Stories about Software


Help Yourself To My Handy Extension Methods

There’s nothing like 3 years (or almost 3 years) of elapsed time to change your view on something, such as my take on C# extension methods. At the time I was writing this post, I was surrounded by wanton abuse of the construct, compliments of an Expert Beginner, so my tone there was essentially reminiscent of someone who had just lost a fingertip in a home improvement accident writing a post called “why I don’t like skill saws.” But I’ve since realized that cutting lots of lumber by hand isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Judicious use of extension methods has definitely aided in the readability of my code.

I’m going to post some examples of ones that I’ve found myself using a lot. I do this almost exclusively in test assemblies, I think because, while code readability is important everywhere, in your unit tests you should literally be explaining to people how your API works using code as prose (my take anyway). So, here are some things I do to further that goal.


One of the things that annoyed me for a long time in C# was the thought that initializing lists was clunkier than I want. This isn’t a criticism of the language, per se, as I don’t really know how to make list initialization in the language much more concise. But I wanted it to be on a single line and without all of the scoping noise of curly brackets. I’m picky. I don’t like this line of code:

I’m arranging this retrieval service (using Telerik’s JustMock) so that its GetAll() method returns a list of Foos with just one Foo. The two different instances of Foo are redundant and I don’t like those curly braces. Like I said, picky. Another issue is that a lot of these methods that I’m testing deal in enumerables rather than more defined collection types. And so I wrote this:

And writing this method and its overload change the code I don’t like to this:

One occurrence of Foo, zero curly brackets. Way more readable, for my money and, while YMMV, I don’t know if it’s going to vary that much. Is it worth it? Absolutely, in my book. I’ve eliminated duplication and made the test more readable.


Do you know what I hate in C#? Safe parsing of various value types from strings. It’s often the case that I want something like “pull an int out of here, but if anything goes wrong, just set it to zero.” And then you know the drill. The declaration of an int. The weird out parameter pattern to Int.TryParse(). The returning of said int. It’s an ugly three lines of code. So I made this:

Now, if I want to take a whack at a parse, but don’t really care if it fails, I have client code that looks like this:

What if that indexed value is empty? Zero. What if it has a bunch of non-numeric characters? Zero. What if it is null? Zero. No worries. If there’s actually an int in that string (or whatever it is), then you get the int. Otherwise, 0 (or, technically, default(int)).

I actually created this for a bunch of other primitive types as well, but just showed one here for example’s sake.


This is an MVC-specific one for when I’m trying to unit test. I really don’t like that every time I want to unit test a controller method that returns ViewResult I have to get the model as an object and then cast it to whatever I actually want. This syntax is horribly ugly to me:

Now, that may not look like much, but when you start chaining it together and have to add a second set of parentheses like ((Customer)view.Model).SomeCustomerProperty, things get ugly fast. So I did this instead — falling on the ugliness grenade.

It still fails fast with an invalid cast exception, but you don’t need to look at it, and it explains a lot more clearly what you’re doing:

Mocking Function Expression Arguments

This is a little more black belt, but if you’re an architect or senior developer and looking to make unit testing easier on less experienced team members, this may well help you. I have a setup with Entity Framework hidden behind a repository layer, and mocking the repositories gets a little… brutal… for people who haven’t been dealing with lambdas for a long time:

“Don’t worry, that just means you can pass it any Expression of Func of Customer to bool!” Now, you’re thinking that, and I’m thinking that, but a lot of people would be thinking, “Take your unit testing and shove it — I don’t know what that is and I’m never going to know.” Wouldn’t it be easier to do this:

Intent is still clear — just without all of the noise. Well, you can with this extension method:

Now, I’ll grant you that this is pretty specific. It’s specific to JustMock and to my implementation of repository methods, but the idea remains. If you’re dealing with Expressions like this, don’t make people trying to write tests type out those nasty argument matcher expressions over and over again. They’re extremely syntactically noisy and add nothing for clarity of purpose.

Edit: Thanks, Daniel and Timothy for the feedback about Chrome. I’ve had intermittent issues with the syntax highlighter plugin over the last few months in Chrome, and the problem stops whenever I change a setting in the syntax highlighter, making me think it’s fixed, but then it comes back. Good news is, seeing it impact others lit a fire under me to go find a replacement, which I did: Crayon Syntax Highlighter. I already like it better, so this is a “make lemonade out of lemons situation.” Thanks again for the feedback and please let me know if you have issues with this new plugin.


Introduction to Unit Testing Part 6: Test Doubles

In the last two posts in this series, I talked about how to test new code in your code base and then how to bring your legacy code under test. Toward the end of the last chapter in this series, I talked a bit about the concept of test doubles. The example I showed was one in which I used polymorphism to create a “dummy” class that I used in a test to circumvent otherwise untestable code. Here, I’ll dive into a lot more detail on the subject, starting out with a much simpler example than that and building to a more sophisticated way to handle the management of your test doubles.

First, a Bit of Theory

Before we get into test doubles, however, let’s stop and talk about what we’re actually doing, including theory about unit tests. So far, I’ve showed a lot of examples of unit tests and talked about what they look like and how they work (for instance, here in post two where I talk about Arrange, Act Assert). But what I haven’t addressed, specifically, is how the test code should interact with the production code. So let’s talk about that a bit now.

By far the most common case when unit testing is that you instantiate a class under test in the “arrange” part of your unit test, and then you do whatever additional setup is necessary before calling some method on that class. Then you assert something that should have happened as a result of that method call. Let’s return to the example of prime finder from earlier and look at a simple test:

This should be reviewed from the perspective of “arrange, act, assert,” but let’s look specifically at the “act” line. Here is the real crux of the test; we’re writing tests about the IsPrime method and this is where the action happens. In this line of code, we give the method an input and record its output, so it’s the perfect microcosm for what I’m going to discuss about a class under test: its interactions with other objects. You see, unit testing isn’t about executing your code — you can do that with integration tests, console apps, or even just by running the application. Unit testing, at its core, is about isolating your classes and running experiments on them, as if you were a scientist in a lab. And this means controlling all of the inputs to your class — stimulus, if you will — so that you can observe what it puts out.

Controlling the inputs in the PrimeFinder class is simple. Because I’m telling you that there are no invocations of global/static state (which will become an important theme as we proceed). You can see by looking at the unit test that the only input to the class under test (CUT) is the integer 1. This means that the only input/stimulus that we supply to the class is a simple integer, making it quite easy to make assertions about its behavior. Generally speaking, the simpler the inputs to a class, the easier that class is to test.

There are Inputs and There are Inputs

Omitting certain edge cases I can think of (and probably some that I’m not thinking of), let’s consider a handful of relatively straightforward ways that a class might get ahold of input information. There is what I did above — passing it into a method. Another common way to give information to a class is to use constructor parameters or setter methods/properties. I’ll refer to these as “passive collaboration” from the perspective of the CUT, since it’s simply being given the things that it needs. There is also what I’ll call “semi-passive collaboration,” which is when you pass a dependency to the CUT and the CUT interacts in great detail with that dependency, mutating its state and querying it. An example of this would be “Car theCar = new Car(new Engine())”, in which performing operations on Car related to starting and driving result in rather elaborate modifications to the state of Engine. It’s still passive in the sense that you’re handing the Engine class to the car, but it’s not as passive as simply handing it an integer. In general, passive input is input that the scope instantiating the CUT controls — constructor parameters, method parameters, setters, and even things returned from methods of objects passed to the CUT (such as the Car class calling _engine.GetTemperature() in the example in this paragraph).

In contrast, there is also “active collaboration,” which is when the CUT takes responsibility for getting its own inpu. This is input that you cannot control when instantiating the class. An example of this is a call to some singleton or public static method in the CUT. The only way that you can reassume control is by not calling the method in which it occurs. If static/singleton calls occur in the constructor, you simply cannot test or even instantiate this class without it doing whatever the static code entails. If it retrieves values from static state, you have no control over those values (short of mocking up the application’s global state).

A second form of active collaboration is the “new” operator. This is very similar to static state in that when you create the CUT, you have no control over this kind of input to the CUT. Imagine if Car new-ed up its own Engine and queried it for temperature. There would be absolutely no way that you could have any effect on this operation in the Car class short of not instantiating it. Like static calls, object instantiation renders your CUTs a non-negotiable, “take it or leave it” proposition. You can have them with all of their instantiated objects and global state or you can write your own, buddy.

Not all inputs to a class are created equal. There are a CUT’s passive inputs, in which the CUT cedes control to you. And then there are the CUT’s active inputs that it controls and on which it does not allow you to interpose in any way. As it turns out, it is substantially easier to test CUTs with exclusively passive collaboration/input and difficult or even impossible to test CUTs with active collaboration. This is simply because you cannot isolate actively collaborating CUTs.

Literals: Too Simple to Need Test Doubles

There’s still a little bit of work to do before we discuss test doubles in earnest. First, we have to talk about inputs that are too simple to require stand-ins: literals. The PrimeFinder test above is the perfect example of this. It’s performing a mathematical operation using an integer input, so what we’re interested in testing is known input-output pairs in a functional sense. As such, we just need to know what to pass in, to pass that value in, and then to assert that we get the expected return value.

In a strict sense, we could refer to this as a form of test double. After all, we’re doing a non-production exercise with the API, so the value we’re passing in is fake, in a sense. But that’s a little formal for my taste. It’s easier just to think in terms of literals almost always being too simple to require any sort of substitution of behavior.

An interesting exception to this the null literal (of null type) or the default value of a non-nullable type. In many cases, you may actually want to be testing this as an input since null and 0 tend to be particularly interesting inputs and the source of corner cases. However, in some cases, you may be supplying what is considered the simplest form of test double: the dummy value. A dummy value is something you pass into a function to say, “I don’t care what this is and I’m just passing in something to make the compiler happy.” An example of where you might do this is passing null to a constructor of an object instance when you just want to make assertions as to what some of its property values initialize to.

Simple/Value Objects and Passing in Friendlies

Next up for consideration is the concept of a “test stub,” or what I’ll refer to in the general sense as a “friendly.”


Take a look at this code:

Here is an incredibly simple implementation of the Car-Engine pair I described earlier. Car is passed an Engine and it queries that Engine for a local value that it exposes. Let’s say that I now want to test that behavior. I want to test that Car’s EngineTemperature property is equal to the Engine’s temperature in fahrenheit. What do you think is a good test to write? Something like this, maybe —

Here, we’re setting up the Engine instance in such a way as that we control what it provides to Car when Car uses it. We know by inspecting the code for Car that Car is going to ask Engine for its TemperatureInFahrenheit value, so we set that value to a known commodity, allowing us to compare in the Assert. To put it another way, we’re supplying input indirectly to Car by setting up Engine and telling Engine what to give to Car. It’s important to note that this is only possible because Car accepts Engine as an argument. If Car instantiated Engine in its constructor, it would not be possible to isolate Car because any test of Car’s initial value would necessarily also be a test of Engine, making the test an integration test rather than a unit test.

Creating Bonafide Mocks

That’s all well and good, but what if the Engine class were more complicated or just written differently? What if the way to get the temperature was to call a method and that method went and talked to a file or a database or something? Think of how badly the testing for this is going to go:

Now, when we instantiate a Car and query its engine temperature property, suddenly file contents are being read into memory and, as I’ve already covered in this series, File I/O is a definite no-no in a unit test. So I suppose we’re hosed. As soon as Car tries to read Engine’s temperature, we’re going to explode — or we’re going to succeed, which is even worse because now you’ll have a unit test suite that depends on the machine it’s running on having the file C:\whatever.txt on it and containing an integer as its first line.

But what if we got creative the way we did at the end of the last episode of this series? Let’s make the TemperatureInFahrenheit property virtual and then declare the following class:

This class is test-friendly because it doesn’t contain any file I/O at all and it inherits from Engine, overriding the offending methods. Now we can write the following unit test:

If this seems a little weird to you, remember that our goal here is to test the Car class and not the engine class. All that the Car class knows about Engine is that it wants its TemperatureInFahrenheit property. It doesn’t (and shouldn’t) care how or where this comes from internally to Engine — file I/O, constructor parameter, secret ink, whatever. And when testing the Car class, you certainly don’t care. Another way to think of this is that you’re saying, “assuming that Engine tells Car that the engine temperature is 200, we want to assert that Car’s EngineTemperature property is 200.” In this fashion, we have isolated the Car class and are testing only its functionality.

This kind of test double and testing technique is known as a Fake. We’re creating a fake engine to stand-in for the real one. It’s not simple enough to be a dummy or a stub, since it’s a real, bona-fide different class instead of a doctored version of an existing one. I realize that the terminology for the different kinds of test doubles can be a little confusing, so here’s a helpful taxonomy of them.

Mocking Frameworks

The last step in the world of test doubles is to get to actual mock objects. If you stop and ponder the fake approach from the last section a bit, a problem might occur to you. The problem has to do with long-term maintenance of code. I remember, many moons ago when I discovered the power of polymorphism for creating fake objects, that I thought it was the greatest thing under the sun. Obviously there was at least one fake per test class with dependency, and sometimes there were multiple dependencies. And I didn’t always stop there — I might define three or four different variants of the fake, each having a method that behaved differently for the test in question. In one fake, TemperatureInFarenheit would return a passed in value, but in another, it would throw an exception. Oh, there were so many fakes — I was swimming in fakes for classes and fakes for interfaces.

And they were awesome… until I added a method to the interface they implemented or changed behavior in the class they inherited. And then, oh, the pain. I would have to go and change dozens of classes. And then there was also the fact that all of this faking took up a whole lot of space. My test classes were littered with nested classes of fakes. It was fun at first, but the maintenance became a drudgery. But don’t worry, because my gift to you is to spare you that pain.

What if I told you that you could implement interfaces and inherit from classes anonymously, without actually creating source code that did this? I’d be oversimplifying a bit, but once you got past that, you’d probably be pretty excited. I say this because, as you start to grasp the concept of mocking frameworks, this kind of “dynamic interface implementation/inheritance” is the easiest way to reason about what it’s doing, from a practical perspective, without getting bogged down in more complicated concepts like reflection and direct work with byte-code and other bits of black magic.

As an example of this in action, take a look at how I go about testing the Car and Engine with the difficult dependency. The first thing that I do is delete the Fake class because there’s no need for it. The next thing I do is write a unit test, using a framework called JustMock by Telerik (this is currently my preferred mocking framework for C#).

Notice that instead of instantiating an engine, I now invoke a static method on a class called Mock that takes care of creating my dynamic inheritor for me. Mock.Create() is what creates the equivalent of FakeEngine. On the next line, I invoke an (extension) method called Arrange that creates an implementation of the property for me as well. What I’m saying, in plain English, is “take this mock engine and arrange it such that the TemperatureInFahrenheit property returns 200.” I’ve done all of this in one line of code instead of adding an entire nested class. And, best of all, I don’t need to change this mock if I decide to change some behavior in the base class or add a new method.

Truly, once you get used to the concept of mocking, you’ll never go back. It will become your best friend for the purposes of mocking out dependencies of any real complexity. But temper your enthusiasm just a bit. It isn’t a good idea to use mocking frameworks for simple dependencies like the PrimeFinder example. The lite version of JustMock that I’ve used and many others won’t even allow it, and even if they did, that’s way too much ceremony — just pass in real objects and literals, if you can reasonably.

The idea of injecting dependencies into classes (what I’ve called “passive” and “semi-passive” collaboration) is critical to mocking and unit testing. All basic mocking frameworks operate on the premise that you’re using this style of collaboration and that your classes are candidates for polymorphism (either interfaces or overridable classes). You can’t mock things like primitives and you can’t mock sealed/final classes.

There are products out there called isolation frameworks that will grant you the ability to mock pretty much everything — primitives, sealed/final classes, statics/singletons, and even the new operator. These are powerful (and often long-running, resource-intensive) tools that have their place, but that place is, in my opinion, at the edges of your code base. You can use this to mock File.Open() or new SqlConnection() or some GUI component to get the code at the edge of your application under test.

But using it to test your own application logic is a path that’s fraught with danger. It’s sort of like fixing a broken leg with morphine. Passively collaborating CUTs have seams in them that allow easy configuration of behavior changes and a clear delineation of responsibilities. Actively collaborating CUTs lack these things and are thus much more brittle and difficult to separate and modify. The fact that you can come up with a scheme allowing you to test the latter doesn’t eliminate these problems — it just potentially masks them. I will say that isolating your coupled, actively collaborating code and testing it is better than not testing it, but neither one is nearly as good as factoring toward passive collaboration.


Just Starting with JustMock

A New Mocking Tool

In life, I feel that it’s easiest to understand something if you know multiple ways of accomplishing/using/doing/etc it. Today I decided to apply that reasoning to automatic mocking tools for .NET. I’m already quite familiar with Moq and have posted about it a number of times in the past. When I program in Java, I use Mockito, so while I do have experience with multiple mocking tools, I only have experience with one in the .NET world. To remedy this state of affairs and gain some perspective, I’ve started playing around with JustMock by Telerik.

There are two versions of JustMock: “Lite” and “Elevated.” JustMock Lite is equivalent to Moq in its functionality: able to mock things for which their are natural mocking seems, such as interfaces, and inheritable classes. The “Elevated” version provides the behavior for which I had historically used Moles — it is an isolation framework. I’ve been meaning to take this latter for a test drive at some point since the R&D tool Moles has given way to Microsoft “Fakes” as of VS 2012. Fakes ships with Microsoft libraries (yay!) but is only available with VS ultimate (boo!).

My First Mock

Installing JustMock is a snap. Search for it in Nuget, install it to your test project, and you’re done. Once you have it in place, the API is nicely discoverable. For my first mocking task (doing TDD on a WPF front-end for my Autotask Query Explorer), I wanted to verify that a view model was invoking a service method for logging in. The first thing I do is create a mock instance of the service with Mock.Create<T>(). Intuitive enough. Next, I want to tell the mock that I’m expecting a Login(string, string) method to be called on it. This is accomplished using Mock.Arrange().MustBeCalled(). Finally, I perform the actual act on my class under test and then make an assertion on the mock, using Mock.Assert().

A couple of things jump out here, particularly if you’re coming from a background using Moq, as I am. First, the semantics of the JustMock methods more tightly follow the “Arrange, Act, Assert” convention as evidenced by the necessity of invoking Arrange() and Assert() methods from the JustMock assembly. The second thing that jumps out is the relative simplicity of assertion versus arrangement. In my experience with other mocking frameworks, there is a tendency to do comparably minimal setup and have a comparably involved assertion. Conceptually, the narrative would be something like “make the mock service not bomb out when Login() is called and later we’ll assert on the mock that some method called login was called with username x and password y and it was called one time.” With this framework, we’re doing all that description up front and then in the Assert() we’re just saying “make sure the things we stipulated before actually happened.”

One thing that impressed me a lot was that I was able to write my first JustMock test without reading a tutorial. As regular readers know I consider this to be a strong indicator of well-crafted software. One thing I wasn’t as thrilled about was how many overloads there were for each method that I did find. Regular readers also know I’m not a huge fan of that. But at least they aren’t creational overloads and I suppose you have to pay the piper somewhere and I’ll have either lots of methods/classes in Intellisense or else I’ll have lots of overloads. This bit with the overloads was not a problem in my eyes, however, as I haven’t explored or been annoyed by them at all — I just saw “+10 overloads” in Intellisense and thought “whoah, yikes!”

Another cool thing that I noticed right off the bat was how helpful and descriptive the feedback was when the conditions set forth in Arrange() didn’t occur:


It may seem like a no-brainer, but getting an exception that’s helpful both in its type and message is refreshing. That’s the kind of exception I look at and immediately exclaim “oh, I see what the problem is!”


If you read my code critically with a clean code eye in the previous section, you should have a bone to pick with me. In my defense, this snippet was taken post red-green and pre-refactor. Can you guess what it is? How about the redundant string literals in the test — “asdf” and “fdsa” are repeated twice as the username and password, respectively. That’s icky. But before I pull local variables to use there, I want to stop and consider something. For the purpose of this test, given its title, I don’t actually care what parameters the Login() method receives — I only care that it’s called. As such, I need a way to tell the mocking framework that I expect this method to be called with some parameters — any parameters. In the world of mocking, this notion of a placeholder is often referred to as a “Matcher” (I believe this is the Mockito term as well).

In JustMock, this is again refreshingly easy. I want to be able to specify exact matches if I so choose, but also to be able to say “match any string” or “match strings that are not null or empty” or “match strings with this custom pattern.” Take a look at the semantics to make this happen:

For illustration purposes I’ve inserted line breaks in a way that isn’t normally my style. Look at the Arg.IsAny and Arg.Matches line. What this arrangement says is “The mock’s login method must be called with any string for the username parameter and any string that isn’t null or empty for the password parameter.” Hats off to you, JustMock — that’s pretty darn readable, discoverable and intuitive as a reader of this code.

Loose or Strict?

In mocking there is a notion of “loose” versus “strict” mocking. The former is a scenario where some sort of default behavior is supplied by the mocking framework for any methods or properties that may be invoked. So in our example, it would be perfectly valid to call the service’s Login() method whether or not the mock had been setup in any way regarding this method. With strict mocking, the same cannot be said — invoking a method that had not been setup/arranged would result in a runtime exception. JustMock defaults to loose mocking, which is my preference.

Static Methods with Mock as Parameter

Another thing I really like about JustMock is that you arrange and query mock objects by passing them to static methods, rather than invoking instance methods on them. As someone who tends to be extremely leery of static methods, it feels strange to say this, but the thing that I like about it is how it removes the need to context switch as to whether you’re dealing with the mock object itself or the “stub wrapper”. In Moq, for instance, mocking occurs by wrapping the actual object that is the mocking target inside of another class instance, with that outer class handling the setup concerns and information recording for verification. While this makes conceptual sense, it turns out to be rather cumbersome to switch contexts for setting up/verifying and actual usage. Do you keep an instance of the mock around locally or the wrapper stub? JustMock addresses this by having you keep an instance only of the mock object and then letting you invoke different static methods for different contexts.


I’m definitely intrigued enough to keep using this. The tool seems powerful and usage is quite straightforward, intuitive and discoverable. Look for more posts about JustMock in the future, including perhaps some comparisons and a full fledged endorsement, if applicable (i.e. I continue to enjoy it), when I’ve used it for more than a few hours.

Acknowledgements | Contact | About | Social Media