Choosing an Exception Type When Unit Testing Error Handling

When I'm testing exception handling code, I have tests for exceptions I know I need to handle and tests for exceptions I'm not expecting.

For example, say I have a component that calls a WCF service. If there's a communication issue, I want to mask that and return some stub/placeholder data. If there’s some other issue, I want to just let the exception bubble up and be handled by a global error handler. Something like this:

public DataObject GetData(SomeParameter p)
{
  if(p == null)
  {
    throw new ArgumentNullException("p");
  }
  DataObject data = null;
  try
  {
    data = this.SomeService.GetRealData(p);
  }
  catch(CommunicationException)
  {
    data = new StubData();
  }
  return data;
}

Not a complex scenario. I'll probably end up with a test component where I can set an exception to be thrown, or use Typemock Isolator to mock a response in the test, like:

Isolate
  .WhenCalled(() => component.SomeService.GetRealData(null))
  .WillThrow(new CommunicationException());

Then you could do your test, like:

[Test]
public void HandlesCommmunicationException()
{
  var component = CreateTheComponent();
  Isolate
    .WhenCalled(() => component.SomeService.GetRealData(null))
    .WillThrow(new CommunicationException());
  var p = new SomeParameter();
  var data = component.GetData(p);
  Assert.IsInstanceOf<StubData>(data);
}

That works well for testing the known exception type. What about the unknown type? You'll have a test like this:

[Test]
public void OtherExceptionsBubbleUp()
{
  var component = CreateTheComponent();
  Isolate
    .WhenCalled(() => component.SomeService.GetRealData(null))
    .WillThrow(new SOME_EXCEPTION_TYPE_HERE());
  var p = new SomeParameter();
  Assert.Throws<SOME_EXCEPTION_TYPE_HERE>(() =>component.GetData(p));
}

Pick an exception type that you'd never expect to get during normal execution.

Which is to say, if I wanted to see what happens when my component throws something other than a CommunicationException, I'm not going to pick something I might see for real.

I WOULD NOT pick...

  • ArgumentNullException
  • ArgumentException
  • NotSupportedException
  • InvalidOperationException

...or any other sort of "commonly used" exceptions that you might see arise from argument validation or something else.

Why not?

Let's use ArgumentNullException as an example. Say you add some more validation to the GetData method so that it inspects values in the SomeParameter p coming in. If there's a specific null value found, you throw an ArgumentNullException. You add tests for that and life is swell.

Except... you didn't remember to modify the test for your exceptions bubbling up. And, hey, look, it still passes! But it passes for the wrong reason. It's never actually getting to the service call where you think you're testing.

Instead, I WOULD pick...

  • DivideByZeroException
  • InvalidTimeZoneException

...or some other exception that you'd never expect to see in the context of what you're doing. Obviously you'll have to adjust based on what you're doing – if you're doing division in your method, you may actually get a DivideByZeroException, so you wouldn't use that.

By choosing the right exception, regardless of the refactoring of the class, your test will still pass... and it will pass for the reason you think.

posted on Friday, January 27, 2012 4:43 PM | Filed Under [ Code Snippets .NET ]

Comments have been closed on this topic.