As I'm doing more and more work with unit tests, I'm beginning to have some pretty unconventional ideas around the way we organise our test code and production code. My latest thoughts? I'm seriously considering putting all of my unit tests in my production projects and wrapping them in compiler conditionals so they're not included in release assemblies.
These aren't the worst suggestions I've heard - some people are even advocating including your unit tests in your production classes, just tagged at the bottom, I'm not sure I'm quite that far gone, but I'm getting there.
Where I Am Now - Separate Projects For Unit Tests
At the moment we're doing unit tests in what seems a fairly conventional fashion. Our solution tends to include projects that look something like:
This has some benefits. Your live assemblies are clean and ready to deploy, but also some people like this type of navigation - if you want to work with tests you go to one place, if you want to work with code you go somewhere else. Here I think is the problem.
The Problems - Two Separate Worlds
My main beef with this way of working is the separation that it introduces between live code and test code. The closer I can get to my tests and my application being the same thing, the happier I am. A lot of new ideas I hear about in TDD, this coupling is getting closer and closer. Two examples off the top of my head:
- The Builder Pattern - When I use this, I'm mirroring my production assembly depencies into my test assemblies.
- TDD As If You Meant It - This one says to write your production code in your tests, and move this code into production assemblies only when you need to.
Then there's the practical issue that in a larger solution, there's an overhead in doubling your number of projects. It does take a measurable time to dig out unit test classes for your production classes if you're flitting between a large number of classes, and it does take a time for the builder to produce and link all these additional DLLs and debug files.
Finally, separate assemblies is what everyone else is doing - my non-conformist tendencies are probably somewhere in this story.
The Plan - Unit Tests In Production Projects
So my plan is to replace the above 7 projects with 4. I'm going to keep my SpecFlow tests in a separate project, because they're full integration tests, but all of my other unit tests I'm going to put right alongside my production classes. I'm thinking of a list of classes that looks something like:
Next, I'll wrap the contents of all my test classes inside a "#if DEBUG ... #endif" compiler conditonal, so that the code is only compiled in debug or mode.
A lot of you might be thinking what I initially thought - won't you get lost amongst all of these additional classes? Maybe, but I doubt it - one of the points Uncle Bob makes in one of his Clean Coders videos, is that the IDE gives us such great navigation tools, we shouldn't worry about getting lost in our code base.
What're The Benefits - A More Fluid Workflow
Caveat : I'm going to mention it again - this is all still theory in my head, I've not tested this yet!
I can see a major benefit to this approach being how much easier it is to fix up unit tests for all the myriad small changes I might need to make in my code while I'm refactoring. I know on its own this may be a code smell, but certainly in legacy appliations I often find myself working on class A, then flitting to class B to fix a bug, which means I need to make changes to classes C, D and E. In these cases I don't just want to run my tests and check I've not broken things, I often need to write new tests, and I want to do it there and then.
Then there's the build time - the quicker my app builds and the sooner I can get feedback from my tests, the easier the whole red-green-refactor cycle becomes. On larger projects, I think this will cut build time substantially. We've got some applications that comprise 60 or 70 projects, and these take minutes to build every time we want to run our tests. Conversely I've worked with some open-source projects that are only 3 or 4 projects, even though there're a similar amount of code and complexity, they build miraculously quickly.
What's All The Fuss?
When I've mentioned these ideas to colleagues at work, they've invariably recoiled in horror, as though I'd recommended we migrate all our code to VB.Net or we ditch Subversion and go back to Sourcesafe. There are a number of reasons behind this I think:
Clean Assemblies - Right now as coders we're very concerned with ideas of "clean code", maybe this practice isn't "clean"? I'm going to argue otherwise. In some cases, for example if you're working with an API, the ability to distribute your tests with your API is a really good thing. On the other hand remember that these tests are all wrapped in compiler conditionals, so they can be turned off for production builds if you want. There's also a sneaky feature in Visual Studio where you can have similar conditionals on your includes, so libraries such as Moq or NUnit are only included if your tests are enabled.
Risk - Moving code around like this is a heavy job. If you've got 1000 classes, and you add into the mix 1000 test classes, all living right alongside your real classes, it's going to take some pretty heavy shifting to migrate from the old way of testing to this new pattern, or vice-versa. In other words, once you've started along a particular road, the further you go the harder it is to go back. Why take the risk?
Convention - This one's partly my fault. On our team we've struggled historically with conventions, around 6 months ago I became a little teenie bit of a code nazi, and one of the laws that was laid down early on was that we had a one-to-one match with production assemblies and test assemblies. Now that I'm saying otherwise, of course the guys think I've lost the plot.
I'm a Known Crackpot - Then there's the reputation I have at work for being something of a crackpot. Probably best I say no more on this one!
Next thing to do is to put all of the above into practice. I'm not sure where I'll get the chance yet, but maybe I can find a nice squirelly little side-proect at work to test this out on, who knows. At the moment I'm around 75-80 percent sure this way of working would give us a net benefit, but time will tell.
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