Wednesday, January 23, 2013


I had a problem. While using and teaching agile practices like test-driven development (TDD) on projects in different environments, I kept coming across the same confusion and misunderstandings. Programmers wanted to know where to start, what to test and what not to test, how much to test in one go, what to call their tests, and how to understand why a test fails.

The deeper I got into TDD, the more I felt that my own journey had been less of a wax-on, wax-off process of gradual mastery than a series of blind alleys. I remember thinking “If only someone had told me that!” far more often than I thought “Wow, a door has opened.” I decided it must be possible to present TDD in a way that gets straight to the good stuff and avoids all the pitfalls.

My response is behaviour-driven development (BDD). It has evolved out of established agile practices and is designed to make them more accessible and effective for teams new to agile software delivery. Over time, BDD has grown to encompass the wider picture of agile analysis and automated acceptance testing.

Test method names should be sentences

My first “Aha!” moment occurred as I was being shown a deceptively simple utility called agiledox, written by my colleague, Chris Stevenson. It takes a JUnit test class and prints out the method names as plain sentences, so a test case that looks like this:

public class CustomerLookupTest extends TestCase {
    testFindsCustomerById() {
    testFailsForDuplicateCustomers() {
renders something like this:

- finds customer by id
- fails for duplicate customers
- ...
The word “test” is stripped from both the class name and the method names, and the camel-case method name is converted into regular text. That’s all it does, but its effect is amazing.

Developers discovered it could do at least some of their documentation for them, so they started to write test methods that were real sentences. What’s more, they found that when they wrote the method name in the language of the business domain,the generated documents made sense to business users, analysts, and testers.

A simple sentence template keeps test methods focused

Then I came across the convention of starting test method names with the word “should.” This sentence template – The class should do something – means you can only define a test for the current class. This keeps you focused. If you find yourself writing a test whose name doesn’t fit this template, it suggests the behaviour may belong elsewhere.

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