This is probably the first post in the Test Infected series. The term “test infected” was first used by Erich Gamma and Kent Beck in their article.
“We have been amazed at how much more fun programming is and how much more aggressive we are willing to be and how much less stress we feel when we are supported by tests.”
The term "Test-Driven Development" was something I heard in my first steps of programming. But it was when reading different books about the topic that I really understood what they meant.
The Clean Coder by Robert C. Martin talks about the courage and a level of certainty of Test-Driven Development. Test-Driven Development: By Example by Kent Beck has taught me the mentality behind the practice and Gerard Meszaros with his book xUnit Test Patters has showed me the several practices that not only improved my daily development, but also my Test-First mindset. All these people have inspired me to learn more about Test-Driven Development and the Test-First Mindset. To see relationships between different visions and to combine them the way I see it; that's the purpose of my Test Infected series.
In this part of the Test Infected series, I will talk about the Test Doubles. These elements are defined to be used as a “stand-in” for our SUT (System Under Test). These Test Doubles can be DOC (Depend on Components); but also, other elements we need to inject to exercise the SUT.
I find it not only interesting to examine the theoretical concept of a Test Double, but also how we can use it in our programming.
No, a Stub isn’t a Mock; no, a Dummy isn’t a Fake. There are differences in the way we test our code. Some test direct inputs other indirect outputs. Each type has a clear boundary and reason to use.
But be careful, overuse of these Test Doubles leads to Over Specified Software in which the test is Tightly-Coupled to the Fixture Setup of the tests which result in more refactoring work for your tests (sometimes more than the production code itself).
Test Code must be as clear, simple and maintainable… as Production Code – maybe even more.
We use a Dummy Object if we want to inject some information that will never be used. null (C#), None (Python) … are good examples; but even “ignored data” (string) are valid Dummy Objects. If we’re talking about actual valid objects, we could throw exceptions when the methods of that object are called. This way we make sure that the object isn’t used.
We introduce these kinds of objects because the signature of the object to test requires some information. But if this information is not of interest of the test, we could introduce a Dummy Object to only show the test reader the related test information.
We must introduce custom Dummy Objects if the SUT doesn’t allow us to send null / None …
In the literature, I found two different types of Test Stubs. One that returns or exposes some data, which can be used to validate the actual outcome of the System under Test (SUT); this is called a Responder and one that throws exceptions when the SUT interacts with the Stub (by calling methods, data…) so the Unhappy Path is being tested; this is called a Saboteur.
But, I encountered a possible third type which I sometimes use in test cases. I like to call it a Sink but it’s actually just a Null Object. This type of Stub object would just act as a “sink”, which means that the Stub isn’t doing anything with the given data. You could use a Sink in situations where you must for example inject a “valid” object but don’t feel like the test case doesn’t really care about what’s happening outside the SUT (in what cases does it?).
By introducing such an Anonymous Object, you let the test reader know that the object you send to the SUT is not of any value for the test.
This kind of “stubbing” can also be accomplished by introducing a new Subclass with Test Specifics and override with empty, expected or invalid implementations to test all paths of the SUT.
Following example shows how the Basket gets calculated with a valid (Anonymous) and invalid (Saboteur) product. I like to call valid items “filled” or “anonymous” to reference the fact that I don’t care what it contains or is structured. You can use “saboteur” to indicate the you have a “invalid” product in place that throws exceptions when it gets called.
I don’t know why, but sometimes, especially in this case where you have a several valid and a single invalid item – the setup reminds me of a pattern called Poison Pill. This is used in situations where you want to stop an execution task from running by placing a “poison pill” in the flow.
This type of Stub isn’t a Dummy object because the methods, properties, etc… are called. Also note that there’s a difference between a Saboteur and a Dummy Object which throws exceptions when called. The Saboteur is used to test all the paths of the SUT; whether the Dummy Object guards against calls that aren’t supposed to happen (which result in a test failure).
You would be amazed what a Stub can do in your design. Some developers even use this stub later as the actual production implementation. This is for me the ultimate example of Incremental Design. You start by writing your tests and incrementally start writing classes that are dependencies of your SUT. These classes will eventually evolve in actual production code.
Now, here is an example of a Stub. The beauty of Functional Programming, is that we can use Object Expressions. This means we can inline our Stub in our test.
Java also has a feature to define inline classes and override only a part of the methods you exercise during the test run
- To decrease the Test Duplication, we can define Pseudo Objects for our Stubs. This means we define a default implementations that throws exceptions for any called member (like a Dummy for example). This allows us to override only those members we are interested in, in our Stub.
- During my first experience with Kent Beck's Test-Driven Development, I came across the Self-Shunt idea. This can actually be any Test Double, but I use it most of the time as a Stub. Here, we use the Test Class itself as Test Double. Because we don't create an extra class, and we specify the return value explicitly; we have a very clear Code Intent. Note that I only use this practice if the Test Double, can't be reused somewhere else. Sometimes your Test Double start as a Self-Shunt but can grow to a full-blown Stub.
Ok, Stubs are cool – very cool. The Saboteur is especially useful to test the unhappy/rainy paths throughout the SUT. But there’s a downside to a pure stub: we cannot test the Indirect Output of our SUT.
Most of the time, this is interesting if the SUT doesn’t return anything useful that we can use to verify if the test was successful. We can just write the ACT statement and no ASSERT statement and the test will automatically result in a test failure if any exception during the exercise of the SUT is being thrown.
But, it’s not a very explicit assertion AND (more importantly), if there are any changes to the SUT, we cannot fully verify if that change in behavior doesn’t break our software.
When developing a logging framework (for example); you will have a lot of these situations because a log-function wouldn’t return anything (the log framework I came across didn’t). So, if we only get a void (in C#), how can we verify if our log message is written correctly?
When working in an asynchronous environment; Test Spies also can be useful. Testing asynchronous code will always have some blocking system in place if we want to test Indirect Outputs – so a Test Spy is the ideal solution.
By hiding the blocking mechanism, we have a clear test and the test reader knows exactly what the purpose of the test is, what the SUT should do to make the test pass, and what the DOC (Depend-on Component) do in the background to make the right verification in our assert-phase.
All of this makes sure that we have a true test positive.
The time-out is (off course) context specific – try to limit to the very minimum; 5 seconds is a very long time for a single unit test to pass but not for an integration test.
If we want to test Indirect Outputs right away and not at the end of the test run (like a Test Spy uses “is called” in the assert-phase); we can use a Mock Object.
There’s a subtle difference with a Mock Object and a Test Spy. A Spy will capture its observations so that it can be verified in a later part (in the assert-phase); while a Mock will make the test fail when it encounters something that was not expected.
Of course, combinations can be made, but there’s something that I would like to warn you about the Mock Object. Actually, two somethings.
1) One must be careful what he/she mocks and what he/she exercises in the SUT. If we mock too much or mock the wrong parts, how do we verify that our SUT will survive in the “real world” where there aren’t any Mock Objects that return just the data the SUT expect?
2) One must be careful that it doesn’t use the Mock Object for all his/her tests. It will result in a Tight-Coupling between the test cases and the SUT. Especially when one uses mocking frameworks, it can be overused. Try to imagine that there must change something in your SUT. Try to go down the path how many Mock Objects you must change in order to get that change in your SUT.
Tests are there to help us, not to frustrate us.
These two items can also be applied on Test Stubs for example, if we specify too much information in our Indirect Input. The different with a Mock is that we validate also the Indirect Output immediately the output and not in our Assert-phase. Tight-Coupling and overusing any pattern is a bad practice in my opinion. So, always start with the smallest: can you use a Dummy? Then a Stub? Maybe we can just Spy that? Ok, now we can use a Mock.
Look at the following example: we have a function that transforms a given input to an output, but only after we asserted on the expected input. This is a good example of how we assert directly and giving expected output for our SUT.
The last Test Double I would like to discuss, the Fake Object. This Test Double doesn’t always need be configured. An object that is a “fake” is actually a full-implementation object that implement the functionality in such a way that the test can use it during the test run.
A perfect example is the in-memory datastore. We implement the whole datastore operations, all within memory so we don’t need a full configured datastore in our tests.
Yes, of course you must test the datastore connection but with a Fake Object in place you can limit the tests that connect to the “real” database to a minimum and run all the other tests with a “fake”
Your first reaction for external components should be to check if you can fake the whole external connection. Tests that use in-memory storage rather than the file system, datastore, network connectivity… will run a lot faster – and therefore will be run a lot more by the developers.
This type of Test Double is different from the others, in a way that there is no verification in place. This type of object “just” replaces the whole implementation the SUT is dependent on.
Honestly, I think that the reason why I wrote this blog post is because I heard people always talk about “mocks” instead of the right words. Like Martin Fowler says in in his blog post: “Mocks aren’t Stubs”.
I know that in different environments people use different terms. A Pragmatic Programmer will use other words or the same for some Test Doubles than someone from the Extreme Programming background. But it is better that you state what you mean with the right terminology, than to call everything a “mock”.
What I also wanted to show was, that a Test Double isn’t “bound” to Object Oriented Programming or Functional Programming. A Test Double is a concept (invented by Gerard Meszaros) that alter the behavior of your SUT in such a way that the test can verify the expected outcome.
It’s a concept, and concepts can be used everywhere.