Tutorial :How simple is 'too simple to break'? - explained



Question:

In JUnit FAQ you can read that you shouldn't test methods that are too simple to break. While all examples seem logical (getters and setters, delegation etc.), I'm not sure I am able to grasp the "can't break on its own" concept in full. When would you say that the method "can't break on its own"? Anyone care to elaborate?


Solution:1

I think "can't break on its own" means that the method only uses elements of its own class, and does not depend upon the behavior of any other objects/classes, or that it delegates all of its functionality to some other method or class (which presumably has its own tests).

The basic idea is that if you can see everything the method does, without needing to refer to other methods or classes, and you are pretty sure it is correct, then a test is probably not necessary.

There is not necessarily a clear line here. "Too simple to break" is in the eye of the beholder.


Solution:2

Try thinking of it this way. You're not really testing methods. You're describing some behaviour and giving some examples of how to use it, so that other people (including your later self) can come and change that behaviour safely later. The examples happen to be executable.

If you think that people can change your code safely, you don't need to worry.


Solution:3

No matter how simple a method is, it can still be wrong. For example you might have two similarly named variables and access the wrong one. However, these errors will likely be quickly found and once these methods are written correctly, they are going to stay correct and so it is not worthwhile permanently keeping around a test for this. Rather than "too simple to break", I would recommend considering whether it is too simple to be worth keeping a permanent test.


Solution:4

Put it this way, you're building a wood table.

You'll test things that may fail. For instance, putting a jar in the table, or sitting over the table, or pushing the table from one side to another in the room, etc. You're testing table, in a way you know it is somehow vulnerable or at least in a way you know you'll use it.

You don't test though, nails, or one of its legs, because they are "too simple to break on its own".

Same goes for unit testing, you don't test getters/setters, because the only way they may fail, it because the runtime environment fail. You don't test methods that forward the message to other methods, because they are too simple to break on it own, you better test the referenced method.

I hope this helps.


Solution:5

If you are using TDD, that advice is wrong. In the TDD case your function exists because the test failed. It doesn't matter if the function is simple or not.

But if you are adding tests afterwards to some existing code, I can sort of understand the argument that you shouldn't need to test code that cannot break. But I still think that is just an excuse for not having to write tests. Also ask yourself: if that piece of code is not worthy of testing, then maybe that code is not needed at all?


Solution:6

I like the risk based approach of GAMP 5 which basically means (in this context) to first asses the various possible risks of a software and only define tests for the higher-risk parts.

Although this applies to GxP environments, it can be adapted in the way: How likely is a certain class to have erroneous methods, and how big is the impact an error would have? E.g., if a method decides whether to give a user access to a resource, you must of course test that extensively enough.

That means in deterimining where to draw the line between "too simple to break" it can help to take into consideration the possible consequences of a potential flaw.


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