Stop Testing Implementations
And What to Focus on Instead
One class, one test.
Some of you might agree with this statement, and I used to as well. I no longer do and have been flagellated for breaking this “rule.”
We should stop fixating on a test per class, method, function, or whatever technical construct. We should stop making a goal or necessity out of having a one-to-one relationship between tests and technical constructs.
Instead, we should orientate tests around behavior. Doing so decouples the behavior specified in the test from the implementation which accomplishes it. This allows the implementation to be emergent and fluid. The test isn’t coupled to the shape of the solution but to the behavior demanded by it.
- Flexibility. We increase the ability to restructure the implementation whilst keeping our safety net intact.
- Decoupling. Implementation and specification (test) don’t have to change at the same rate. This makes refactoring cheaper, as we don’t necessarily have to change both sides of the equation.
- Comprehension. Letting go of testing implementation and expressing behavior leads to tests becoming a specification of the system. Not in a technical sense, but a functional one. They contain less noise in their story explaining the system.
How did we end up with this 1:1 relationship between tests/classes? It is easy and obvious. Orientating around behavior necessitates deeper insight and deliberation, similar to packaging code by concern as opposed to type. It’s easy to throw all views in one package but much harder to group them by their rate of change (cohesion).
Another reason might be that unit tests have always been an ambiguous term. People look for absolute rules, such as one class, one test, or mock all collaborations. The harsh truth is that it depends. Hard rules are useful until you develop a better sense of judgment acquired by gaining experience. Beyond that, they prevent getting the best outcomes from tradeoffs.
The key takeaway is this: stop seeing tests as verification of your implementation. Start seeing them as the specification of behavior (part of) your system should accomplish and reap the benefits.
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