Towards Autonomous Software Development: The SWE-agent Revolution


Language models (LMs) have gained traction as aids in software engineering, where users act as intermediaries between LMs and computers, refining LM-generated code based on computer feedback. Recent advancements depict LMs functioning autonomously in computer environments, potentially expediting software development. However, the practical application of this autonomous approach still needs to be explored. 

Code generation benchmarks serve as crucial metrics for assessing LM performance, evolving to include diverse tasks such as translating problems to different programming languages and incorporating third-party libraries. While traditional benchmarks may become saturated due to rapid LM development, recent efforts explore the more complex landscape of software engineering (SE). This shift led to the emergence of SE benchmarks like SWE-bench, which mirror real-world SE challenges, showcasing the potential of LMs in practical settings. Also, the rise of language agents signifies a paradigm shift towards interactive LM settings, with applications spanning web navigation, computer control, and code generation tasks. 

Researchers from Princeton Language and Intelligence (PLI), Princeton University present SWE-agent, an LM-based autonomous system that tackles real-world software engineering challenges from SWE-bench. It operates by outputting thoughts and commands and then receiving feedback from command execution using the ReAct environment. The core idea of it lies in designing an agent-computer interface (ACI) tailored to LMs, which outperforms traditional interfaces like the Linux shell. The inadequacy of the Linux shell for LM interaction prompts the creation of an effective ACI for the SWE-agent, significantly enhancing performance with commands for file manipulation and informative feedback. 

SWE-agent revolutionizes LM interaction in software engineering by providing a tailored ACI for navigating, editing, and executing code commands. Unlike traditional interfaces designed for human users, SWE-agent’s ACI addresses LM-specific needs and limitations, significantly enhancing performance. The ACI comprises search/navigation, file viewing, file editing, and context management components, ensuring efficient codebase navigation and editing while minimizing distractions and errors. SWE-agent’s integration of a code linter alerts the model to mistakes during file edits, ensuring code quality. Context management features concise prompts, error messages, and history processors to maintain informative agent context and enhance interaction clarity.

SWE-agent, coupled with GPT-4 Turbo, achieves superior performance, solving 12.47% and 18.00% of the full SWE-bench test set and Lite split, respectively. Iterative search interfaces, resembling traditional user interfaces like Vim or VSCode, provide search results sequentially via the file viewer. However, exhaustive searching can hinder efficiency. SWE-agent’s file editor enables efficient multi-line edits with immediate feedback, contrasting with restrictive options in the Shell-only setting. Guardrails for error recovery mitigate repetitive editing due to syntax errors, improving overall performance.

In conclusion, this research Introduces SWE-agent, a language agent tailored for software engineering tasks, showcasing state-of-the-art performance on SWE-bench. This approach highlights the importance of designing ACIs specific to agent needs, as evidenced by their methodology, empirical findings, and analysis. The researchers have provided their code, prompts, and generations, along with a flexible codebase for future extensions. SWE-agent aims to inspire advancements in agent versatility and capability for future endeavors.

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