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Chapter: Software Engineering - Testing and Implementation

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Unit Testing

In computer programming, unit testing is a software testing method by which individual units of source code, sets of one or more computer program modules together with associated control data, usage procedures, and operating procedures are tested to determine if they are fit for use. Intuitively, one can view a unit as the smallest testable part of an application.

Unit Testing

 

In computer programming, unit testing is a software testing method by which individual units of source code, sets of one or more computer program modules together with associated control data, usage procedures, and operating procedures are tested to determine if they are fit for use. Intuitively, one can view a unit as the smallest testable part of an application. In procedural programming, a unit could be an entire module, but it is more commonly an individual function or procedure. In object-oriented programming, a unit is often an entire interface, such as a class, but could be an individual method. Unit tests are short code fragments created by programmers or occasionally by white box testers during the development process.

 

Ideally, each test case is independent from the others. Substitutes such as method stubs, mock objects, fakes, and test harnesses can be used to assist testing a module in isolation. Unit tests are typically written and run by software developers to ensure that code meets its design and behaves as intended.

 

UNIT TESTING LIMITATIONS

 

Testing will not catch every error in the program, since it cannot evaluate every execution path in any but the most trivial programs. The same is true for unit testing. Additionally, unit testing by definition only tests the functionality of the units themselves. Therefore, it will not catch integration errors or broader system-level errors (such as functions performed across multiple units, or non-functional test areas such as performance). Unit testing should be done in conjunction with other software testing activities, as they can only show the presence or absence of particular errors; they cannot prove a complete absence of errors. In order to guarantee correct behavior for every execution path and every possible input, and ensure the absence of errors, other techniques are required, namely the application of formal methods to proving that a software component has no unexpected behavior.

 

Software testing is a combinatorial problem. For example, every boolean decision statement requires at least two tests: one with an outcome of "true" and one with an outcome of "false". As a result, for every line of code written, programmers often need 3 to 5 lines of test code. This obviously takes time and its investment may not be worth the effort. There are also many problems that cannot easily be tested at all – for example those that are nondeterministic or involve multiple threads. In addition, code for a unit test is likely to be at least as buggy as the code it is testing. Fred Brooks in The Mythical Man-Month quotes: "Never go to sea with two chronometers; take one or three.Meaning, if two chronometers contradict, how do you know which one is correct?

 

Another challenge related to writing the unit tests is the difficulty of setting up realistic and useful tests. It is necessary to create relevant initial conditions so the part of the application being tested behaves like part of the complete system. If these initial conditions are not set correctly, the test will not be exercising the code in a realistic context, which diminishes the value and accuracy of unit test results

 

To obtain the intended benefits from unit testing, rigorous discipline is needed throughout the software development process. It is essential to keep careful records not only of the tests that have been performed, but also of all changes that have been made to the source code of this or any other unit in the software. Use of a version control system is essential. If a later version of the unit fails a particular test that it had previously passed, the version-control software can provide a list of the source code changes (if any) that have been applied to the unit since that time.

 

It is also essential to implement a sustainable process for ensuring that test case failures are reviewed daily and addressed immediately. If such a process is not implemented and ingrained into the team's workflow, the application will evolve out of sync with the unit test suite, increasing false positives and reducing the effectiveness of the test suite.

 

Unit testing embedded system software presents a unique challenge: Since the software is being developed on a different platform than the one it will eventually run on, you cannot readily run a test program in the actual deployment environment, as is possible with desktop programs.


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