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Using Kotlin to Test Android applications

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Using Kotlin to Test Android applications

In this article, we will take a look at using Kotlin as an option for writing automated tests for your Android applications.

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Launching an app doesn’t need to be daunting. Whether you’re just getting started or need a refresher on mobile app testing best practices, this guide is your resource! Brought to you in partnership with Perfecto

Testing is an integral part of any kind of software development. To ensure that code is ready to be deployed to production, it is rarely enough to just manually verify that new features are working. When talking about code quality and reliability, the importance of automated testing cannot be overstated, be it regression tests, unit tests or UI tests.

In this blog post (http://blog.greenhouseci.com) we discuss yet another option for writing automated tests for your Android applications. Namely, we look at how Kotlin, one of the latest stable and noteworthy additions to the vast world of JVM-based languages, can be utilized for test automation of Android applications.

A Few Words About Kotlin

Kotlin is an open source language developed and maintained by JetBrains, the company behind IntelliJ IDEA and possibly your favorite IDE for Android development, Android Studio.

After spending over 5 years in development (first commit dating back to 2010-11-08), the first stable version of the language was released earlier this year.

Its key characteristics include

  • Support for both OO and functional style.
  • Interoperability with Java code, meaning you can easily mix Kotlin into your existing Java codebase or vice versa.
  • Superb tooling with plugins available for IntelliJ-based IDEs, Eclipse, and text editors like Atom, Emacs, Sublime Text and Vim.
  • Strong emphasis on clarity and type safety.

Android Application Testing in General

Compared to the early days of Android ecosystem its support for testing by its tooling, libraries and frameworks has significantly improved. From plain instrumentation tests and regular JUnit tests we have come all the way to convenient tools like AssertJEspresso, Robolectric, Robotium, UI Automator, and more. All of these make our jobs easier and consequently our lives happier.

However, it is rarely the case that your tests consist solely of assertion statements. It is common to have tons of utility and glue code just to prepare a test case, especially when testing more complicated user flows. And to make matters worse, in some cases, the complexity of tests could easily exceed the complexity of the code being tested. Those are exactly the cases where the verbosity of Java can get in the way. It would be convenient to open a file and loop over its contents with one or two lines instead of couple of dozen LOCs that are required to do so in Java.

In such situations, a language like Kotlin can really help you to step up your game. The expressiveness and clean syntax, combined with nifty language idioms, make it a huge improvement over the Java’s clumsiness. But enough of the small talk, let us see how it all works out in practice with a hands-on example.

Plug Kotlin Into Your Android Project

For easier reference you can already grab the complete source code of the example application from this GitHub repository. All code snippets to come will be extracted from there.

To start using Kotlin in your existing Android project you just have to add a few configuration instructions to your project’s Gradle build file. These declare the version of Kotlin you’d like to use and identify the dependencies that need to be additionally compiled. As far my experience goes, the official documentation, which seems to be great, will point you in the right direction. In any case, my build.gradle build script ended up like this:

apply plugin: 'com.android.application'
apply plugin: 'kotlin-android'

buildscript {
    ext.kotlin_version = '1.0.+'
    repositories {
    dependencies {
        classpath "org.jetbrains.kotlin:kotlin-gradle-plugin:$kotlin_version"

android {

dependencies {
    compile "org.jetbrains.kotlin:kotlin-stdlib:$kotlin_version"
    testCompile "org.jetbrains.kotlin:kotlin-stdlib:$kotlin_version"
    testCompile "org.jetbrains.kotlin:kotlin-test-junit:$kotlin_version"

Let us tear down the extra lines. On the second line, right after the Android plugin is applied, we inject the Kotlin Gradle plugin that targets the Android build model with apply plugin: 'kotlin-android'. To make this plugin available we need to declare it as a buildscript level dependency:

dependencies {
    classpath "org.jetbrains.kotlin:kotlin-gradle-plugin:$kotlin_version"

where the preceding ext.kotlin_version = '1.0.+' just selects the newest version of Kotlin from the 1.0 series.

Finally, in the dependencies section, we need to state that Kotlin stdlib has to be compiled. And as we are going to use Kotlin specifically for testing purposes, it needs to be compiled for tests as well.

One Note About Tests and Their Location in the Source Tree

As unit and UI tests are usually stored in src/test/java and src/androidTest/java respectively, we might want to maintain sanity in our codebase and keep Kotlin tests in dedicated directories like src/test/kotlin and src/androidTest/kotlin. As these are not detected as Android test locations by default (yet?), we need to make Gradle and Android Studio aware of them. This can be done in the sourceSets section with:

android {
    sourceSets {
        test.java.srcDirs += 'src/test/kotlin'
        androidTest.java.srcDirs += 'src/androidTest/kotlin'

Our Example App

The application created for the purposes of this blog post is of course yet another stunning shopping list app. As expected, it is possible to add some items to the list and remove them from there as you wish. To add some spice into the mix and make things a little bit more testable, every item that is inserted into the list passes through a formatter that removes all excess whitespace from the input string. Critical business logic in the form of the formatter that we use to clean up the strings lives in Formatter.java and looks like this:

public class Formatter {

    public String stripMiddle(String s) {
        return s.replaceAll("\\s+", " ");

    public String stripLeft(String s) {
        return s.replaceAll("^\\s+", "");

    public String stripRight(String s) {
        return s.replaceAll("\\s+$", "");

    public String strip(String s) {
        return stripLeft(stripRight(stripMiddle(s)));

The bridge connecting user interactions with the formatter resides conveniently in MainActivityFragment.

All in all, our app stands in its full glory as depicted below:


Naturally we want to test that whenever item description EditText is filled with something and the “Add item” button is pressed, the newly added item is appended to the list. Furthermore, it is of utmost importance to ensure that all items added to the list do not contain any superfluous whitespace characters. For that, we need tests of course.

Unit tests

Let us start off with unit tests for our Formatter class shown above. As already mentioned, we’ll store our unit tests under src/test/kotlin. In that directory we have a test class FormatterTestKotlindefined in FormatterTestKotlin.kt:

package com.greenhouseci.kotlin_tests.kotlintests

import org.junit.Assert.assertEquals
import org.junit.Test

class FormatterTestKotlin {

    private val formatter: Formatter = Formatter()

    infix fun Any.equals(expected: Any) {
        assertEquals(expected, this)


    fun testStrip() {
        val reference = "my string"
        val testStrings = arrayOf(
            " $reference ",
            " $reference  ",
            " \t $reference \t ",
            " \n  $reference \n ",
            "\tmy \n string\t"
        testStrings.map { formatter.strip(it) equals reference }

A glimpse at the snippet above shows that Kotlin code inherits some familiar elements from regular Java, such as package names and import statements. Further decomposing it reveals lack of semicolons at the end of lines and some differences in variable and function declarations. But there are also some obvious similarities like code block separation with curly brackets, as well as support for annotations.

Variable and Function Declaration

In our sample code, we can see that declaring a value can be as simple as:

val reference = "my string"

where the type of the object that is assigned is inferred by the compiler. Or we can explicitly declare the type of the object by writing:

val formatter: Formatter = Formatter()

where the type information follows variable name with a colon and precedes the value to be assigned.

Kotlin also provides an easy way to distinguish read-only and mutable fields. It does so by exposing two types of keywords: val for declaring read-only fields and var for variables that ought to be mutable. In the realm of Java, val corresponds to the final modifier.

It is also worth noting that we can assign a Java object to a Kotlin variable without any ado.

Functions are defined using fun keyword followed by the function name and parameters in parentheses. Return type and argument types are specified using the colon notation just as with variable declaration. However, as Kotlin has first class support for user-defined infix functions, as seen above, we can enrich the standard library with syntactic sugar of our choosing with no effort whatsoever. For example, here we have replaced:

assertEquals(expected, actual)

checks with:

actual equals expected

statements for readability, utilizing our custom infix procedure equals.

infix fun Any.equals(expected: Any) {
    assertEquals(expected, this)

Of course, all other Kotlin gems are readily available to us, including convenient array declaration, avoidance of clumsy for loops using map and other functional elements.

Last but not least, we annotate out test functions with @Test as usual to make the compiler aware of them.

fun myTestCase() { ... }

Espresso Tests

Taking advantage of the interoperability of Java and Kotlin code, we can blend Espresso into our Kotlin test classes and reap the benefits of their synergy. With Espresso, we get a battle hardened framework that makes testing UI components a breeze. At the same time, all the gems of the Kotlin language make our glue code and other test logic clean and easy to write.

As usual, we store our Espresso and other UI tests under src/androidTest, with the minor difference that we store our Kotlin source code in the kotlin subdirectory instead of java. In order to run new tests, we need to declare Espresso as a dependency in our build script. We also need to set AndroidJUnitRunner as the default test instrumentation runner, exactly as we would with plain Espresso tests:

android {
    defaultConfig {
        testInstrumentationRunner "android.support.test.runner.AndroidJUnitRunner"

dependencies {
    androidTestCompile 'com.android.support.test.espresso:espresso-core:2.2.2'

Now to the test suite itself. Our example Espresso test class EspressoKotlinTest looks like this:

class EspressoKotlinTest {


    @Rule @JvmField
    var activityRule = ActivityTestRule<MainActivity>(MainActivity::class.java)


    fun testAddItemsToList() {
        val formatter = Formatter()
        val lv = onData(anything()).inAdapterView(withId(R.id.lv_items))

        var items = arrayOf(
            Pair("    item 1", "item 1"),
            Pair("item 2  ", "item 2"),
            Pair("  item  \n3  ", "item 3")

        items.map { pair -> addItemToList(pair.first) }
        items.mapIndexed { index, pair ->
            val expected = pair.second

You can see that the Espresso test suite doesn’t differ much from the unit tests we discussed in the previous section. Nor is it very different from any Espresso tests you may have written in Java. In fact, most of the code that does the heavy lifting is plain Java, while other parts are practically drop in replacements.

As usual with instrumentation tests, we start off by creating an instrumented JUnit 4 test class by adding:


annotation at the beginning of our test class definition. Naturally we can make use of Espresso’s built-in ActivityTestRule to handle our activity life cycle:

@Rule @JvmField
var activityRule = ActivityTestRule<MainActivity>(MainActivity::class.java)

One minor caveat is that you need to annotate this declaration with @JvmField to convert it from a Kotlin property to a JVM field that can be recognized by JUnit.

Apart from these tiny details, you can just use the familiar Espresso API for the rest of the test functions.

Running Our Kotlin Tests

Since we have already updated our sourceSets in build.gradle we don’t have to go through any additional configuration magic. You can execute both unit and instrumentation tests right from Android Studio by simply right-clicking either on your tests packages or Kotlin test files and selecting “Run ‘Tests in …’” as can be seen below:

Run Kotlin tests from Android Studio

The very same minimal configuration logic also applies should you want to execute your tests from the command line. Kotlin unit and instrumentation tests can be launched with regular Gradle commands:

gradlew test


gradle connectedAndroidTest

But What Good Are Tests If You Don’t Run Them?

Now you have your beautiful tests that were a pleasure to write. Next step? Write some code, commit, run the test suite. And repeat the process time after time.

You know you should run the tests after each commit, but doing so manually is just not feasible. To ensure the wellbeing of your app, it has to be tested after every commit, with no exceptions allowed! The best way to achieve this is to make use of CI. And with Greenhouse CI you get full support for tests written in Kotlin out of the box. Just follow our regular flow for building an Android app and we’ll automatically detect and run all your tests, including those written in Kotlin.

Knowing that, you have no excuse not to run out and try the Kotlin awesomeness for yourself!

Keep up with the latest DevTest Jargon with the latest Mobile DevTest Dictionary. Brought to you in partnership with Perfecto.

kotlin ,mobile app testing ,continious integration ,automated testing ,mobile app

Published at DZone with permission of Marie Jaksman. See the original article here.

Opinions expressed by DZone contributors are their own.


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