Does Refactoring turn unit test of TDD to integration tests?

We really value automated tests and do experiments regarding test driven development (TDD) and tests in general from time to time. In the retrospective of our lastest experiment this question struck me: Does refactoring turn the unit tests of TDD to integration tests over time?

Let me elaborate this a bit further. When you start out with your tests you have some unit of functionality – usually a class – in mind. As you add test after test your implementation slowly fleshes out. You are repeating the TDD cycle “Write a failing test – Make test pass – Refactor” as you are adding features. The refactoring step is crucial in the whole process because it keeps the code clean and evolvable. But this step is also the cause leading to my observation: As you add new features you may extract new classes when refactoring to obey the single responsibility principle (SRP) and keep your design sane. It is very easy to forget or just ignore refactoring the tests. They still pass. You still have the same code coverage. But your tests now test the combination of several units. And what’s worse: You have units without direct tests.

This happened even in relatively small experiments on “Communication through tests” where the recontructing team could sometimes only guess that some class existed and either went on without it or created the class out of neccessity. The problem with this is that there are no obvious and clear indicators that your unit tests are not real unit tests anymore.


I neither have any solution nor am I completely sure how big the problem is in practice. It may help to state the TDD cycle more explicitly like “Write a failing test – Make test pass – Refactor implementation and tests” although that is no 100% remedy. One could implement a simple, checkstyle-like tool which lists all units without associated test class. I will keep an eye on the phenomenom and try to analyse it further. I would love to hear you view and experience on the matter.

2 thoughts on “Does Refactoring turn unit test of TDD to integration tests?”

  1. When you collect new features in a class while refactoring, you first have to write unit tests of that class and mock that class in other tests. so you are right: “Write a failing test – Make test pass – Refactor implementation and tests”.

    Thank you for the post.

  2. It’s a good observation. In this case unit test with TDD might still have played an important role in discovering new collaborators while refactoring your code.

    Good post.

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