Duplicate code

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Duplicate code is a computer programming term for a sequence of source code that occurs more than once, either within a program or across different programs owned or maintained by the same entity. Duplicate code is generally considered undesirable for a number of reasons.[1] A minimum requirement is usually applied to the quantity of code that must appear in a sequence for it to be considered duplicate rather than coincidentally similar. Sequences of duplicate code are sometimes known as code clones or just clones, the automated process of finding duplications in source code is called clone detection.

The following are some of the ways in which two code sequences can be duplicates of each other:

  • character-for-character identical
  • character-for-character identical with white space characters and comments being ignored
  • token-for-token identical
  • token-for-token identical with occasional variation (i.e., insertion/deletion/modification of tokens)
  • functionally identical

How duplicates are created[edit]

There are a number of reasons why duplicate code may be created, including:

  • Copy and paste programming, or scrounging, in which a section of code is copied "because it works". In most cases this operation involves slight modifications in the cloned code such as renaming variables or inserting/deleting code.
  • Functionality that is very similar to that in another part of a program is required and a developer independently writes code that is very similar to what exists elsewhere. Studies suggest, that such independently rewritten code is typically not syntactically similar.[2][3]
  • Plagiarism, where code is simply copied without permission or attribution.
  • Generated code, where having duplicate code may be desired to increase speed or ease of development. Note that the actual generator will not contain duplicates in its source code, only the output it produces.

Problems associated with duplicate code[edit]

Inappropriate code duplication generally makes editing more difficult due to unnecessary increases in complexity and length. This may lead to increased maintenance costs, more human error, forgotten or overlooked pieces of code, greater file size and may be indicative of a sloppy design. Appropriate code duplication may occur for many reasons, including facilitating the development of a device driver for a device that is similar to some existing device [4]

Detecting duplicate code[edit]

A number of different algorithms have been proposed to detect duplicate code. For example:

Example of functionally duplicate code[edit]

Consider the following code snippet for calculating the average of an array of integers

extern int array_a[];
extern int array_b[];
int sum_a = 0;

for (int i = 0; i < 4; i++)
   sum_a += array_a[i];

int average_a = sum_a / 4;
int sum_b = 0;

for (int i = 0; i < 4; i++)
   sum_b += array_b[i];

int average_b = sum_b / 4;

The two loops can be rewritten as the single function:

int calc_average_of_four(int* array) {
   int sum = 0;
   for (int i = 0; i < 4; i++)
       sum += array[i];

   return sum / 4;

Using the above function will give source code that has no loop duplication:

extern int array1[];
extern int array2[];

int average1 = calcAverage(array1);
int average2 = calcAverage(array2);

Note that in this trivial case, the compiler may choose to inline both calls to the function, such that the resulting machine code is identical for both the duplicated and non-duplicated examples above. If the function is not inlined, and is trivial in complexity, then the additional overhead of the function calls may incur a runtime cost greater than any practical benefit gained by avoiding code duplication.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Spinellis, Diomidis. "The Bad Code Spotter's Guide". InformIT.com. Retrieved 2008-06-06. 
  2. ^ Code similarities beyond copy & paste by Elmar Juergens, Florian Deissenboeck, Benjamin Hummel.
  3. ^ Stefan Wagner, Asim Abdulkhaleq, Ivan Bogicevic, Jan-Peter Ostberg, Jasmin Ramadani. How are functionally similar code clones different? PeerJ Preprints 3:e1894. doi:10.7287/peerj.preprints.1516v1
  4. ^ Kapser, C.; Godfrey, M.W., ""Cloning Considered Harmful" Considered Harmful," 13th Working Conference on Reverse Engineering (WCRE), pp. 19-28, Oct. 2006
  5. ^ Brenda S. Baker. A Program for Identifying Duplicated Code. Computing Science and Statistics, 24:49–57, 1992.
  6. ^ Ira D. Baxter, et al. Clone Detection Using Abstract Syntax Trees
  7. ^ Visual Detection of Duplicated Code by Matthias Rieger, Stephane Ducasse.
  8. ^ Yuan, Y. and Guo, Y. CMCD: Count Matrix Based Code Clone Detection, in 2011 18th Asia-Pacific Software Engineering Conference. IEEE, Dec. 2011, pp. 250–257.
  9. ^ Chen, X., Wang, A. Y., & Tempero, E. D. (2014). A Replication and Reproduction of Code Clone Detection Studies. In ACSC (pp. 105-114).

External links[edit]