Testing C programs using GLib

Writing programs in good old C can be quite refreshing if you use some modern utility library like GLib. It offers a comprehensive set of tools you expect from a modern programming environment like collections, logging, plugin support, thread abstractions, string and date utilities, different parsers, i18n and a lot more. One essential part, especially for agile teams, is onboard too: the unit test framework gtest.

Because of the statically compiled nature of C testing involves a bit more work than in Java or modern scripting environments. Usually you have to perform these steps:

  1. Write a main program for running the tests. Here you initialize the framework, register the test functions and execute the tests. You may want to build different test programs for larger projects.
  2. Add the test executable to your build system, so that you can compile, link and run it automatically.
  3. Execute the gtester test runner to generate the test results and eventually a XML-file to you in your continuous integration (CI) infrastructure. You may need to convert the XML ouput if you are using Jenkins for example.

A basic test looks quite simple, see the code below:

#include <glib.h>
#include "computations.h"

void computationTest(void)
    g_assert_cmpint(1234, ==, compute(1, 1));

int main(int argc, char** argv)
    g_test_init(&argc, &argv, NULL);
    g_test_add_func("/package_name/unit", computationTest);
    return g_test_run();

To run the test and produce the xml-output you simply execute the test runner gtester like so:

gtester build_dir/computation_tests --keep-going -o=testresults.xml

GTester unfortunately produces a result file which is incompatible with Jenkins’ test result reporting. Fortunately R. Tyler Croy has put together an XSL script that you can use to convert the results using

xsltproc -o junit-testresults.xml tools/gtester.xsl testresults.xml

That way you get relatively easy to use unit tests working on your code and nice some CI integration for your modern C language projects.


Recent gtester run the test binary multiple times if there are failing tests. To get a report of all (passing and failing) tests you may want to use my modified gtester.xsl script.

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