Saturday, September 29, 2007

Write better tests using a combination of mocks and stubs.

I love using EasyMock. It's just plain, well, easy to use most of the time. Most of the time, it doesn't get in my way. However, there are certain times when I will avoid using a mock object in a test. This is best show by example.

As background, remember that mocks are not stubs and stubs are not mocks. You can use a mocking framework (like easymock) to create stubs, and you can even create mocks by hand (with a good deal of pain). Roy Osherove has done a great job of describing the differences between mocks and stubs. You should check out Roy's explanation. This is a different explanation from what I've seen before. If you want a good, detailed description of the differences, Martin Fowler has provided an in-depth comparison between the two including code samples. You should take a look at Fowler's explanation to understand the terminology.

I won't rehash the explanations. What I will say is that I've found value in doing both interaction-based testing (with mocks) and state-based testing (with stubs). When your classes are well decomposed and decoupled, mock testing makes more sense in most cases. However, when I'm interested in how a particular piece of code affects state on objects that pass through it, I will use a stub.

Here's the promised example. Supposed a I have a class, we'll call Processor that interacts with a dependency that sits behind and interface called EmailService. I'm interested in testing that Processor.emailManagers("we have a problem") can create an instance of Email with the correct properties set and hand that off to the EmailService. Looking at the test first, we have:

public void myTest() {
EmailServiceStub serviceStub = new EmailServiceStub();
Processor processor = new Processor(serviceStub);
processor.emailManagers("This should be working");

email = serviceStub.getLastSentEmail();
assertEquals("This should be working", email.getMessage());
assertEquals("", email.getTo());
assertEquals("An Automated Message from 'The System'", email.getSubject());
assertEquals("", email.getFrom());

Obviously, we'll need something to stand in the place of the EmailService so that we don't actually send an email in the course of running this unit test. The stand-in for this test is done by a stub like this:

public class EmailServiceStub implements EmailService {
Email lastSentEmail = null;

public void send(Email email) {
this.lastSentEmail = email;

public Email getLastSentEmail() { return this.lastSentEmail; }

The actual implementation code for Processor then might look like this:

public class Processor {
EmailService emailService;
public Processor (EmailService emailService) { this.emailService = emailService}

public emailManagers(String message) {
Email email = new Email();
email.setSubject("An Automated Message from 'The System'");


To be fair, this kind of testing is possible with EasyMock as well. You CAN check the properties of the object that are passed to send() using EasyMock. However, I find it incredibly painful to do so. What's worse, it makes the test convoluted to read. EasyMock would have you define your own implementation of IArgumentMatcher as indicated here. (search for "Defining own Argument Matchers"). Blech! We've done this before, and it seems to make the tests much more difficult to grok when I come back to them.

There are plenty of good examples of when you would want to use mocks over stubs. The Fowler post linked to at the top is a good start. I still use mocks for most of my testing, but in this instance, it's easier to use a stub than battle EasyMock.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Convention Over Configuration is Nice... Except When It Isn't

Convention over configuration should lead to predictability. This breaks down when the default behavior of a system is unexpected. Take Guice for example. Guice will automatically bind to a class if the only constructor is a zero-argument constructor. This will happen even if the constructor is private.

This is not the path of least surprise when I forget to configure the behavior. I don't mind there being default behavior, I would just like to be able to turn it off. Moreover, I would like the opportunity to turn certain features off.

Private should mean private at least.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Warning: Frustrating Toolsets Ahead

The opinions expressed here are in the context of working on relatively short-term projects against a legacy code base. If this is not your situation, adjust or ignore as appropriate.

I love tools. I'm a huge believer in using the right tool for the job. Perhaps this is because I can use that crutch as a good excuse to hit the local big orange box when I start a new project. Regardless, I've found that tools that some have labeled "frustrating" have been downright helpful and productive in our projects.

Last week, Scott pointed out that perhaps user stories don't make good test artifacts. I'm inclined to agree. Jeremy has also reminded us in the value of testing small before testing big here. While I see the value of this, I don't agree that the small (unit) tests all need to be written before the larger (integration) tests.

To provide a bit of background, my team largely works on writing Java applications that import data from a variety of sources into the existing system at DrillingInfo. To be clear, we don't work much with the web front-end. Our main job is bringing new data sources on-line and making the data make sense within our existing domain model. Therefore, the internal customers are only tangentially concerned with the appearance of our final product. They are really more concerned that data makes it into the system in a way that fits the existing system. They might even express their desires in terms of how new data should appear on the web site. Those requirements are then (roughly) translated into story cards and the story cards are reviewed by the team and the customer.

With that background, I say that the story cards take a relatively minor role in driving day-to-day development. At the start of any iteration, the story cards are used to spin out tasks. Some of the tasks are features (the process should convert incoming data with a value of 'x' to the value of 'y'), or they could be technical (setup the demo server). Then, the team estimates complexity for the individual tasks. During an iteration, we look at the task cards -- not the story cards.

On a day-to-day basis, we tend to use Fitnesse to provide direction for the unit tests that need to be written. Our goal when looking at a new feature is to have a pair sit down and sketch out a Fitnesse test. Once that has been done, we'll sit down with the customer and make sure that the behavior outlined in the Fitnesse is what they expect. Then, we right the fixture code to clear all of the Method Not Found exceptions that the Fitnesse test initially causes. At this point we have a nice, red, failing test for a feature.

After getting the large test in place (and failing), we start looking at where the system needs to be extended, perhaps do a little whiteboarding, and start writing unit tests. The failing Fitnesse test helps keep us on target. Quite often, one of the developers in the pair will have to say, "now, what Fit test are we trying to make pass?" Just like with unit testing, we sometimes find other behaviors that need to be specified. Usually one half of the pair will pull off and capture enough information on a task card so that we don't forget it.

The shortcomings of Fitnesse have been well articulated (here and here and here). I'll say that the one I find to be most frustrating is lack of refactoring support. When I change the wording in my tests, I have to go change method names. But, since our projects are relatively small (1 - 2 months), we don't end up with so many Fitnesse tests that this is a large problem.

Because we use the Fitnesse tests to drive discussions with our customers, nobody has ever come back and said, "well, the tests that you've got in place are great, but the system isn't really doing what I want." While looking at Fitnesse, the customer does not forget what they wanted, and they often remember things they forgot to ask for initially. The story cards are not useless, they just don't get used much once the team gets going.

All in all, I'd say that we hit a pretty good flow of writing Fit tests, having conversations, writing unit tests, and making everything green. It's certainly possible that on a longer-term project with more features, we would find ourselves frustrated by the tools that we currently find to be productive.