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On white-box tests

From: Ludovic Courtès
Subject: On white-box tests
Date: Wed, 19 Aug 2009 10:38:07 +0200
User-agent: Gnus/5.13 (Gnus v5.13) Emacs/23.1 (gnu/linux)


Just a note that I've been meaning to send for some time.

"Michael Gran" <address@hidden> writes:



> --- a/test-suite/tests/strings.test
> +++ b/test-suite/tests/strings.test


> +;;
> +;; string internals
> +;;
> +
> +;; Some abbreviations
> +;; BMP - Basic Multilingual Plane (codepoints below U+FFFF)
> +;; SMP - Suplementary Multilingual Plane (codebpoints from U+10000 to 
> U+1FFFF)
> +
> +(with-test-prefix "string internals"
> +
> +  (pass-if "new string starts at 1st char in stringbuf"
> +    (let ((s "abc"))
> +      (= 0 (assq-ref (%string-dump s) 'start))))
> +
> +  (pass-if "length of new string same as stringbuf"
> +    (let ((s "def"))
> +      (= (string-length s) (assq-ref (%string-dump s) 'stringbuf-length))))
> +
> +  (pass-if "contents of new string same as stringbuf"
> +    (let ((s "ghi"))
> +      (string=? s (assq-ref (%string-dump s) 'stringbuf-chars))))
> +
> +  (pass-if "writable strings are not read-only"
> +    (let ((s "zyx"))
> +      (not (assq-ref (%string-dump s) 'read-only))))
> +
> +  (pass-if "read-only strings are read-only"
> +    (let ((s (substring/read-only "zyx" 0)))
> +      (assq-ref (%string-dump s) 'read-only)))
> +
> +  (pass-if "null strings are inlined"
> +    (let ((s ""))
> +      (assq-ref (%string-dump s) 'stringbuf-inline)))

First of all, thanks for taking the time to write unit tests!

I'm not fully convinced by some of these "string internals" tests,
though.  These are "white box tests".  I believe these tests are mostly
useful when written by someone different than the one who implemented
the code under test, both of whom following a given specification.  When
someone writes both the code and the white box tests, I'm afraid they
end up writing the same code twice, just differently.  For example:

  scm_i_substring_read_only (SCM str, size_t start, size_t end)

    return scm_double_cell (RO_STRING_TAG,  /* <--- read-only */
                            (scm_t_bits)str_start + start,
                            (scm_t_bits) end - start);


  (pass-if "read-only strings are read-only"
    (let ((s (substring/read-only "zyx" 0)))
      (assq-ref (%string-dump s) 'read-only)))

Thus, I think such tests don't provide much information.

Conversely, for this example, a black-box test of the public API would
have helped catch regressions and non-conformance issues:

  (pass-if-exception exception:read-only-string
    (string-set! (substring/read-only "zyx" 0) 1 #\x))

Another issue is that these tests expose a lot of the implementation
details, e.g.:

  (pass-if "short Latin-1 encoded strings are inlined"
    (let ((s "m"))
      (assq-ref (%string-dump s) 'stringbuf-inline)))

The inline/outline distinction is an implementation detail.  If we
change it (that's something we could get rid of in the BDW-GC branch,
for instance) then the tests will have to be rewritten or removed.

Conversely, black box tests can give confidence that a change in
implementation details did have any user-visible impact.

There *are* situations where the gap between the public API and the
internals is too important, and white box tests can come in handy here
(that's why `%string-dump' et al. are nice tools).  However, often, I
think it's better to have good coverage of the public API than a wealth
of "obvious" white-box tests.

What do you think?


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