[rspec-users] Best practices to managing RSpec code for very large projects?

David Mitchell monch1962 at gmail.com
Thu Feb 4 00:12:11 EST 2010


Hello group,

I've searched through several months messages in the archive, but haven't
found an answer to this...

What is the 'best practice' way to structure RSpec code and documentation
when testing a very large project, where the RSpec code base has to be
maintained and extended over a long period?

A bit of background: I've just be brought onto a (non-Ruby) project that has
unit- and functional-test suites written using RSpec.  It's a large project,
and growing; there's currently >20,000 distinct unit-test cases in RSpec,
and a smaller (but still considerable) number of functional-test cases.  The
quantity of these test cases is still growing quickly, but they've hit a
bottleneck in creating new test cases without breaking existing test cases.

Over the life of the project, there's been a number of people writing RSpec
tests without any overriding guidance on things like:
- appropriate naming of helper functions
- use of private vs. protected vs. public methods to only expose
functionality as required
- ensuring the scope of code is managed correctly (e.g. code for testing
databases should probably be held in a module named 'Database')
- documentation, in any form e.g. what a helper function does, what its side
effects are, coverage of modules & how to extend them, ...
- use of 'raise' and 'warn' to highlight problems
- etc., etc.

As a result, what exists now is basically a huge mess.  For example, we've
got multiple helper functions named identically, that serve very different
purposes e.g. 'it_should_be_nil', with one doing a string comparison,
another covering the number of records returned in a database cursor, and so
on.  The scope of these functions is such that they're accessible from all
the 'wrong' places, so it's quite possible that the wrong helper function
could accidentally be referenced at any point and quite difficult to
identify which one of several identically-named helper functions is going to
be executed at any given point.

Aside from some serious therapy, what I'm looking for is some sort of 'best
practices' documentation covering how to use RSpec to create *and maintain*
a very large population of test cases over an extended period of time.  If I
can get that, then I can at least start working in the right direction to
ensure the problem doesn't get any worse, and then start fixing what exists
now.  Issues that are biting me right now include:
- how to structure a hierarchy of RSpec modules to cover both unit- and
functional-test requirements.  For unit-testing, it seems to make sense to
create a hierarchy along infrastructure lines, so there might be a module
named 'Database' that includes all the generic database test functions (e.g.
check table names, field names, field definitions, constraints, triggers,
... are all defined correctly), that is subclassed into distinct modules for
each database instance being tested.  However, for functional-testing, it
seems to make more sense to create a hierarchy along business process lines,
so that helper functions covering a particular set of business functionality
are bundled together.  Given you'll probably want to use a lot of the same
methods in both your functional- and unit-test code, what's the best way to
structure this hierarchy?
- use of modules/namespaces to achieve sensible isolation of functionality
(e.g. the 'it_should_be_nil' problem described above), while still having
the code referencing functions in modules being readable
- documentation requirements when building/maintaining a large RSpec test
suite over an extended period of time, so that you don't wind up relying
exclusively on knowledge held in the heads of key people, and new people can
be brought up to date on "how it all hangs together" relatively quickly

If anyone can point me to useful reference material along these lines, I'd
greatly appreciate it.

Thanks in advance

David Mitchell
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