub Copilot

Research output: Contribution to Journal/MagazineJournal articlepeer-review

E-pub ahead of print
<mark>Journal publication date</mark>17/10/2023
<mark>Journal</mark>International Journal of Software Engineering and Knowledge Engineering
Number of pages20
Publication StatusE-pub ahead of print
Early online date17/10/23
<mark>Original language</mark>English


With the advances in machine learning, there is a growing interest in AI-enabled tools for autocompleting source code. GitHub Copilot, also referred to as the “AI Pair Programmer”, has been trained on billions of lines of open source GitHub code, and is one of such tools that has been increasingly used since its launch in June 2021. However, little effort has been devoted to understanding the practices, challenges, and expected features of using Copilot in programming for auto-completed source code from the point of view of practitioners. To this end, we conducted an empirical study by collecting and analyzing the data from Stack Overflow (SO) and GitHub Discussions. More specifically, we searched and manually collected 303 SO posts and 927 GitHub discussions related to the usage of Copilot. We identified the programming languages, Integrated Development Environments (IDEs), technologies used with Copilot, functions implemented, benefits, limitations, and challenges when using Copilot. The results show that when practitioners use Copilot: (1) The major programming languages used with Copilot are JavaScript and Python, (2) the main IDE used with Copilot is Visual Studio Code, (3) the most common used technology with Copilot is Node.js, (4) the leading function implemented by Copilot is data processing, (5) the main purpose of users using Copilot is to help generate code, (6) the significant benefit of using Copilot is useful code generation, (7) the main limitation encountered by practitioners when using Copilot is difficulty of integration, and (8) the most common expected feature is that Copilot can be integrated with more IDEs. Our results suggest that using Copilot is like a double-edged sword, which requires developers to carefully consider various aspects when deciding whether or not to use it. Our study provides empirically grounded foundations that could inform software developers and practitioners, as well as provide a basis for future investigations on the role of Copilot as an AI pair programmer in software development.