Don't test the methods of your classes

The most perfect expression of human behavior is a string quartet. - Jeffrey Tate

I recently had to work on some code I wrote before I had really understood test-driven development. I had written the tests first and the code had 100% test coverage, but the tests were not very useful in helping me understand the code.

The problem was that I had written tests for each method, testing pre- and postconditions and class invariants. This is the wrong approach to writing programmer tests. Instead, each test case should specify a describable aspect of the functionality an object provides to its clients. That aspect will probably involve multiple methods of the class. As a maintenance programmer using the tests as documentation you want to know how the behaviour of those methods is interrelated, not how each method acts individually.

Before writing that code I had recently written an application in Eiffel and the Design by Contract approach was fresh in my mind. This is one of the reasons I don't really like Design by Contract: it doesn't help you understand your code because the DbC specifications are attached to each feature of a class, instead of specifying aspects of a class' functionalty that each involve the interplay of multiple features. Using DbC to specify the interrelation of methods requires the programmer add features to the class that are otherwise unnecessary, and has the result of actually making the class harder to understand.

Copyright © 2003 Nat Pryce. Posted 2003-12-15. Share it.

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