Testing on the Toilet: Don’t Mock Types You Don’t Own

This article was adapted from a Google Testing on the Toilet (TotT) episode. You can download a printer-friendly version of this TotT episode and post it in your office.

By Stefan Kennedy and Andrew Trenk

The code below mocks a third-party library. What problems can arise when doing this?

// Mock a salary payment library
@Mock SalaryProcessor mockSalaryProcessor;
@Mock TransactionStrategy mockTransactionStrategy;
MyPaymentService myPaymentService = new MyPaymentService(mockSalaryProcessor);

Mocking types you don’t own can make maintenance more difficult:
  • It can make it harder to upgrade the library to a new version: The expectations of an API hardcoded in a mock can be wrong or get out of date. This may require time-consuming work to manually update your tests when upgrading the library version. In the above example, an update that changes addStrategy() to return a new type derived from TransactionStrategy (e.g. SalaryStrategy) requires the mock to be updated to return this type, even though the code under test doesn’t need to be changed since it can still reference TransactionStrategy.
  • It can make it harder to know whether a library update introduced a bug in your code: The assumptions built into mocks may get out of date as changes are made to the library, resulting in tests that pass even when the code under test has a bug. In the above example, if a library update changes paySalary() to instead return TransactionStrategy.SCHEDULED, a bug could potentially be introduced due to the code under test not handling this return value properly. However, the maintainer wouldn’t know because the mock would not return this value so the test would continue to pass.
Instead of using a mock, use the real implementation, or if that’s not feasible, use a fake implementation that is ideally provided by the library owner. This reduces the maintenance burden since the issues with mocks listed above don’t occur when using a real or fake implementation. For example:
FakeSalaryProcessor fakeProcessor = new FakeSalaryProcessor(); // Designed for tests
MyPaymentService myPaymentService = new MyPaymentService(fakeProcessor);

If you can’t use the real implementation and a fake implementation doesn’t exist (and library owners aren’t able to create one), create a wrapper class that calls the type, and mock this instead. This reduces the maintenance burden by avoiding mocks that rely on the signatures of the library API. For example:

@Mock MySalaryProcessor mockMySalaryProcessor; // Wraps the SalaryProcessor library
// Mock the wrapper class rather than the library itself

MyPaymentService myPaymentService = new MyPaymentService(mockMySalaryProcessor);

To avoid the problems listed above, prefer to test the wrapper class with calls to the real implementation. The downsides of testing with the real implementation (e.g. tests taking longer to run) are limited only to the tests for this wrapper class rather than tests throughout your codebase.

“Don’t mock types you don’t own” is also described by Steve Freeman and Nat Pryce in their book, Growing Object Oriented Software, Guided by TestsFor more details about the downsides of overusing mocks (even for types you do own), see this Google Testing Blog post.