Stephen A. Fuqua (SAF) is a Bahá'í, software developer, and conservation and interfaith advocate in the DFW area of Texas.

TACKLE: Be Test-Driven

July 8, 2013


Expanding on the TACKLE model presented in Unified Theory of Software Development.

Executable tests are the best form of requirements documentation. They improve quality through early discovery of bugs and by fostering a more detailed "what-if" analysis: what if we have this input X? What if the user does Y?

Whenever possible , methods and classes should be covered by unit tests that isolate the functionality: from a database, from file system or web access, and even from other classes. This will likely require extensive use of interfaces, factories, and dependency injection. Use test doubles (stubs, mocks, etc) and/or a mocking framework.

Follow a test-driven development (TDD) mentality, where you the programmer, possibly in collaboration with a dedicated tester, write tests before and as you are coding. Allow design to emerge from the tests. Write unit tests that handle a various input data, include so-called edge cases (the boundaries, of and just beyond, what is acceptable or normal input).

     /  \
    / UI \
   / ---- \
  / system \
 / -------- \
/    unit    \

Consider the "testing pyramid" at right, drawn by Mike Cohn*: unit tests are the most important form of test. Then add in system tests (he calls the "service tests" but I just like "system" better). At last, if needed, add UI tests. But if your code is well designed, all code except for that which drives the UI itself will already be covered. The unit tests prove that the methods and classes work as intended, and the system tests prove that they are well integrated / work together as intended.

System tests can be expressed in a simple way using Gherkin or Fit. These encourage English language descriptions of the behavior of the system. When programmers, business analysts, and users collaborate to define system specifications by describing behavior, then they are practicing behavior-driven development (BDD), a variant on TDD. These specifications make excellent requirements, in that they are both easy to understand and easy to execute.

And don't forget to run those unit tests constantly, system tests at least daily, and if you have them,a thin set of UI tests daily as well. Preferably, run the system more frequently – the faster you get and deal with feedback, the better your quality will be. The programmer should be running tests every few minutes when in full-on TDD mode. In addition, automated-build systems can be configured to run tests every time code is checked into the source control, or on a nightly basis; this is especially useful for unit tests, since they are already separated from all I/O dependence and no one must setup the build server "just right" (but it is best to strive for an environment that facilitates full integration of the system test framework as well).

Preferred Tools

  • Unit test execution: Microsoft Unit Test Framework, built into Visual Studio
  • Unit test mocking framework: MoQ
  • System/Specification tests: written in Gherkin using SpecFlow
  • Automated-build: CruiseControl.Net, or Team Foundation Server if you have it.
    • Note: Microsoft Fakes might be an excellent framework, but since it is based on Moles, I am leery of it except when working with legacy code that you can't afford to refactor … yet. The "stubs" part is equivalent to Moq, but the latter has been around longer and is thus better established.
  • Source Control: most of my experience is with AccuRev (and VSS years ago). AccuRev has its merits, but I wouldn't necessarily recommend it over TFS, SVN, GIT, etc. Personally, I just want to make sure that the tool has atomic transaction support, has good branching/merging, and is well integrated with the rest of the toolset.




Related posts from this blog

No TrackBacks

TrackBack URL:

Leave a comment