Principled syntactic code completion using placeholders

Luis Eduardo de Souza Amorim, Sebastian Erdweg, Guido Wachsmuth, Eelco Visser. Principled syntactic code completion using placeholders. In Tijs van der Storm, Emilie Balland, Dániel Varró, editors, Proceedings of the 2016 ACM SIGPLAN International Conference on Software Language Engineering, Amsterdam, The Netherlands, October 31 - November 1, 2016. pages 163-175, ACM, 2016. [doi]


Principled syntactic code completion enables developers to change source code by inserting code templates, thus increasing developer efficiency and supporting language exploration. However, existing code completion systems are ad-hoc and neither complete nor sound. They are not complete and only provide few code templates for selected programming languages. They also are not sound and propose code templates that yield invalid programs when inserted.This paper presents a generic framework that automatically derives complete and sound syntactic code completion from the syntax definition of arbitrary languages. A key insight of our work is to provide an explicit syntactic representation for incomplete programs using placeholders. This enables us to address the following challenges for code completion separately: (i) completing incomplete programs by replacing placeholders with code templates, (ii) injecting placeholders into complete programs to make them incomplete, and (iii) introducing lexemes and placeholders into incorrect programs through error-recovery parsing to make them correct so we can apply one of the previous strategies. We formalize our framework and provide an implementation in the Spoofax Language Workbench.