[rspec-users] Mocking, changing method interfaces and integration tests

Courtenay court3nay at gmail.com
Fri May 25 06:18:03 EDT 2007

Wow, you did a great job of writing up that irc discussion we had.

I just had a thought; what about if there was a way of "running" your
mock against the real thing to see if they (still) match up?


On 5/24/07, Ruy Asan <ruyasan at gmail.com> wrote:
> Suppose we have a method 'foo' which internally uses another method 'bar'.
> Being good BDDers we mock out the 'bar' method. After all, we only want to
> spec the 'foo' method - actually running the 'bar' method means slower, less
> maintainable and brittler specs. That's why we <3 mocking, right?
> We rely on the fact that 'bar' is being adequately tested somewhere else, by
> whomever wrote it.  They can change their implementation of 'bar' and we can
> change our implementation of 'foo' and as long as the existing tests keep
> passing everyone is happy.
> But what happens if 'bar' needs to be refactored in a way that changes the
> interface? rSpec does succeed in informing bar's author that he is breaking
> someone's expectations about the 'bar' function - however, he really has no
> idea whose expectations he is breaking. (i.e. rSpec doesn't give us any
> clues about what exactly has to follow our change in interface- it just
> tells us something may be broken).
> Changing the interface of bar means going over the code the hard way,
> getting in touch with everyone that uses the 'bar' function and making sure
> everything still works. Not very agile! It makes changing interfaces a very
> very expensive process. Of course, such changes are never really cheap - but
> because of mocks it becomes really REALLY expensive.
> So what are our options?
> 1) Don't use mocks. Not using mocks would of course catch any such problems
> right away. Yes mocks have benefits, but if we plan on refactoring often,
> the above scenario may just be too high a price to pay.
> 2) Don't change interfaces (too often) - i.e. specs should be treated as
> immutable. If it's such an expensive process just make sure it doesn't have
> to happen that often ;)  I think if you have an all-vet, all-star team of
> programmers this could work out just fine - but even then, having change be
> expensive just isn't a good thing. Sometimes the app grows in a certain way
> and changing an interface is simply The Right Thing To Do™ - but it will
> probably break the app in a hard to fix way so Let's Just Stick With What
> Works™ takes over :p
> 3) Rely on integration testing to catch these sort of bugs. This too can
> work - although it seems to shift a significant burden on integration
> testing. Doesn't it sort of imply we need 100% (or close to that)
> integration test coverage? Doesn't that mean A LOT of integration testing,
> and aren't integration tests horribly brittle, time consuming to write in
> large numbers and a PITA to maintain?
> I'm actually kind of confused about how integration tests fit in with the
> rSpec+Mocks way of doing things. I really don't hear of teams doing regular
> integration testing in a true "let's test all our coupling"-sense. (and
> speaking from experience, it really is a pain in the ass to do a lot of it -
> SO BRITTLE!) At the same, it also seems kind-of necessary. In addition to
> the above refactoring problem, there's the question of reliable your
> external libraries really are (which you are going out of your way not to
> test by using mocks). They are often buggy, often famously so. Having 100:1
> rSpec to code ratio won't save you from IE6 bugs :p Having a
> javascript-heavy rails app with lots of IE6 users (not exactly an edge case
> with rspec users...) means these bugs are rather important. You can't rely
> on rSpec to catch problems before pushing out a new version of your app.
> Doesn't this take away one of the main benefits of automated testing?
> Just aside from this whole business - I'm wondering how others are dealing
> with this problem? JS unit testing can help, no doubt, but there are lot and
> lots of things that can wrong outside such tests, and like I
> said, comprehensive unit tests are phenomenally hard to write and maintain.
> So basically all 3 of the above options are pretty crappy.
> One idea I had is to automatically translate
> MyObj#should_receive(:method).and_return("value") into a
> seprate spec for MyObj but... that actually just defeats the whole purpose
> of mock objects in a very round-about way :p
> Another idea is to have a spec runner option which ignores all mocks and
> stubs - using the real options instead. This run mode would ONLY be
> triggered when someone changes an existing spec, specifically to to answer
> the question of "whose code did i just break". However - I think this would
> radically change the way specs have to be designed to really work. :/
> I'm curious to hear how I should deal with these problems. Since i've been
> kinda rambly, I'll restate my complaints:
> (Note: when I say rSpec, I actually mean rSpec with heavy use of
> mocking, which seems to be the recommended way to go. I am aware that rspec
> != mocking, and that most of these complaints are actually more particular
> to mocking then rspec, but nevertheless, rspec and mocks do go hand in hand
> more often then not:)
> 1) If you change the interface of a function - all rSpec tells you is that
> something may have broken (because your existing specs for the function in
> question will fail initially). You don't actually know for a fact anything
> broke, and you definitely don't know what broke. It's also very easy for
> someone new to rSpec to not realize that changing an existing spec may lead
> to un-detected failure somewhere else.
> 2) Mocking external libraries and/or access to external applications assumes
> these always work as expected, which as we all know, is a dirty lie :p
> (handy as it may be). rSpec does not protect you against bugs in the
> libraries you're using in any way.
> 3) rSpec + Rails leaves a very size-able javascript and browser blind spot.
> No way of dealing with this exists other then integration testing (a-la
> selenium), and there is no accepted way of doing integration testing that is
> both feasible (i.e. doesn't take for ever) and reliable (i.e. actually
> covers a good part of your code).
> Finally, I really should mention that I'm actually quite happy with rSpec
> overall, and yes, I'm aware I'm asking a lot of rSpec here :)
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