How mocks can cut down on test maintenance

After around 11 months of not working on it, I needed to make a change to Critter4us, an app I wrote for the University of Illinois vet school. The change was simple. When I tried to push it to Heroku, though, I discovered that my Ruby gems were too out of date. So, I ended up upgrading from Ruby 1.8 to 1.9, to Sinatra 1.3 from a Sinatra less than 1.0, to a modern version of Rack, etc. etc. In essence, I replaced all the turtles upon which my code-world was resting. There were some backwards-compatibility problems.

One incompatibility was that I was sending an incorrectly formatted URI to fetch some JSON data. The old version of Rack accepted it, but the new one rejected it. The easy fix was to split what had been a single `timeslice` parameter up into multiple parameters. [Update: I later did something more sensible, but it doesn’t affect the point of this post.] “Crap!”, I thought. “I’m going to have to convert who knows how much test data.” But I was pleased when I looked at the first test and saw this:

The key point here is that neither the format of the URI parameters nor the resulting timeslice object is given in its real form. Instead, they’re represented by strings that basically name their type. (In my Clojure testing framework, Midje, I refer to these things as “metaconstants“.)

The only responsibility this code has toward timeslices is to pass them to another object. That object, the `internalizer`, has the responsibility for understanding formats. The test (and code) change is trivial:

The test is even (and appropriately) less specific than before. It says only that the GET parameters (a hash) will contain some key/value pairs of use to the internalizer. It’s up to the internalizer to know which those are and do the right thing.

The point here is that the size of the test change is in keeping with the size of the code change. It is unaffected by the nature of the change to the data—which is as it should be.

This application is the one where I finally made the important decision to use mocks heavily in the Freeman and Pryce “London” style and—most importantly—to not fall into the trap of thinking “Mocks are stupid!” when I ran into problems. Instead, I said “I’m stupid!” and, working on that assumption, figured out what I was doing wrong.

I made that decision halfway through writing the app. One of the happy results of the mocking that followed was that a vast amount of test setup code devoted to constructing complete data structures went away. No more “fixtures” or “object mothers” or “test factories.”

One Response to “How mocks can cut down on test maintenance”

  1. tomm Says:

    Check this out:

    n/n anything new for you, but worth a watch!

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