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Discussion on: What are the alternatives to unit tests?

quii profile image
Chris James • Edited

So what is your opinion about this? Did I do unit tests wrong?

Probably yes (sorry!)

It's a classic issue of writing tests that are too coupled to implementation detail. People then get frustrated at tests because they can no longer refactor without changing everything

So I wrote a bunch of unit tests for every class, ending up with about 200 tests after the first version was released. Trying to hit that famous 100% coverage.

I'm going to speak in terms of TDD; and that does not prescribe writing tests for every class/function/whatever. It prescribes it for every behaviour. So you may write a thing that does X, internally it may have a few collaborators; don't make the mistake of writing tests for implementation detail. These are still unit tests.

Ask yourself. If I were to refactor this code, would I have to change lots of tests? The very definition of refactoring is changing the code without changing behaviour. So in theory you should be able to refactor without changing tests.

I would suggest looking into Kent Beck's book on test driven development. It's an easy read and quite short. Or if you like Go and dont want to pay any money have a look at my book. This video covers some of the main issues you talked about and probably explains what i've typed a lot better

Writing tests effectively takes a while to get proficient at, but the fastest way to get there is to study and retrospect the effect tests had on your codebase

sneakin profile image
Nolan πŸš€πŸ‘‰β€ :/

Adding to test the code's behavior, test that the code implements requirements: those things the end user, legal, marketing has to have. Then you get into tracing requirements to exact lines of code, and anything else can get deleted.

kayis profile image
K Author

Thanks, I'm going to read this book :D

aleron75 profile image
Alessandro Ronchi

My 2Β’ about this discussion.

First of all, I think that this quote is fundamental to understand why we test our code:

β€œTesting shows the presence, not the absence of bugs” ~ E. W. Dijkstra

It means that our tests can't prove the correctness of our code, they can only prove that our code is safe against the bugs that we are looking for.

Having 100% code coverage doesn't guarantee that our code is 100% correct and bug-free.

It only means that our code is 100% safe against the bugs that we are looking for.

There may be bugs we aren't looking for even with a 100% code coverage passing tests.

Tests show the presence, not the absence of bugs.

Chris James says: "the very definition of refactoring is changing the code without changing behavior."

The behavior refactoring refers to is external behavior, that is, the expected outcome of a piece of code, not how the code behaves internally.

When we write a test, we can make assertions about internal behavior but it can change without modifying the expected output.
That's the very definition of refactoring.

When we make assertions about the internal behavior, we are coupling our test to an implementation: internal behavior changes will likely bring to change the test.

That's why I like what MichaΕ‚ T. says: "code that is perfectly suited for unit tests are things that have predictable inputs and outputs, and don't have dependencies or global effects."

The assertions about the behavior of our code will likely depend on the behavior of our dependencies.

Indeed, we mock external dependencies because we don't want our code being affected by their potentially bugged outcome.
Thus, we set up our environment to have a predictable output.

That's why even if external dependencies have bugs, our unit tests can pass. And that's why unit tests aren't enough to save us from having issues.

Reducing external dependencies will make our code easier to test and less prone to side effects coming from the outside.

My last thought, starting with this quote from connectionist: "code changes happen all the time and unit tests have to change with them. It's unpleasant but necessary."

Software, by definition, is soft to adapt to changes.
Otherwise, it would have been "hard" ware.

We have to deal with it. It should not be unpleasant but the opposite: it's its the ability to change that proves the real value of software.

The frustration that we feel when we have to change our software comes from the fact that as long as we add code we tend to reduce the flexibility of our software (we add accidental complication).

Thus, adapting to changes becomes frustrating.

But it's not software's fault.
It's not our customers' fault.
It's our fault.

It's only by making our code better over time that we can reduce that frustration.

And we can make it better by performing refactoring on a regular basis.

Everything that encourages refactoring should be welcome.

I warmly recommend watching this:


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