What Makes a Good Unit Test?

Question :

What Makes a Good Unit Test?,

Answer :

I’m sure most of you are writing lots of automated tests and that you also have run into some common pitfalls when unit testing.

My question is do you follow any rules of conduct for writing tests in order to avoid problems in the future? To be more specific: What are the properties of good unit tests or how do you write your tests?

Language agnostic suggestions are encouraged.


Let me begin by plugging sources -(There’s a version with C#-Nunit too.. but I have this one.. its agnostic for the most part. Recommended.)

Good Tests should be A TRIP (The acronymn isn’t sticky enough – I have a printout of the cheatsheet in the book that I had to pull out to make sure I got this right..)

  • Automatic : Invoking of tests as well as checking results for PASS/FAIL should be automatic
  • Thorough: Coverage; Although bugs tend to cluster around certain regions in the code, ensure that you test all key paths and scenarios.. Use tools if you must to know untested regions
  • Repeatable: Tests should produce the same results each time.. every time. Tests should not rely on uncontrollable params.
  • Independent: Very important.
    • Tests should test only one thing at a time. Multiple assertions are okay as long as they are all testing one feature/behavior. When a test fails, it should pinpoint the location of the problem.
    • Tests should not rely on each other – Isolated. No assumptions about order of test execution. Ensure ‘clean slate’ before each test by using setup/teardown appropriately
  • Professional: In the long run you’ll have as much test code as production (if not more), therefore follow the same standard of good-design for your test code. Well factored methods-classes with intention-revealing names, No duplication, tests with good names, etc.
  • Good tests also run Fast. any test that takes over half a second to run.. needs to be worked upon. The longer the test suite takes for a run.. the less frequently it will be run. The more changes the dev will try to sneak between runs.. if anything breaks.. it will take longer to figure out which change was the culprit.
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Update 2010-08:

  • Readable : This can be considered part of Professional – however it can’t be stressed enough. An acid test would be to find someone who isn’t part of your team and asking him/her to figure out the behavior under test within a couple of minutes. Tests need to be maintained just like production code – so make it easy to read even if it takes more effort. Tests should be symmetric (follow a pattern) and concise (test one behavior at a time). Use a consistent naming convention (e.g. the TestDox style). Avoid cluttering the test with “incidental details”.. become a minimalist.
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Apart from these, most of the others are guidelines that cut down on low-benefit work: e.g. ‘Don’t test code that you don’t own’ (e.g. third-party DLLs). Don’t go about testing getters and setters. Keep an eye on cost-to-benefit ratio or defect probability.

That’s the answer What Makes a Good Unit Test?, Hope this helps those looking for an answer. Then we suggest to do a search for the next question and find the answer only on our site.

Disclaimer :

The answers provided above are only to be used to guide the learning process. The questions above are open-ended questions, meaning that many answers are not fixed as above. I hope this article can be useful, Thank you

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