TDD myths

Some TDD myths and what is true about them.

TDD, Test first or test immediately after are all the same

No. All methods result in having tests in the end. But especially in the TDD case your mind set is completely different. First the tests drive the design of your code. You construct your system piece by piece. Unit test for unit test. All code you write must have a test first and you use the tests to describe and reason about the external interface of your units. In TDD the tests represent the future clients using your code. In practice this leads to small(er) units.

In TDD the tests’ (main) objective is to prevent regression

No. Tests help immensely when you break the same code twice. But even more so tests help to structure your code and make it maintainable. When using TDD you tend to reduce your code and its flexibility because you need to write a test for every piece of functionality first. So over designing or implementing things you don’t need (breaking YAGNI or KISS) bites you doubly: in the code and in the tests. Also wrong design decisions like choosing an inappropriate data structure or representation hits you twice as hard. TDD emphasizes bad design decisions.

Test code is the same as production code

No. Test code should adhere too a similar quality level like production code. But you won’t write tests for your tests. Also conditionals and loops are a very bad idea in tests and should be avoided. Take the following example:

public void testSomething() {
  for (MyEnum value : values()) {
    assertEquals(expected, do(value))

If you forgot an enum value the tests just passes. Even if you have no values in your enum it passes still. Conditions have the same problem: you introduce another path through your test which can be avoided or never taken. You could secure the other path through an assert but in some cases this is a hint that you broke another principle: single responsibility of tests.

DRY is harmful in tests

No. DRY (don’t repeat yourself) aims to reduce or eliminate duplication in logic. But often DRY is understood as removing code duplication. This is not the same! Code duplication can be essential in tests. You need all of the essential information in the test. This code should not be extracted or abstracted elsewhere. These code lines which may seem similar are not coupled logically. When you change one test, the other test is not affected.

TDD is hard

No and yes. For me learning TDD is like learning a new language. It certainly needs time. But if you do it often and repeatedly you learn more every time you use it. It’s a way of reasoning about a system, a way of thinking, a paradigm. When I started with TDD I thought it was impossible or unreasonable to use in cases other than where strong specs exist like parsing a format. But over time I value the driving part of TDD more and more. You can get into a TDD flow. TDD gives you a very good feeling of security when you refactor. It forces you beforehand to think about your intended use for your code. Which is good. It changes my way of seeing my code, one step at time. Some things are still hard: acceptance tests are unreasonably expensive. Just testing one thing needs discipline. Not jumping ahead of the tests and implementing too much code also. Finding the next unit of testing can be difficult, getting stuck can be frustrating. Just like learning a new language I think it is worth it.

3 thoughts on “TDD myths”

    1. TDD makes the consequences of every design decision louder. If you make a bad decision, it will hurt you twice: in the code and in the tests you write after.

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