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JUnit, Assertions, and Management

JUnit, Assertions, and Management

I've recently been having a discussion about the quality of JUnit tests and how manager types might be able to judge the quality of the tests.

In my mind this is not so easy to resolve. I know managers (especially on very big projects) need a way to judge the quality of what is being delivered, but often they take their statistics far too seriously.

As an example, take code coverage calculated by Clover or the like. As a developer I find code coverage results to be a fantastic tool to determine if my developer tests are covering all the code under test that they should. And to a certain extent the code coverage numbers are good to give to management, so they can see the progress of the tests. If the tests are good then - as this number goes up - you should be able to assume better quality in the code base. All too often though I see tests that have 100 lines of code and a single println at the end, not a single assert. Tests like this will generate a lot of coverage but don't really tell you anything about the quality of your code.

In my experience developer tests are too often on the poorer end of quality. So, how do we measure what good is? There are the simple statements link "Each test should be tightly focused and have one assertion." The problem is that this statement is too broad to measure the quality of your tests. This statement could possibly be refined with a statement like this "The ratio of non-comment lines of code to assertions should be low." In other words you should have a few lines of code in a test and an assertion to make sure that what was expected actually happens.

What are your thoughts on measuring test quality? Should management even be concerned with this measurement?

More Stories By Bill Dudney

Bill Dudney is Editor-in-Chief of Eclipse Developer's Journal and serves too as JDJ's Eclipse editor. He is a Practice Leader with Virtuas Solutions and has been doing Java development since late 1996 after he downloaded his first copy of the JDK. Prior to Virtuas, Bill worked for InLine Software on the UML bridge that tied UML Models in Rational Rose and later XMI to the InLine suite of tools. Prior to getting hooked on Java he built software on NeXTStep (precursor to Apple's OSX). He has roughly 15 years of distributed software development experience starting at NASA building software to manage the mass properties of the Space Shuttle.

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