On Testing: Summary

This post is the TLDR of my On Testing series.

Write tests

In any environment where you are starved for testing resources automated tests are a good way to build confidence that your software works, and continues to work. In environments where you have sufficient or excess testing resources automated tests free up testers to perform more demanding activities such as exploratory testing that cannot be automated.

Write tests at every level of the test pyramid

The Test Pyramid

The test pyramid givens us a model that says layers of testing are built upon one another. At high levels of the pyramid we cannot reasonably cover all the possible states of the system, but we can cover many of the interactions. At the lowest level we may cover little or no interactions in the system, but can cover a reasonable number of states. Automated tests have the most value when they cover all levels of the pyramid, the low level tests give us confidence that, given the right interactions, the states are correct. The high level tests give us confidence that, given the right states, the interactions are correct.

Write tests that deliver the most value

As developers we must always keep in mind that we should be trying to deliver value for the business or project. Thus, we need to place our tests within the pyramid in the places that let us achieve the most value for the least effort. As such, sometimes it will be easier to write an integration test to cover some functionality because mocking out the dependencies requires too much effort. On other occasions it will be easier to unit test certain components, because integration tests require too much set-up. We take all this into account when writing our tests, while also remaining mindful that we need tests at all layers of the pyramid.

The goal of automated testing is to build confidence that the software still works as designed.

Our tests must be designed to stand the test of time, so that tests can be run with little or no modification in order to confirm that, after some changes, the software works as it did before (i.e. as it was originally designed). In the presence of the test pyramid this becomes even more important, as the higher level tests are built on the lower level tests. Removing or modifying low level tests invalidates the results of higher level tests - particularly any manual testing that may have taken place.

Delete tests that aren’t useful

Brittle tests violate the principle that tests should stand the test of time. It is better to delete (and perhaps rewrite) brittle tests than investing effort maintaining them.

Tests should be self-contained

We should build self contained tests that clearly state what is being tested, what has failed, and why, and nothing more.

When diagnosing test failures, it is important to be able to see everything that a test does in order to understand its purpose. On the occasions when it is necessary to modify a test it is important to be able to determine all the interactions involved in the test by inspection in order to be able to revalidate the test.

These two requirements of a test suggest that we should remove loops that disguise multiple test cases as a single one, and remove shared set-up and tear-down that hides common test elements (nb. it is my belief that the Catch/BDD style of writing tests achieves the best of both by allowing shared set-up/tear-down without hiding it).

Test behaviour, not implementation

Behaviour is what survives change and refactoring, so in order to write tests that stand the test of time we must focus on testing behaviour and not implementation.

Avoid “hand-offs” to testers

Agile principles already say that we should avoid hand-offs, but hand-offs to testers are particularly troublesome in an agile environment as the hand-off significantly disrupts the flow of the sprint. It is far more productive to incorporate testing into the development in order to achieve continuous feedback.

Any tester worth their salt aims to be an expert in using the software. Handing off work to them after it has been completed is a criminal waste of these talents. By incorporating testers into the development they can provide valuable insights into feature design from the point of view of an expert user.

That’s all folks!

This is the end of the articles I’ve planned for this series, I hope to add more in the future whenever I learn new things, find ways to improve my approach, or simply have some nice examples to share of things going well and going… not so well!

Posted on September 5, 2016
Want to see the edit history? Check the source on Github.

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