Approval Tests: An Alternative View on Test Automation

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Approval Tests: An Alternative View on Test Automation

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Approval Tests or simply Approvals is a framework created by Llewellyn Falco and Dan Gilkerson, providing support for .NET, Java, PHP and Ruby. It is not yet another unit testing framework like NUnit or MbUnit etc.; instead these frameworks are used to run approval tests.

Broadly speaking, software is nothing more than virtual box there we put in some inputs and expect some outputs. The outputs could be produce in a zillion ways. Those ways differ by implementation. Unit tests are too much focused on implementation. That's why unit tests might fail even if you have working code. Approvals, by contrast, are focused on output.

How does it work?

Let's take a look at a very simple case. Say, I have a class ShoppingCart. I can add some products inside the shopping cart, and confirm my purchase. I expect that the total price is calculated for me.

public class ShoppingCartTests {
    public void should_calculate_the_total_price_for_shopping_cart() {
        // do
        var shoppingCart = new ShoppingCart();
        shoppingCart.Add(new Product { Id = "iPad", Price = 500 });
        shoppingCart.Add(new Product { Id = "Mouse", Price = 20 });
        // verify

What happens if I run this test? If I'm running it the first time, it fails. No matter whether it works or doesn't. The framework simply doesn't know that yet. To understand how correct that code is, use your human power of recognition.

In that case, you'll see that it will open the TortoiseDiff application and show the actual and expected outputs.

Here, I can tell: "Ok, I have 2 products in my cart..one iPod and one Mouse, iPods costs 500 smth and mouse is 20 smth.. and the total price is 520 - looks good! I approve that result!".

Technically, the approving is just copying actual output to expected. As soon as the test passes, the actual file output is deleted and the  approved file resides near the test code file, so you just check it in source control.

But let's say the shopping cart is modified and something goes wrong. There would be a failure. In the case of unit tests, that would be multiple failures of different cases and it might be not so easy to understand exactly what's wrong. For an approval test, on the other hand, it would be just one failure. And the cooles thing is that can see exactly where the deviation is.

Where does it work?

It is not only the simple objects that you can approve. You can even approve different sources: objects, enumerables, files, HTML, XML etc. On a more high level: WpfForm, WinForm, ASP.NET Page.

For instance, code for ASP.NET:

public void should_have_approved_layout() {

Or for a WPF form:

public void should_have_approved_layout() {
    ApprovalTests.Wpf.Approvals.Approve(new Form());

With WPF and Win forms, it's able to serialize them into images, so the actual and expected results are actually images, so it is easy to track the differences (TortoiseDiff can do that).

When should you use it?

It works best when you deal with 2 things: UI and legacy code.

Testing UI is always difficult. But what you typically need to do is: make sure that UI is not changed, and if it has changed, know where exactly the change happened. Approval testing solves that nicely. It takes only one line of code to test ASP.NET page, for instance.

Legacy is another story: you have no tests there at all, but you have to change code to implement a new feature, or refactor. The interesting thing about legacy codeis  - It works! It works for years, no matter how it is written (remember, virtual box). And this is a very great advantage of that code. With approvals, with only one test you can get all possible outputs (HTML, XLM, JSON, SQL or whatever output it could be) and approve, because you know - it works! After you have complete such a test and approved the result, you are really much safer with a refactoring, since now you "locked down" all existing behavior.

Approvals are not something you need to run all the time, like units or integration tests. Approval testing is more like handy tool. You create approval tests, you do your job and at the end of the day it might happen - the tool is no longer needed, so you can just throw the tool away.

Want to hear more?

Just go and listen to this Herding Code podcast episode, or visit the project web site or join me at 17 December on XP Days Ukraine conference in Kiev, where I'm going to have a speech dedicated to Approvals.


Source: http://www.beletsky.net/2011/12/approval-tests-alternative-view-on-test.html


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