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Massimiliano Donini
Massimiliano Donini

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Integration testing with EF Core, part 1

In this mini series I will go through some challenges and the solutions I applied in implementing integration testing with EF Core and SQL Server running on Docker.

EF Core has been out for a while now (according to Wikipedia it's been released on 27/6/2016) and since day one it had support for an in memory database provider. The aim of the in memory database provider is to simplify testing and if you compare what it takes now to write test against an Entity Framework Core DbContext compared to the old Entity Framework one you can see how much easier it's now compared to the experience we had back then.

I won't go into why the in memory database is not the best bet for integration testing, Jimmy Bogard already did that long time ago.

blogged about my thoughts on in-memory databases for testing purposes tl;dr - avoid. it's not worth the pain/side effects

— Jimmy Bogard 🍻 (@jbogard) March 18, 2020

Long story short: there are several limitations introduced by the in memory provider e.g. it doesn't support transactions, so you may end up having to specialize your test code to work around these limitations.

If the in memory provider does satisfy your needs then this mini series is not for you. If, instead, you want to run your tests on the infrastructure that matches, as closely as possible, your production environment keep on reading.

Starting from SQL Server 2017 it's possible to run the database engine in a container with Docker, so we can take advantage of this in order to run our integration tests on top of a real SQL Server database.

At the end of this series we will have:

  • A throw away SQL Server DB so every test run starts from a clean state
  • Integration tests that run on top of a SQL Server running in a docker container
  • Running integration tests via command line (useful in a CI environment)
  • Testing EF Core migrations (bonus)
  • Running (and debugging) integration tests from within the IDE.

In order to be able to successfully run integration tests that requires a DB connection, we need (stating the obvious) to have a SQL Server database up & running and ready to accept connections. One of the way to achieve this with Docker is via docker-compose.

When I started to implement this my focus was mostly on having the integration tests run during the CI builds so I started creating a docker-compose file for every integration project that needed SQL Server.

I won't go in the detail of what docker-compose is and what it does, you can find the documentation here

I used docker compose to spin up SQL Server and a docker image created from my integration test project.

As you probably know, docker-compose has the depends-on feature to control the start-up order, but there's no guarantee over the ready state of the dependency (i.e. your application may start quicker than the DB, and try to connect to the DB container that's not yet ready to accept connections)

In order to wait until SQL Server is up and running we will take advantage of the great docker-compose-wait utility.

The Dockerfile for the integration test project looks like this:

FROM AS build

# Get connection string argument from docker compose and set it as an environment variable
ARG connection_string
ENV ConnectionStrings__Database=${connection_string}

# Standard docker build
COPY ["tests/Integration.Tests/Integration.Tests.csproj", "Integration.Tests/"]

RUN dotnet restore "Integration.Tests/Integration.Tests.csproj"
COPY . .
WORKDIR "Integration.Tests"

# Restore the dotnet-ef command
RUN dotnet tool restore
RUN dotnet build "Integration.Tests.csproj" -c Release -o /app/build

# Install docker-compose-wait to make sure the db server is up & running before moving on
ADD /wait
RUN chmod +x /wait

# Wait for sql server and then migrate the db and run tests
CMD /wait && dotnet ef database update --context MyDbContext && dotnet test --no-build
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The docker-compose file is a very straightforward one that looks like this:

version: "3"

            - "1533:1433"
            SA_PASSWORD: "Guess_me"
            ACCEPT_EULA: "Y"
            driver: none 

        image: integrationtests
            context: ../..
            dockerfile: test/Integration.Tests/Dockerfile
                connection_string: Data Source=sql-server-db;User Id=sa;Password=Guess_me
            WAIT_HOSTS: sql-server-db:1433
            - sql-server-db

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So every time the integration tests container starts, we wait until the SQL Server is ready to accept connections, run EF core migrations and run dotnet test. Starting from a clean state every time may be a bit slow but it adds, as a bonus the ability to test migrations.

The last piece I added to make it easier to run tests locally, is just a run-tests.cmd file to run docker-compose with --abort-on-container-exit . It looks like this

@echo off
REM Run Docker compose build and stops after the container exits
docker-compose up --build --abort-on-container-exit
REM Removes volumes, networks and images
docker-compose down
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All of these files (Dockerfile, docker-compose and run-tests.cmd) lives in the integration tests directory.

This will gives us 4 of the 5 points outlined above, the only downside is that running and debugging from within Visual Studio doesn't work yet and this will be the subject of the next post.

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