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Splitting Millions of Source Code Identifiers with Deep Learning


If you grab our Public Git Archive dataset with almost 180,000 Git repositories, take the latest revision of each and extract all the identifiers from them (e.g. variable, function, class names), you will end up with something close to 60 million unique strings. They include “FooBar”, “foo_bar”, and “foobar”-like concatenations of the integral identifiers or “⚛ atoms” as we sometimes call them. We’ve solved some problems which require the number of distinct atoms to be as small as possible for performance and quality considerations; those problems include topic modeling of GitHub repositories, identifier embeddings and even the recent study of files duplication on GitHub. Thus we decided to focus on reducing that number through careful splitting of the initial concatenations. The result was 64% atom vocabulary reduction.

Link to the PDF of the paper.

Fun fact. After the paper was presented on ML4P, there was a suggestion to eliminate our problem by reducing the dataset size. 👍

The task is not as simple as it seems. For sure, the underscore and case change heuristics work, however, they are not enough. “Progressbar” should be split into “progress” and “bar” while “ProgressbarControl” should split into “progressbar” and “control”, because the usage contexts are quite different. Around 7% of the identifiers in our dataset are not splittable by heuristics, and further 15% contain at least one splittable part after applying heuristics. That is more than 10 million affected strings.


The Machine Learning team is going to make machines learn, so we studied several ML models to solve the splitting task. Before jumping to the juicy ML stuff, we need to define our training dataset, which seems to be absent at first glance. However, it is possible to turn our dataset of extracted identifiers into (X, Y) by trusting the heuristics. Indeed, we can take the identifiers that are splittable by case change, underscore, etc. and pretend that the outcome is the ground truth split points. That gives us about 50 million training examples for free.

Of course, as was already said above, some of the heuristical splits are not enough, so our ML models are going to be trained on noisy labels. However, we can overcome this limitation by bootstrapping the dataset and training several generations of the same model - in other words, refining the training examples at each iteration by applying the current model to them. We did not research that, unfortunately.

One last remark: we are going to evaluate the models by measuring their precision and recall. Precision equals to how many split points we predicted correctly divided by the total number of predictions. Recall equals to how many split points we predicted correctly divided by the total number of ground truth splits. They are both important and indicate the bias towards spammy, noisy predictions which cover everything or conservative, confident ones which trigger on few samples.

Here are the models which we evaluated.

Maximum likelihood character-level, unsmoothed

This is a quick and dirty baseline implemented in the CharStatModel repository. We record all possible sequences of characters in the form of a tree and decide whether to split based on the tree branch with the dominating weight for a given prefix or suffix. There are several weak points of that approach: it consumes much memory, it is always biased towards good precision or good recall, and it is quite short-sighted.

Dynamic programming

Accepting the hypothesis that the atoms of the string are independent from one another, we can model the probability of a sequence of words using frequencies computed on a corpus. That corpus can be our training dataset or anything else. We explored the former and additionally the Wikipedia corpus. There can also be different assumptions about the probability distribution (prior), e.g. training posterior or Ziph. We tried three models with those combinations. Our implementation was based on Derek Anderson’s wordninja.

Gradient boosted decision trees

We train gradient boosted trees to predict a split point from the given character window to the string. We feed character indexes as features. Our implementation was XGBoost.

Deep learning

So we described three deep learning models in the paper: character-level CNN, GRU and LSTM. Reccurent networks are bidirectional and contain two layers. We didn’t explore the addition of attention mechanism - it should improve the achieved evaluation metric values.


The architecture of the BiLSTM network to split identifiers.

We used Keras with TensorFlow backend to train on a machine with 4 GPUs, it took 14 hours.

Models evaluation results

Evaluation results

Achieved quality for all the trained models.

The winner was the BiLSTM network which had 0.95 precision and 0.96 recall. We applied it to the initial dataset with identifiers and observed a nice atom vocabulary decrease from 2.6 million to 1 million. The code is still being incorporated into the sourced-ml framework, and we are always happy to receive help with the development. Our research has been also used in the upcoming identifier typo corrector which we are actively building.

Link to the PDF of the paper.

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