I’ve got integration and system tests, why do I need unit tests?

Kent Beck told me years ago, if the code does not need to work, then there is no need to test it. He continued and observed, why bother writing it if it does not need to work. Since hearing that and discovering how frequently I make coding mistakes, I want thorough tests.

Maybe you are asking yourself “I’ve got integration and system tests, why do I need unit tests?”. The answer is simple, simple math.
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Seeking the Light – A question from a recent TDD training attendee

Here is a good question, and my reply, from a recent attendee of my Test-Driven Development for Embedded C training.

Hi James,

As I work more with TDD, one of the concepts I am still struggling to grasp is how to test “leaf” components that touch real hardware. For example, I am trying to write a UART driver. How do I test that using TDD? It seems like to develop/write the tests, I will need to write a fake UART driver that doesn’t touch any hardware. Let’s say I do that. Now I have a really nice TDD test suite for UART drivers. However, I still need to write a real UART driver…and I can’t even run the TDD tests I created for it on the hardware. What value am I getting from taking the TDD approach here?

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Accessing static Data and Functions in Legacy C — Part 2

Maybe you read Part 1 of this article. If you did you’ll know it concerns adding tests to legacy code (legacy code is code without tests). You will also know that the code has file scope functions and data that we want to test directly.

My opinion on accessing private parts of well designed code, is that you do not need to. You can test well design code through its public interface. Take it as a sign that the design is deteriorating when you cannot find a way to fully test a module through its public interface.

Part 1 showed how to #include the code under test in the test file to gain access to the private parts, a pragmatic thing to do when wrestling untested code into a test harness. This article shows another technique that may have an advantage for you over the technique shown in Part 1. Including the code under test in a test case can only be done once in a test build. What if you need access to the hidden parts in two test cases? You can’t. That causes multiple definition errors at link time.

This article shows how to create a test access adapter to overcome that problem.
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Accessing static Data and Functions in Legacy C — Part 1

And a Happy Leap Year Bug

It’s a new year; last year was a leap year; so the quadrennial reports of leap year bugs are coming in. Apologies are in the press from Apple, TomTom, and Microsoft. Trains we stopped from running in China. Somehow calling them glitches seems to make it someone else’s fault, something out of their control. How long have leap years been around? Julius Caesar introduced Leap Years in the Roman empire over 2000 years ago. The Gregorian calendar has been around since 1682. This is not a new idea, or a new bug.

I’m going to try to take one excuse away from the programmers that create these bugs by answering a question that comes up all the time, “How do I test static functions in my C code?”
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“TDD ignores the design” “No it doesn’t” “Yes it does” – Part 1

TDD ignores design; that is a frequently stated misconception. Many people get this idea from the code focus of TDD. TDD does not call for the creation of any non-executable design documentation. So the questioning developer gets the idea that there is no design. But I say, “yes there is”.
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Can TDD Help Reduce Integration Time?

A recent TDD for Embedded C attendee asks me “TDD does not help reduce the time I spend in the lab during system integration testing”

(This is asked in the context of embedded development. But the answer is half applicable to any development where there is integration.)

TDD should definitely help reduce the time you spend in integration. How does it do that? It helps you eliminate the non-integration problems before you get to the integration lab. An honest appraisal of what you do in integration may reveal that during integration you are finding problems you could have discovered before integration. It would help reduced integration time if you find fewer problems during integration. Don’t you think?

This cause/effect diagram helps to visualize the relationship of TDD to time spend in integration.


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TDD and the Real-World

One of the attendees of my training objected to TDD stating “TDD does not resolve the real-world (temperature, pressure, timing, noisy signals, etc.) issues that my project is encountering.”

You are right! I’ll add TDD does not resolve anything. TDD is not a magic incantation that solves any problem the embedded developer may encounter. From discussions at your company, I think you realize this. But it does not change the fact that you have to spend a lot of time chasing these kinds of problems. So let’s see how TDD can support this activity.
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