Wednesday, 5 September 2012

Test vs Design

I am not totally sold on the argument that tests improve design.

Since you need to mock-out dependencies when in test, a function that is going to be placed under test cannot be allowed to instantiate it's own dependencies.

They must be externally instantiated and passed in so that, in the tests, they can be replaced with mocks.

This means that the function-under-test is now required to expose some of its implementation detail in the interface, making the interface more complex than it really needs to be.

(IMHO the interface is the thing that, above anything else, we really need to keep simple).

Sometimes, when using Python or another language that supports default parameter values, the dependencies can be passed in as optional input parameters that are used only by the tests, but this really degrades the value of the interface declaration as a piece of useful documentation.

One approach that I have found useful upon occasion is to split the interface into a set of internal functions specifically intended for testing purposes, which are wrapped (thinly) by a set of external functions for the client application to use. That way, the amount of logic not being tested is minimized, but the externally-facing interfaces are kept minimal and clean.

This is still more complex than I would like, but hey, technology is still in it's infancy.

In time, I would like to be able to give tests some access privileges above and beyond those which ordinary client logic enjoys; For example, the ability to reach in an pull a labelled block out of a function, and manipulate it using some form of reflection. I freely admit that such dynamism is not normally a good idea, but it is perhaps excusable if its use is restricted to a strict, single purpose mechanism specifically engineered to support testing.