Thursday, November 08, 2007

Some test code smells

More of my writeup on the XUnit session I went to nearly two months ago. I hope someday to make all of my note-taking blog entries coherent to a larger audience :)

There are a couple of competing dynamics you get when writing tests: the first is that, in general, less code is better than more code. You want the code to express the concepts you need to express without any extra cruft, without huge globs of copy/pasted code here, there, and everywhere that is a nightmare to maintain. But you need tests as well, and tests are either more code, or more people, and people are one heck of a lot more expensive than code. So it's not at all unlikely that you would have as much test code as production code.

But those tests have to be maintained, so it behooves us to figure out the best way to do that, bearing in mind that the goals of test code are not the same as those of production code. So, here are some problems, or code smells, specific to test code that you might run into:

1. Conditional test logic . A lot of people like to say that one assertion per test is plenty. It seems like unreasonable test gold-plating to me, but if you're going so far as to put an if statement in the middle of the test, you need to have multiple tests to test each branch of the statement, each time. Or, the condition might simply be an assertion, where you're saying if (x) keep testing; else assert false. No point in that, just assert x at the beginning and let the code blow up if it needs to. This really helps with the readability of the test report, too, expecially if all the report says at the end is "The assertion FALSE occurred". Not helpful, whereas knowing directly from the report that X failed is much more useful.


2. Hardcoded test data

This problem is related to the principle that computer science profs have been tossing around since the beginning of time: that you never want to put numbers or strings in code; always define them somewhere as constants instead, so they can be easily changed. Not a bad principle; certainly it's ideal that anything that needs to be displayed to the user can be easily modified to use another language, so you don't want a bunch of MessageBox.Show( "Are you sure you want to do this?" ) statements scattered through the code. For numbers, though, my general rule is that it doesn't need to be a constant value unless it shows up more than once.

But in a sense, just about every number shows up more than once if written properly: at least once in the code, and at least once in the test for that code. Say for example you're testing a Price object with this line of code:

Assert.Equal( $14, CreatePrice().Retail );

CreatePrice() is part of your fixture, and it sets the list price to $20. Your Price object knocks off 30% to come up with the Retail number.

But now you've got the same number in there twice! See it? $14 is in there, and so is 70% of $20. The same number.

One fix is to move everything to constants. Presumably the Price object has a GetDiscount() method, so you could make the $20 into a constant ListPriceInDollars, and change the expected amount to ListPriceInDollars * GetDiscount. Still pretty verbose, but not really bad for this small example. A better solution can be to create an ExpectedObject to compare what comes back from CreatePrice to. In the ideal case, your test would then simplify to

Assert.Equal( ExpectedPrice, CreatePrice() );

Which would cover a boatload of other comparisons as well as your Retail value.