Unit tests are your specification

Recently a Schalk Cronjé forwarded me a tweet from Joshua Lewis about some unit tests he’d written.

. @ysb33r I’m interested in your opinion on how expressive these tests are as documentation /@DeveloperUG

— Joshua Lewis (@joshilewis) December 3, 2015

I took a quick look and thought I may as well turn my comments into a blog post. You can see the full code on github.
Comment 1 – what a lot of member variables
Why would we use member variables in a test fixture? The fixture is recreated before each test, so it’s not to communicate between the tests (thankfully).

In this case it’s because there’s a lot of code in the setup() method (see comment 2) that initialises them, so that they can be used by the actual tests.

At least it’s well laid out, with comments and everything. If you like comments – and guess what – I don’t. And they are wrapped in a #region so we don’t even have to look at them, if our IDE understands it properly.
Comment 2 – what a big setup() you have
I admit it, I don’t like setup()s – they move important information out of the test, damaging locality of reference, and forcing me to either remember what setup happened (and my memory is not good) or to keep scrolling to the top of the page. Of course I could use a fancy split screen IDE and keep the setup() method in view too, but that just seems messy.

Why is there so much in this setup()? Is it all really necessary? For every test? Looking at the method, it’s hard to tell. I guess we’ll find out.
Comment 3 – AcceptConnectionForUnconnectedUsersWithNoPendingRequestsShouldSucceed
Ok, so I’m an apostate – I prefer test names to be snake_case. I just find it so much easier […]

By |December 5th, 2015|Agile, BDD, TDD, Unit testing|9 Comments

Making a meal of architectural alignment and the test-induced-design-damage fallacy

A few days ago Simon Brown posted a thoughtful piece called “Package by component and architecturally-aligned testing.” The first part of the post discusses the tensions between the common packaging approaches package-by-layer and package-by-feature. His conclusion, that neither is the right answer, is supported by a quote from Jason Gorman (that expresses the essence of thought over dogma):
The real skill is finding the right balance, and creating packages that make stuff easier to find but are as cohesive and loosely coupled as you can make them at the same time
Simon then introduces an approach that he calls package-by-component, where he describes a component as:
a combination of the business and data access logic related to a specific thing (e.g. domain concept, bounded context, etc)
By giving every component a public interface and package-protected implementation, any feature that needs to access data related to that component is forced to go through the public interface of the component that ‘owns’ the data. No direct access to the data access layer is allowed. This is a huge improvement over the frequent spaghetti-and-meatball approach to encapsulation of the data layer. I like this architectural approach. It makes things simpler and safer. But Simon draws another implication from it:
how we mock-out the data access code to create quick-running “unit tests”? The short answer is don’t bother, unless you really need to.
I tweeted that I couldn’t agree with this, and Simon responded:
This is a topic that polarises people and I’m still not sure why
Main course
I’m going to invoke the rule of 3 to try and lay out why I disagree with Simon.
Fast feedback
The main benefit of automated tests is that you get feedback quickly when something has gone wrong. The longer it takes to run the tests, the longer […]

By |March 19th, 2015|Agile, Practices|2 Comments

Diamond recycling (and painting yourself into a corner)

The post I wrote recently on recycling tests in TDD got quite a few responses. I’m going to take this opportunity to respond to some of the points that got raised.
Do we really need to use the term “recycling”?
The TDD cycle as popularly taught includes the instruction to “write a failing test”. The point of my article was to observe that there are two ways to do that:

write a new test that fails
change an existing, passing test to make it fail

It’s this second approach that I’m calling “recycling”. Alistair Cockburn says that “it’s a mystery this should need a name” and it probably doesn’t. However, I’ve regularly seen novice TDD-ers get into a mess when making the current test pass causes other test(s) to fail. Their safety net is compromised and they have a few options, none of which seem very appealing:

Roll back to last green
Comment out the failing test(s)
Modify the failing test(s) to make them pass again

Whichever way you go to get out, you’ll want to try to avoid painting yourself into a similar corner in future.
Why do tests that used to pass start failing?
Ron Jeffries suggests that this will only happen if the tests don’t “say something universally true about the problem and solution.” Several people (including George Dinwiddie and Sandro Mancuso) demonstrated that this problem can be solved by writing a series of tests that each say something “universally true.” However, to me, this seems like a similar approach to that recommended by Alistair Cockburn in his “Thinking Before Programming” post.

I’m a big fan of thinking before programming. In the courses that I deliver, I routinely prevent students from touching the keyboard until they’ve thought their way around the problem. But, it’s just not realistic to expect that […]

By |December 9th, 2014|Agile, BDD, Cyber-Dojo, TDD, Uncategorized|3 Comments

Recycling tests in TDD

The standard way that TDD is described is as Red-Green-Refactor:

Red: write a failing test
Green: get it to pass as quickly as possible
Refactor: improve the design, using the tests as a safety net

TL;DR; I’ve found that step 1) might be better expressed as:

Red: write a failing test, or make an existing test fail

Print Diamond
One of the katas that I use in my TDD training is “Print Diamond”. The problem statement is quite simple:
Given a letter, print a diamond starting with ‘A’ with the supplied letter at the widest point.

For example: print-diamond ‘C’ prints

 B B
C   C
 B B
I’ve used Cyber-Dojo to demonstrate two different approaches so you can follow along with my example, but I recommend you try this kata on your own before reading further. .
The usual approach is to start with a test for the simple case where the diamond consists of just a single ‘A’:
> PrintDiamond(‘A’) 

The next test is usually for a proper diamond consisting of ‘A’ and ‘B’:
> PrintDiamond(‘B’)

It’s easy enough to get this to pass by hardcoding the result. Then we move on to the letter ‘C’:
> PrintDiamond(‘C’)

 B B
C   C
 B B

The code is now screaming for us to refactor it, but to keep all the tests passing most people try to solve the entire problem at once. That’s hard, because we’ll need to cope with multiple lines, varying indentation, and repeated characters with a varying number of spaces between them.
The approach that I’ve been playing with is to start as usual, with the simplest case:
> PrintDiamond(‘A’) 


For the second test, however, we start by decomposing the diamond problem into […]

By |November 23rd, 2014|BDD, Cyber-Dojo, Practices, TDD|12 Comments

Using SpecFlow on Mono from the command line

SpecFlow is the open source port of Cucumber for folk developing under .NET. It has been compatible with Mono (the open source, cross platform implementation of the .NET framework) for several years, but most of the documentation talks about using it from within the MonoDevelop IDE. I wanted to offer SpecFlow as one of the options in Cyber-Dojo and, since the Cyber-Dojo IDE is your browser, I was looking for a way to make it all happen from the command line.

Cyber-Dojo already offers C#/NUnit as an option, so I used this as my starting point for making SpecFlow available. I came up with a list of tasks:

Install SpecFlow
Generate ‘code-behind’ each feature file
Include generated code in compilation

Install SpecFlow
I found an interesting website that had detailed instructions for installing SpecFlow on Mono. There don’t seem to be any handy ‘apt-get’ packages, so it is basically a process of downloading the binaries and installing them in the GAC, for example:

  gacutil -i TechTalk.SpecFlow.dll
Generate ‘code-behind’ each feature file
SpecFlow ships with a command line utility, specflow.exe. I tried following the instructions from the article that had helped me with the installation, but they didn’t work for me. I ended up invoking the utility directly:

  mono ./specflow.exe

Running specflow.exe like this lists the operations that the utility provides, from which I chose ‘generateall’, because (according to the documentation) it should do exactly what I want:
re-generate all outdated unit test classes based on the feature file.
Unfortunately it needs a Visual Studio project file (csproj) as input, and since we’re not using Visual Studio we don’t have one. This led me to insert a fourth item in my task list: “Create csproj file”
Create csproj file
I started with an MSDN article that describes creating a minimal […]

By |October 5th, 2014|BDD, Cyber-Dojo, Practices, TDD, Unit testing|1 Comment

To TDD or not to TDD? That is not the question.

Over the past few days a TDD debate has been raging (again) in the blog-o-sphere and on Twitter. A lot of big names have been making bold statements and setting out arguments, of both the carefully constructed and the rhetorically inflammatory variety. I’m not going to revisit those arguments – go read the relevant posts, which I have collected in a handy timeline at the end of this post.
Everyone is right
Instead of joining in the argument, I want to consider a conciliatory post by Cory House entitled “The TDD Divide: Everyone is right.” He proposes an explanation for these diametrically opposed views, based upon where you are in the software development eco-system:
Software “coaches” like Uncle Bob believe strongly in TDD and software craftsmanship because that’s their business. Software salespeople like Joel Spolsky, Jeff Atwood, and DHH believe in pragmatism and “good enough” because their goal isn’t perfection. It’s profit.
This is a helpful observation to make. We work in different contexts and these affect our behaviour and colour our perceptions. But I don’t believe this is the root cause of the disagreement. So what is?
How skilled are you?
In Japanese martial arts they follow an age old tradition known as Shu Ha Ri, which is a concept that describes the stages of learning to mastery. This roughly translates as “first learn, then detach, and finally transcend.” (I don’t want to overload you with Japanese philosophy, but if you are interested, please take a look at Endo Shihan’s short explanation)

This approach has been confirmed, and expanded on, in modern times by research conducted by Stuart and Hubert Dreyfus, which led to a paper published in 1980. There’s a lot of detail in their paper, but this diagram shows the main thrust […]

By |May 2nd, 2014|Agile, TDD, Unit testing|3 Comments

Teaching TDD (TTDD)

There has been a flurry of discussion about how to teach TDD, sparked off by a recent post from Justin Searls. In it he lists a number of failures that range from “Encouraging costly Extract refactors” to “Making a mess with mocks” all of which distract attention from the concept that “TDD’s primary benefit is to improve the design of our code”. He concludes by suggesting that once you have written a failing test, rather than get-to-green in the simplest way possible you should “intentionally defer writing any implementation logic! Instead, break down the problem by dreaming up all of the objects you wish you had at your disposal”. In essence, design the elements of the solution while the first test is still red.

It’s an interesting post that raises a number of issues, but for me its value lies chiefly in opening the subject up for debate. The introduction is particularly pertinent – just setting a class a bundle of katas to do does not, of itself, encourage learning. The pains experienced while doing the exercise need to be teased out, discussed and have alternative approaches described. If you don’t hear the penny drop, then it hasn’t dropped.

Pitching in with characteristic vigour and brimstone came Uncle Bob with a robust rebuttal containing both heat and light (though some have been put off by the heat and never got to the light). Bob makes some good points regarding the fallacy of writing tests around extracted classes, the tool support for extract refactoring and the central place of refactoring in the Red-Green-Refactor cycle.

By the conclusion, however, Bob has switched tack. He states that while refactorings are cheap within architectural boundaries, they are expensive across them. Whether he’s right or wrong […]

By |February 4th, 2014|Practices, TDD, Unit testing|2 Comments

TDD at interviews

Allan Kelly posted an article on DZone this week predicting that TDD would be a required skill for developers by 2022. Vishal Biyani asked on Twitter about how one might test TDD skills, and I promised to blog about my experience of using Cyber-Dojo in interview situations.

Cyber-Dojo is a browser-based dojo environment developed by Jon Jagger that supports a lot of programming languages and xDD frameworks. It’s great for dojos because it has few of the productivity frills that we’ve come to depend on over the years – no syntax highlighting; no autocompletion; no suggested fixes. That means we have to think about what we’re doing, rather than relying on muscle memory.

As Jon eloquently puts it in the FAQ: “Listen. Stop trying to go faster, start trying to go slower. Don’t think about finishing, think about improving. Think about practising as a team. That’s what cyber-dojo is built for.”

That might be what cyber-dojo was built for, but it turns out that it’s also excellent as an interview environment. Your interviewee writes real code and has to diagnose with real compiler/runtime errors. They’ll have to use a browser to remind themselves of all the basic knowledge that has atrophied during years of nanny-IDE development. And, best of all, there’s no save, build or run functionality provided by cyber-dojo. There’s only a single button and it’s labelled nice and clear: TEST.

Use one of the katas whose instructions have been helpfully included with cyber-dojo, or roll one of your own, and see how your interviewee responds. Every time they press the TEST button, all the code they’ve written is sent over to the server to be built & run and the response is returned, along with a traffic light: green for “all tests passed”, red for […]

By |January 11th, 2014|Practices, TDD, Unit testing|1 Comment