Fresh Testing

Sometimes I sit down to write a test on something I haven’t worked on before or don’t know intimately, and I just can’t write the first test. I need a context of the system and a state of existing code.

Then I generally do one of two things: look at how things are implemented in the code, or look at other tests that exercise similar behavior. Using either of these as a strict model to write a test is challenges the flow of TDD.

By using the implementation code as a model, I am limiting one of the great things about TDD from the beginning, the fact the design should evolve as a byproduct of making the test pass.

This TDD complacent method tends to ingrain existent design into my mind. These strict models resign to existing design, even if your story/test/problem isn’t exactly the same, just similar enough to convince you of the model.

Copy/pasting a similar test and editing is a developer mistake I commit sometimes when it looks like a freebie is being tossed at me: duplicate then abstract. It is very tempting, yet I have found it painfully regressive.

Especially when the tests themselves have begun to rot, as their ability to act as developer docs are deprecated. It causes a lie in logic which is always painful. Either the debugger gets fired up or the test gets scrapped in order to handwrite anyway.

Copy/pasting something which is similar is starting from a false expectation most of the time. It is more important to me to have faith in the integrity of my tests.

The most powerful TDD I see is at the beginning of a project, since there is a state of tabula rasa allowing you to move infinitely lateral. Before tests depreciates provides the best model for TDD.

Test depreciation is unavoidable, as with design changes, the tests are changed with regularity to accommodate the new structures. The reason for having the tests is to have a safety net to make the code easy to change. It becomes important to keep tests “fresh” when there is already design in place. Otherwise good design appears to degrade due to improper use.

Handwriting a test from scratch can seem like an extra step, like reinventing the wheel. Most of the time the extra step is exactly that, an extra step, but in those cases where you are following a false model it is very expensive.

It introduces the worst type of design into the system, the kind with little to no smell, but with false premises. Introducing bad design into tests or failing to maintain test code ends up introducing bad design into production code.

Paul Pagel, CEO and Co-founder

Paul Pagel has been a driving force in the software craftsmanship movement since its inception.