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Naresh Jain's Random Thoughts on Software Development and Adventure Sports
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Smells in Test that indicate Design problems

At the Simple Design and Testing Conference in 2007, we had an interesting discussion on “what are my tests telling me about my design?

Following are some of the conclusions from the discussion:

  • Too many test cases per method: may indicate that the method is doing too much. We discussed the fact that complex business logic algorithms, with lots of special case, often appear to be atomic and indivisible; and thus only testable as a unit. But there is often a way to break them down into smaller pieces. Also sometimes one needs to think if all those special cases are really required now or we are speculating?
  • Poorly factored edge cases: this is the case where there are many variations of input tested, when a few carefully-chosen edge cases would suffice. We discussed how this sometimes emerges when the algorithm under test has too many special cases, and the same result could be arrived at with a more general algorithm.
  • Increasing access privilege of members (methods or instance variables) to protected or public only for testing purpose: sometimes indicates that you are coupling your tests too much with the code. Sometimes it indicates that may be the private thing has enough behavior that it needs to be tested. In that case may be you should consider pulling it out as a separate object
  • Too much setup/teardown: indicates strong coupling in the class under test.
  • Mocks returning mocks: indicate that the method under test has too many collaborators.
  • Poorly-named tests: sometimes means that the naming and/or design of the classes under test isn’t sufficiently thought-out.
  • Lots of Duplication in tests: sometimes indicate that the production code should be providing a way to avoid some of that duplication.
  • Extensive Inheritance in test fixtures: indicate that your design might heavily rely on inheritance instead of composition.
  • Double dots in the test code: indicates that the code violates the law of Demeter. In some cases it might be better to hide the delegate.
  • Changing one thing breaks many tests: may just indicate bad factoring of tests, but can also indicate excess dependencies in the code.
  • Dynamic stubs (stubs with conditional behavior): indicates lack of control over the collaborator that is being stubbed out. This sometimes indicate the behavior is not distributed well amongst the classes.
  • Too many dependencies that have to be included in the test context: indicates tight coupling in the design
  • Random test failures when running them in parallel: indicates that the code is not thread safe and has side-effects that are not factored correctly.
  • Tests run slowly: indicates that your unit tests might be hitting external systems like network, database or filesystem. This usually indicates that the class under test might have multiple responsibility. One should be able to stub out external dependencies.
  • Temporal coupling – tests break when run in a different order: may just be a test smell; may be coupling in the code under test.

Based on this its very apparent that tests do influence you design. If done well, it will surely result in Simple, Elegant Design.

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