Tuesday, 14 July 2015

Integration Tests

It is well documented you need a balance between different categories of automated tests. The split is usually in the form.

  • 70% unit
  • 20% integration
  • 10% acceptance

While unit tests make up the majority of tests, there is a limit to their effectiveness. As soon as you leave the system boundary you need integration tests. Examples of when integration tests are required is code that interacts with databases, web services or the file system.

These integration tests should not test logic, this is a mistake. They will become brittle and slow to execute otherwise. Instead of checking domain logic, test at a lower level. Go as low as you can without leaking implementation details of the subject under test. By going as low as possible you will radically reduce the number of integration tests required. Less tests means easier maintenance. Less tests also means faster tests.


Assuming a SQL database, invoke the repository and test as lightly as possible. Do not indirectly test this repository by invoking the code higher levels in the stack. Avoid concerning yourself with what is happening behind the scenes. Simply test that you can insert a record, and retrieve the newly inserted record. Any other code that is involved at higher levels can suffice at a unit level.

Assertions should be loose enough to verify that the code is working, but not asserting basic correctness. In other words prefer assertions that check for the presence of results, rather than what those results look like. If the value is of concern, convert into a fast, isolated unit test.

Integration Tests are a Scam

The term Integrated Tests is my preference given that integration tests are a scam. This slight change in terminology helps keep these tests focused. Rather than spiraling out of control, they are small in number and simply verify that "something is working". This is done by pushing all tests of logic to the unit level.

The key point here is that integration tests are required. Strongly resist the urge to write all tests at the integrated level. Likewise do not fall into the trap that thinking all tests must be done at the unit level. The key here is balance.

There is a fatal flaw with integration tests however. They can be wrong. Given tests at a unit level will stub out anything that is out of process, how do you stop such tests falling out of sync with the real implementation? This is where Contract Tests come into play.

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