Stop.Mocking.EVERYTHING

I've flip flopped on how to use mock objects since 2008. It's took me nearly five years to finally claim to have a solid, practical answer on what is in my opinion, their correct use.

Mock Everything

Some developers told me to mock everything. Every. Single. Collaborator. I wasn't sure about this approach.

  • My tests felt too brittle - tied to implementation details.
  • My tests felt like a duplication of my production code.
  • Your test count rises rapidly.
  • This style of testing will slow you down - more to write/execute/debug.

Mock Nothing

Some developers told me to mock nothing. Sometimes I never used mocks. I wasn't sure about this approach either.

  • My tests felt too loose - it was easy to introduce bugs or defects.
  • My production code suffered as I introduced accessors only for testing.

No wonder I was confused. Neither approach seemed to be comfortable with me.

Solution

  • Use mocks for commands
  • Use stubs for queries

This halfway house is built around the idea of command and query separation as detailed by Mark Seeman. This simple principle makes a lot of sense, and finally helped me realise how best to use stubs and mocks.

  • Any commands (methods that have no return type) should have a mock object verifying their use if they are architecturally significant.
  • Any queries (methods that have return types) should have a stub object that is returned if their use is architecturally significant.

If the collaborator is not significant, or in other words is simply an implementation detail then no mock or stub is needed. That's right, just new up (or instantiate) your dependency there and then. This allows you to refactor the internals aggressively, without the fear of breaking or rewriting tests.

This approach has served me well for a while now, and in fact can be achieved even without the need to use a complicated mocking framework, though that will be the subject of a future post.