Nov 11

One of the bigger practical problems with unit testing is isolating the test coverage. Say, you want to test a piece of code from the middle (business) layer. Let’s assume further the piece of code under consideration makes some calls to lower level code to retrieve some data. The problem of test coverage isolation is now that if you “simply” call your function, you are implicitly also testing the lower level code, which you shouldn’t: if that lower level code gets modified in an incorrect way, you would suddenly see your middle level code fail although there was no change made to it. Let’s explore ways to avoid the problems in Common Lisp.

There is a very good reason why you would also want to have such test dependencies to ensure your middle level code still works if the lower level code is extended or modified. But that is no longer unit testing: you are then doing so-called integration tests which are related, but still different beasts.

Now, I was facing exactly the typical dreaded situation: I extended an application right above the database access layer which had not seen much tests yet. And of course, I didn’t want to go the long way (which I will eventually have to go anyway) and set up a test database with test data, write setup and tear-down code for the db etc. The typical suggestion (for the xUnit crowd) is to use mock objects which brings us finally on topic. I was wondering if there are any frameworks for testing with mock objects in Lisp, but a quick search didn’t turn up any results (please correct me if I’ve missed something). After giving the issue a little thought, it seemed quite clear why there aren’t any: probably because it’s easy enough to use home-grown solutions such as mine. I’ll use xlunit as the test framework, but that’s not relevant. Let’s look at some sample code we’ll want to test:

[geshi lang=lisp] (defun compare-data (data &connection) (let ((dbdata (retrieve-data-by-id (id data)))) (when (equal (some-value data) (some-db-specific-value dbdata)) t))) [/geshi] The issue is with retrieve-data-by-id which is our interface to the lower level database access.
And note that we’ll use some special functions on the results, too, even if they may just be accessors.
Let’s assume the following test code: [geshi lang=lisp] (use-package :xlunit)

(defclass comp-data-tc (test-case) ((testdata :accessor testdata :initform (make-test-data))))

(def-test-method comp-data-test ((tc comp-data-tc)) (let ((result (compare-data (testdata tc)))) (assert-equal result t))) [/geshi]

Now the trouble is: given the code as it is now, the only way to succeed the test is to make sure that make-test-data returns an object whose values match values in the database you’re going to use when compare-data get’s called. You’re ultimately tying your test code (especially the result of make-test-data) to a particular state of a particular database, which is clearly unfortunate. To overcome that problem, we’ll use mock objects and mock functions. Let’s define a mock-object mock-data and a mock-retrieve-data function, which will simply return a single default mock object.

[geshi lang=lisp] (defclass mock-data () ((id :accessor id :initarg :id :initform 0) (val :accessor some-db-specific-value :initarg :val :initform “foo-0”))))

(defun mock-retrieve-data (testcase) (format t “Establish mock for retrieve-data”) (lambda (id) (format t “mock retrieve-data id:~A~%”) (find-if #’(lambda (elem (when (equal (id elem) id) elem)) (testdbdata testcase)))) [/geshi]

Why that mock-retrieve-data returns a closure will become clear in a second, after we’ve answered the question how these entirely different named object and function can be of any help. The answer lies in CLs facility to assign different values (or better said) definitions to variables (or better said to function slots of symbols). What we’ll do is to simply assign the function definition we’ve just created as the function to use when retrieve-data is going to be called. This happens in the setup code of the test case:

[geshi lang=lisp] (defclass comp-data-tc (test-case) ((testdata :accessor testdata :initform (make-test-data)) (testdbdata :accessor testdbdata) (func :accessor old-retrieve-func)))

(defmethod set-up ((tc comp-data-tc)) ; set up some test data (dotimes (number 9) (setf (testdbdata tc) (append (list (make-instance ‘mock-data :id number :value (concatenate ‘string “value-” number))) (testdbdata tc)))) ; establish our mock function (when (fboundp ‘retrieve-data) (setf (old-retrieve-func tc) (fdefinition ‘retrieve-data)))) (setf (fdefinition ‘retrieve-data) (mock-retrieve-data tc)))

(defmethod tear-down ((tc comp-data-tc)) ; After the test has run, re-establish the old definition (when (old-retrieve-func tc) (setf (fdefinition ‘retrieve-data) (old-retrieve-func tc)))) [/geshi]

You can now see why mock-retrieve-data returns a closure: by this way, we can hand the data we establish for the test case down to the mock function without resorting to global variables.

Now, the accessor fdefinition comes in extremely handy here: we use it to assign a different function definition to the symbol retrieve-data which will then be called during the unit-test of compare-data.

..Establish mock for retrieve-data
mock retrieve-data id: 0
Time: 0.013

There was 1 failure: ...

There is also symbol-function which could be applied similarly and which might be used to tackle macros and special operators. However, the nice picture isn’t as complete as one would like it: methods aren’t covered, for instance. And it probably also won’t work if the function to mock is used inside a macro. There are probably many more edge cases not covered by the simple approach outlined above. Perhaps lispers smarter than me have found easy solutions for these, too, in which case I would like to learn more about them.

Posted by Holger Schauer

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  1. Not lost but found

    Testing and terminology confusion
    I’ve become quite addicted to writing tests during my development tasks. I’ve had wanted to dig into test-driven development for quite some time, but it was the seamless integration of Test::Unit, Ruby’s unit testing module, in Eclipse that got me goi


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