This post is the 1st in what may become a series of posts detailing the development of a test support tool for testing ‘Translators’. I’m planning on blogging the development of this tool for a few reasons. One reason is to try and gauge if there is any interest in the tool (may impact whether I bother to continue development and maybe even extending it to a releasable open source product). Another reason is so that if anyone out there thinks there is a tool out there that already does this they can tell me and save me a whole load of effort ;)
Some useful information before I state the problem…
It may be worth me starting by explaining what I mean by a ‘Translator’; When you have a layered architecture in a software product/suite you often have de-coupled representations of concepts for each layer rather than having a common set of representations for all the layers. This means that whenever you cross a layer boundary you need to convert from one representaion of the data/concepts to another, the class that does this conversion I would call a Translator.
Modern software development seems to be more and more layered, and with some concepts like Domain Driven Design (DDD) and The Onion Architecture advocating decoupling different parts (or layers) of an application from each other, it seems to be more and more prevalent.
The problem I’ve found with Translator classes is that they can be pretty difficult to unit test reliably, flexibly and effectively.
- Unit tests often seem to over-specify the behaviour and are pretty much just directly duplicating the translator code.
- Writing unit tests for translators can be long and laborious with seemingly little benefit, it’s almost mindless coding. However a lot of bugs seem to be due to translators, so they obviously do need to be tested.
- When a new property/field is added to one of the types being translated from/to the test will often continue to pass, and there will be no indication that the translator is not attempting to translate the field.
- An untranslated property often doesn’t cause an immediate problem (compilation failure, unit test failure, immediate run-time failure). Rather the missing data will show up some time later as a hard to diagnose bug.
- When a bug is identified it can often be traced back to a translator not mapping a field, when you have several layers each with each layer boundary having a translator there can be a lot of places to look!
- Over time translator tests go out of date, and not even due to any changes of the class being tested changing (the translator), rather that one of the types being translated has changed.