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TDD

Thoughts on TDD

I want to know what the buzz around Test-Driven Development is all about. The proponents make a good case for it. I’ve read about it a good bit but have never worked with anyone who practiced it. I also tend to be leery when I see people becoming religiously fanatical about anything, and some of what I read sounds, if not fanatical, at least unrealistic. Nonetheless there are a lot of sensible voices promoting TDD as a way to build better, more maintainable software. That sounds good to me.

I have tried to use TDD on several small projects to get a feel for it. I am recording my (somewhat random) thoughts on it here for future reference:

  • I want to know that TDD really helps and works and that it’s not just a smartypants thing.
  • I’m not good at it yet. I haven’t done enough TDD (but I still have thoughts on it).
  • It’s not a panacea. Get your silver bullet here.
  • It IS helpful when refactoring.
  • I think there probably were fewer bugs in the first live versions because of the tests.
  • It can be a trap if you’re not careful to keep the end result of the system in mind. Seems easy to focus too much on writing tests. I feel a tendency toward myopia when writing a lot of tests before doing any integration.
  • It doesn’t replace the need to look at the results of your code (for example, writing results to text files, or CSV files to be imported into a spreadsheet to look at, visualize with your brain).
  • You’ll never write enough tests to catch every possible failure.
  • The wrong algorithm with 100% test coverage is still the wrong algorithm.
  • It doesn’t replace manual or automated acceptance testing.
  • It will take longer up front to build a system using TDD. It may lead to a more correct system at the first release. It may save time later when the system needs to change.
  • You will throw away more code. If you find that some code isn’t needed and remove it, that code may have multiple tests associated with it that will also be removed. Maybe this isn’t bad since we’re supposed to be throwing away the prototype but often the prototype ends up turning directly into the production version. Perhaps this is a way of throwing away the prototype a little piece at a time. But seriously…
  • I don’t like the idea of significantly changing or adding complexity to the architecture of a system solely to make it more amenable to unit testing. Maybe it’s worth it.
  • It’s easier to do unit testing when using dynamic languages.
  • You’re more likely to need those tests when using dynamic languages.
  • I’m not sold on writing tests as THE way to drive development, but then, like I said, I’m not good at it yet.
  • Having unit tests is good. Regardless of whether tests are in the driver seat I plan to take advantage of automated unit testing and automated acceptance testing.
  • At this point it seems unlikely that I’ll adopt test-first style TDD as my preferred method for building software (or as a religion) but I’m still going to try to do it as a first approach. I’ll also be willing to abandon it without regrets if it becomes cumbersome for the job at hand.
  • Finally, it will be good to know how to do TDD in case someday I end up with a boss who says I have to. BTW: If that’s the reason you’re doing TDD you’re probably doing it for the wrong reason.

That’s enough for now. I also plan to look into Behavior-Driven Development (AKA smartypants TDD) and the associated tooling.