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Sunday, December 5, 2010

The Mocking Debate Continues

Nick Gauthier recently blogged about "Everything that is wrong with mocking, bdd, and rspec". Nicks' a smart guy, you just need to check out his presentations to understand that. In his post he attempts to demonstrate the brittleness of mocking. While his arguments appear sound at first glance, Pat Maddox presents a well articulated argument. Reading his points on collaborators and protocols gave me a clearer understanding of BDD. I repeat here, but encourage you to check out the comments check out the comments. It's a great debate.

The mock-based example specifies the interaction with the collaborator. It demonstrates that you can pass in any object that responds to #puts(str) and expect it to work.

Your refactoring is valid -- when the output object responds to #puts, #write, #print, and #<<, and implements them all in basically the same way.

You are free to change the internals of a method however you want, but remember that certain changes will have broader-reaching effects than others. Changing how you build up the string to, say, an array of strings that then get joined, should certainly be encapsulated. Changing how you call collaborators is a totally different thing -- you're changing the contract, potentially in a way that's incompatible with existing clients.

Focused examples (or unit tests, or microtests, or whatever) help answer the question, "what do I need to know to use this code?" When there is a collaborator involved, one of the key things to know is the protocol that the collaborator must adhere to. An interaction-based example makes that protocol explicit. Moreover, it establishes a checkpoint. Should you decide to call #write instead of #puts, you have to consider the possible implications to existing code.

I understand where you're coming from. When you run the program, there is no externally visible difference in behavior. That is why we tend to separate the duties of checking program behavior into acceptance tests. Your unit tests then become a place for you to check an object's correctness, which includes its own logic and its interactions with other objects. Don't assume that because the external behavior of the program stays the same, that the behavior internal to objects has stayed the same as well.

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