net, testing comments edit

Playing with matches will get you
burned.Lately at work we’ve been working towards test driven development and not just “having a lot of tests.” For pretty much anyone who has written unit tests for anything with any complexity, you know that’s a lot harder than it sounds. You need to be able to test certain components in an isolated fashion and the bits that you need to integrate with may not actually be written yet.

To get around this, you generally end up writing a lot of test and helper classes to stub in the functionality your component interacts with, but that’s a heck of a lot of work. In some cases, you might have to drop live configuration files into the system to get things to work correctly, you might need to craft some dynamic logic into your test classes… it’s a big pain.

Some folks choose to architect their components to be easier to test. This usually implies there are more publicly exposed methods than you might normally have so that certain internal properties can be checked on, substituted in, or otherwise dealt with in a test environment. It also means there are a lot more moving parts - interfaces for “plugging in” components that wouldn’t normally be there except for the need to swap in at test time. We’ll call that “designing for testability.”

Unfortunately, much of what I work on has the API as a deliverable. Which is to say, I can’t just have a load of exposed public methods floating out there solely to support my tests. I can’t “over-architect” the usage of the components because part of the goal is to make the components simple to use. Instead of designing for testability, we have to test what’s designed.

The problem, then, is how to “plug in” or stub out things in testing to isolate the component being tested? Enter mock object frameworks.

Mock object frameworks allow you to do that sort of thing on the fly. You can say “give me a mock data provider and whenever anyone queries it for data, have it return this data set here.” It’s a really nice, simple way of doing things that doesn’t require you to bloat your design just so you can test it.

Okay, so that’s your quick “mock objects” intro. The question I’m leading to is: mock objects are very powerful. You can do a lot of stuff with them. So much, that if you aren’t really paying attention, you could very well mock your way into invalid tests. The question on the table, then, is “are mock objects too powerful?”

This is actually an ongoing debate at work as we investigate different mock object frameworks. If we end up with a site license for a fairly powerful mock object framework, what’s to stop an untrained developer from misusing it and giving us a false sense of quality by writing invalid tests?

My view: it’s a tool, like a screwdriver or a hammer. Or matches. If you don’t know what you’re doing with the matches, you’re going to get burned. If you know what you’re doing, matches can be very helpful. It all comes down to education. People just need to be smart enough to know when they’re not smart enough to start using the tool and get educated before picking it up and heading down that path. I don’t think “people might misuse it” is a convincing enough argument to not use the tool. I might also consider that if it’s worrisome to a particular team or project, the folks overseeing that team or project need to pay attention and ensure the right tools are being used by the right people for the job.

Besides, there are so many other ways the uninitiated can mess up production code, somehow I think “using a mock object framework improperly in testing” doesn’t qualify on the top 10 threat list.

General Ramblings comments edit

PSP Entertainment
PackAfter thinking about it for a while and talking about it for, like, a year or more, I finally stepped up and bought myself a PSP (PlayStation Portable).

I realize I’m a little late to the show on this one, but it’s pretty bad-ass. The screen is nice and crisp, no dead/stuck pixels (that I’ve found so far), and I’ve got a couple of games for it that are pretty neat.

I actually ended up with it since I’m going to be taking a couple of trips soon (Vegas this weekend, Aruba for the honeymoon) and want to watch some movies and play games on the flight. I figured, for the price, as a portable game and media platform, it can’t be beat. Plus the package I got was pretty good for all the extra stuff you get.

Now I just need to get a protective case and I’m set to go.

General Ramblings comments edit

Cirque du Soleil:
KA

Stu, Jason, Jason’s brother Adam, and I are all going to Vegas next weekend for my bachelor party. Come 9:30p on Saturday the 30th, though, you know where I’ll be?

Front and center for the Cirque du Soleil show, KA!

Center of the front row for
KA

Actually, literally front and center. Stu and I, middle of the first row. Of course, tickets are $150 a piece, so I can’t say it didn’t cost me, but I’ve yet to be disappointed by a Cirque show.

Oh, hell yeah. I’m altogether too stoked. Jenn is going to be soooo jealous.

General Ramblings comments edit

I’ve been considering getting a PSP for a while now but just haven’t been pushed over the edge. My gadget interest has been generally low for a while with no cool tech really calling out to me lately, so the PSP has surfaced again as something I might be interested in.

I was at the store this morning picking up a copy of the Rush album The Spirit of Radio: Greatest Hits 1974 - 1987 (Neil Peart being arguably the best drummer ever) and the guy at the store mentioned they were coming out with a new PSP value pack of some sort that includes more stuff.

A little research brings us to the PSP Entertainment Pack, which is like the existing “Value Pack” but with a 1GB memory stick, a movie, and a game. A little better deal for the money, though, granted, the system’s not brand-spanking-new to the market, either.

It’s something to think about. I hate to be on the tail end of technology, but it’s becoming a better deal so it might be worth a shot.