Announcing SHOULD-TEST

Once upon a time, it occurred to me that all sound software should be slightly self-ironic. That is how this library's name came into being: yes, you should test even Common Lisp code sometimes. :) But that's not the whole irony...

So, y u makes YATF?

Testing software always fascinated me because it is both almost always necessary and at the same time almost always excessive - it's extremely hard to find the right amount of resources you should allocate to it. You will most likely end up fearing to change your system either because you have too few tests, and some of the important scenarios aren't covered, or too many tests and you need to be constantly re-writing them. Surely, in Lisp the problem is not so drastic because in many cases you can rely on the REPL to help, but it's not a one-fit-all solution. There's also too much dogma in the space of general error handling in programming (that I addressed a little bit in this post). So, to find out how to test properly, around 7 years ago I had written my first test framework, which was called NUTS (non-unit test suite). It worked ok, and I used it in a couple of projects including the huge test suite of CL-REDIS that I'm really proud of. However, it was the first version, and you always have to re-write the first version. :) This is how MUTEST (microtest) appeared. In it, I was aiming at making a tool with the smallest footprint possible. It was also partially inspired by RT, which I consider to be the simplest (with a positive connotation) Lisp test framework (before ST). But both of them, MUTEST and RT, are not lispy because they are not extensible, and it's a shame to not have extensibility in Lisp, which provides excellent tools for building it in.

Well, "version 2 always sucks, but version 3..." So, SHOULD-TEST is version 3, and I'm really happy with it. It's truly minimal and intuitive to the extreme: like in the popular BDD approach you just write (in Yodaspeak, obviously): should be = 1 this-stuff and then st:test. And it's extensible - you can add specialized assertion strategies to the provided 3 basic ones: normal testing, exception catching, and capturing output streams.

I wasn't content with the existing Lisp test frameworks because they aren't concerned first and foremost with the things I care about:

  • intuitive defining and running arbitrary tests
  • testing from the REPL and ease of analyzing the test output
  • piping the test output to upstream systems like CI (by supporting common protocols, such as xUnit and TAP)

These are the 3 things that SHOULD-TEST should do the best.

Over more than a year, I have written or re-written with it the whole test suites for the main open-source libraries I support - RUTILS, CL-REDIS, and CL-NLP (which doesn't yet have an extensive test coverage). And I also use it for all my in-house projects.

Working with ST

Here's a quick overview of the SHOULD-TEST workflow.

Test are defined with deftest:

(deftest some-fn ()
  (should be = 1 (some-fn 2))
  (should be = 2 (some-fn 1)))

Being run, the defined test returns either T or NIL as a primary value. Secondary and third values in case of NIL are lists of:

  • all failed assertions returned by individual assertions
  • and all uncaught errors signaled inside assertions

should is a macro that takes care of checking assertions. If the assertion doesn't hold should signals a condition of types should-failed or should-erred which are aggregated by deftest. Also, should returns either T or NIL and a list of a failed expression with expected and actual outputs as values.

Under the hood, should calls the generic function should-check and passes it a keyword produced from the first symbol (in this case, :be), a test predicate (here, '=), and a tested expression as thunk (here it will be e.g. (lambda () (some-fn 1))), and expected results if any. If multiple expected results are given, like in (should be eql nil #{:failed 1} (some-other-fn :dummy)), it means that multiple values are expected. As you see, the keyword and test predicate are passed unevaluated, so you can't use expressions here.

The pre-defined types of assertions are be, signal, and print-to. They check correspondingly.

deftest and should write the summary of test results to *test-output* (by default bound to *standard-output*). The var *verbose* (default T) controls if the summary contains full failure reports or just test names.

Tests are defined as lambda-functions attached to a symbol's test property, so (deftest some-fn ... will do the following:

(setf (get some-fn 'test)
      (lambda () ...))
One feature that is pending implementation is establishing dependencies between tests while defining them, i.e. specifying the partial order in which they should be run. However, I haven't seen heavy demand for it in my test code so far.

To run the tests, use test. Without arguments, it runs all the tests in the current package. Given a :package argument it will do the same for that package, and given a :test argument it will run that individual test. In case of individual test's failure, it will return NIL and a list of failed assertions and a list of assertions, which triggered uncaught errors. In case of failed test of a package, it will return NIL and 2 hash-tables holding the same lists as above keyed by failed test's names.

As you see, the system uses a somewhat recursive protocol for test results:

  • at the lowest level should returns T or NIL and signals information about the failed assertion
  • this information is aggregated by deftest which will return aggregate information about all the failed assertions in the hash-table
  • at the highest level test will once again aggregate information over all tests

So, the structure of the summary, returned from test, will be the following:

  failed-test-1 ((failed-assertion-1 expected actual)
                 (failed-assertion-2 ...
  failed-test-2 ...

There's also :failed key to test that will re-test only tests which failed at their last run.

Usage patterns

As SHOULD-TEST is agnostic, it doesn't impose any restrictions on how each project organizes its tests. Yet, having established patterns and best-practices never hearts. Below is the approach I use...

There's no restriction on naming tests. Though, it seems like a good approach to name them the same as functions they test. As for generic functions, I have different tests for different methods. In this case, I add some suffix to the test's name to indicate which method is tested (like transform-string for one of the methods of gf transform that is specialized for the string class of arguments).

As for code organization, I use the following directory structure of the typical project:

 |    `----module
 |         `-----file.lisp

I also usually place the tests in the same package as the code they test but protect them with #+dev guard, so that in production environment they are not compiled and loaded altogether.

ASDF provides a way to define the standard for testing a system that can be invoked with asdf:test-system. The easiest way to hook into this facility is to define the following method for asdf:test-op somewhere either in package.lisp or in some common file in the test module (in the example above: some-general-tests.lisp):

(defmethod asdf:perform ((o asdf:test-op)
                         (s (eql (asdf:find-system <your-system>))))
  (asdf:load-system <your-system>)
  (st:test :package <your-package>))

There's also a minimal test suite defined in src/self-test.lisp. The test suite is also hooked to asdf:test-op for the should-test system - just as described above :)
Finally, there's an idea that ST will provide useful connector facilities that are mostly lacking in the existing Lisp test frameworks, to be able to integrate into the general testing landscape (primarily, CI systems). As a start, xUnit support was implemented by us (most of the thanks go to Maxim Zholoback). As it often happens, it was, actually, almost impossible to find the proper xUnit spec, but this SO answer saved the day for us. test-for-xunit generates appropriate XML string to *test-output*. I also plan on implementing TAP support some day (this should be pretty easy, actually), but I'm not in a hurry.

Well, if SHOULD-TEST proves useful to some of you, I'd be glad. Enjoy the hacking!

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