Monday, June 1, 2020

MPWTest Only Tests Frameworks

It should be noted, if it wasn't obvious, that MPWTest is opinionated software, meaning it achieves some of its smoothness by gleefully embracing constraints that some might view as potentially crippling limitations.

Maybe the biggest of these constraints, mentioned in the previous post, is that MPWTest only tests frameworks. This means that the following workflow is not supported out of the box:

The point being that this is a workflow I not just somewhat indifferently do not want, but rather emphatically and actively want to avoid. Tests that are run (only?) when launching the app are application tests. My perspective is that unit tests are an integral part of the class. This may seem a subtle distinction, but subtle differences in something you do constantly can have huge impacts. "Steter Tropfen höhlt den Stein."

Another aspect is that launching the app for testing as a permanent and fixed part of your build process seems highly annoying at best. Linker finishes, app pops up, runs for a couple of seconds, shuts down again. I don't see that as viable. For testing to be integral and pervasive, it has to be invisible when the tests succeed.

The testing pyramid is helpful here: my contention is that you want to be at the bottom of that pyramid, ideally all of the time. Realistically, you're probably not going to get there, but you should push really, really hard, even making sacrifices that appear to be unreasonable to achieve that goal.

Framework-oriented programming

Only testing frameworks begs the question as to how to test those parts of the application not in frameworks. For me the answer is simple: there isn't any production code outside of frameworks.

None. Not the UI, not the application delegate. Only the auto-generated main().

The benefits of this approach are plentiful, the effort minimal. And if you think this is an, er, eccentric position to take, the program you almost certainly use to create apps for iOS/macOS etc. takes the same eccentric position: Xcode's main executable is 45K in size and only contains a main() function and some Swift boilerplate.

If all your code is in frameworks, only testing frameworks is not a problem. That may seem like a somewhat extreme case of sour grapes, with the arbitrary limitations of a one-off unit testing framework driving major architectural decisions, but the causality is the other way around: I embraced framework-oriented programming before and independently of MPWTest.


Another issue is iOS. Running a command-line tool that dynamically loads and tests frameworks is at least tricky and may be impossible, so that approach currently does not work. My current approach is that I view on-device and on-simulator tests as higher-up in the testing hierarchy: they are more costly, less numerous and run less frequently.

The vast majority of code lives in cross-platform frameworks (see: Ports and Adapters) and is developed and tested primarily on macOS. I have found this to be much faster than using the simulator or a device in day-to-day programming, and have used this "mac-first" technique even on projects where we were using XCTest.

Although not testing on the target platform may be seen as a problem, I have found discrepancies to be between exceedingly rare and non-existent, with "normal" code trending towards the latter. One of the few exceptions in the not-quite-so-normal code that I sometimes create was the change of calling conventions on arm64, which meant that plain method pointers (IMPs) no longer worked, but had to be cast to the "correct" pointer type, only on device. Neither macOS nor the simulator would show the problem.

For that purpose, I hacked together a small iOS app that runs the tests specified in a plist in the app bundle. There is almost certainly a better way to handle this, but I haven't had the cycles or motivation to look into it.

How to approximate

So you can't or don't want to adopt MPWTest. That doesn't mean you can't get at least some of the benefits of the approach. As a start, instead of using Cmd-B in Xcode to build, just use Cmd-U instead. That's what I did when working on Wunderlist, where we used XCTest.

Second, adopt framework-oriented programming and the Ports and Adapters style as much as possible. Put all your code in frameworks, and as much as possible in cross-platform frameworks that you can test/run on macOS, and even if you are developing exclusively for iOS, create a macOS target for that framework. This makes using Cmd-U to build much less painful.

Third, adhere to a strict 1:1 mapping between production classes and test classes, and place your test classes in the same file as the class they are testing.

My practical experience with both JUnit and XCTest on medium-sized projects does not square with the assertion that the difference is not that big: you still have to create these additional classes, they have to communicate with the class under tests (self in MPWTest), you have to track changes etc. And of course, you have to know to configure und use the framework differently from the way it was built, intended and documented. And what I've seen of OCUnit use was that the tests were not co-located with the class, but in a separate part of the project.

A final note is that the trick of interchangeably using the class as the test fixture is only really possible in a language like Objective-C where classes are first class objects. It simply wouldn't be possible in Java. This is how the class can test itself, and the tests become an integral part of the class, rather than something that's added somewhere else.

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