How to make your Unit Tests harder

This is written about JUnit in Java, but much of this applies to other test frameworks. I’m going to tell you a bunch of ways to screw up your tests. You can probably guess how to write better ones – do the exact opposite.

Unit testing should be easy. It should be resistant to unimportant change and it should be sensitive to important change. Unit test frameworks like JUnit and Mockito make it easy to write test cases, assertions and mocks. So how can you make all the testing mistakes to make you question why you bothered writing tests in the first place?

Here’s how.

Ignore the entry and exit state of a test

If you totally avoid worrying about who has to put the objects or resources into the right state before a test, and what state those objects or resources will be in afterwards, then you can guarantee that your tests will only run successfully if nobody changes the order of anything or shares those same resources for future tests.

Example – one test unzips a file into a temp directory and another one uses that same file since it’s probably there already.

Example – we use something like Spring to build our context and then do some stateful things with the beans, assuming no other test minds about the state change.

Manage Temporary Files Ourselves

Why use things like JUnit’s TemporaryFolder rule when you can just write to local file system with your own ad-hoc techniques for writing temporary files. Even better, why not use the src folder and its descendents for keeping these files – what could possibly go wrong? Don’t worry we can stop these temp files from checking in with a suitable gitignore file, so really? What’s the harm? Apart from the fact that every developer’s machine will be telling them that their temp files are actually fixed resources that are part of every workspace always…

Mock a POJO

Yeah. Mock simple objects. The simpler they are, the more you can really mock them. Sure, your map may have a putter and a getter, but just mock the calls to the getter. For goodness sake, don’t just instantiate an object with the right values in it and use it.

Make a function into an object and mock it

Spring lets you turn everything into a bean. This means that discrete functions can be inside beans, with interfaces, and then mocked. While there may be reasonable points where the ecosystem is so chaotic that this is actually a good thing to lock down for a test, why not do it always? Then you can have unrealistic data examples flowing through complex chains of instantiation and dependency injection, rather than have a nice static function whose behaviour you can easily predict and whose presence will allow you to focus entirely on the input data to the test, rather than all the bits of micro implementation you have to mock to make the test run.

Make your tests a mirror of the implementaton

You may even need to paste bits of the implementation code into the test to be able to successfully predict every last value that flows through every microscopic node of your code…

Only ever whitebox test based on implementation

Ignore the basics of “what’s the behaviour to the outsider?” and make every test a deep dive with god-like knowledge of how the whole implementation works, so that any small change in that implementation requires test rewriting.

Never change your implementation to make it more testable

If that class does so much that it’s hard to test, then work your backside off to make the test that’s hard to do, rather than find an easier test boundary by moving a few responsibilities around.

In Conclusion

Make testing harder so you can keep yourself busier and less successful more slowly!

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Software developer, stand-up comedian, musician, writer, jolly big cheer-monkey, skeptical thinker, Doctor Who fan, lover of fine sounds.

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