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F# Unit Testing With SimpleMock

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If you are considering using F#, you might be curious how to handle unit test mocking, especially if you want to use both modules and classes. In a language like C# or Java, the common method is to a DI container or handmade constructor injection on a class. These “entry points” allow for a unit test to replace a real dependency with a test-only replacement.

I previously posted an example that shows a much simpler way to inject dependencies called the SimpleMock pattern. The SimpleMock pattern can also be used in F#, even if you are only using modules.

SimpleMock in F# Modules

We will assume you are mocking inside a module and not a class. Mocking inside an F# class would look much the same as it does in C#, which we showed in the SimpleMock post. Here is a sample program that does some work and persists the results.

let addAndSave x y =
  let sum = x + y
  DBModule.saveSum sum

To apply the SimpleMock pattern, we can use argument currying by adding a simple function wrapper.

let addAndSave' saveSum x y = 
  let sum = x + y
  saveSum sum
let addAndSave = addAndSave' DBModule.saveSum

// Test code
let addAndSave_Test =
  let calledVar = ref 0
  let result = addAndSave' (fun sum -> calledVar := sum) 1 2
  Assert.AreEqual(3, result)
  Assert.AreEqual(3, !calledVar)

We started by renaming the addAndSave function with a trailing '. We created a new addAndSave that calls addAndSave' with the correct dependency for the first argument, leaving the rest of the arguments to be called later. Currying is what allows this ability. The new addAndSave function only needs the x and y parameters. At test time, we called addAndSave', passing in the needed dependency, but using a lambda as the “fake”. The injection is as close to the dependency use as possible!

Bonus: SimpleMock Fake Helper

The earlier replacement for DBModule.saveSum is a bit complex, and it does not show us how many times the fake was called. We can easily make a helper that takes parameters and returns them when called, along withe count of times it was called.

type TestFakeResults() =
  member val timesCalled = 0 with get,set
  member val args: obj list = [] with get,set

let makeFake_OneArg () =
  let results = new TestFakeResults()
  let fake = (fun p1 ->
                  results.args <- p1 :: results.args
                  results.timesCalled <- results.timesCalled + 1
  (fake, results)

The above code might be hard to comprehend at first! We have made a generic helper that can create any single argument fake we need. We return a tuple, containing the fake lambda and an instance of TestFakeResults. The fake lambda will populate the TestFakeResults, which we can access in the test via the second arg of the tuple.

We can now re-write the previous test using makeFake_OneArg:

// Test code
let addAndSave_Test =
  let (fakeSave, fakeSaveCalling) = makeFake_OneArg()
  let result = addAndSave' fakeSave 1 2
  Assert.AreEqual(3, result)
  Assert.AreEqual(3, fakeSaveCalling.args.[0])
  Assert.AreEqual(1, fakeSaveCalling.timesCalled)

The TestFakeResults can return information about the way it was called, including the list of all arguments. If we felt we needed the extra expressiveness, we could also use a mocking library like RhinoMocks or Moq. The TestFakeResults and its constructor are not essential to the pattern. The most important part is learning to unit test in F# with confidence.

Double Bonus: When to Use a Class Instead of a Record

When I first wrote this post, I used a record instead of a class for the TestFakeResults type. If you have been bitten by the functional programming bug, you might have wondered at my usage of a mutable class. Here are two alternates of makeFake_OneArg which use records. You can probably see why I switched to a class:

type TestFakeResults = {timesCalled:int, args obj list}

// Using Record Alternate 1
let makeFake_OneArg_RecordAlternate1 () = 
  let t = ref 0
  let a : obj list ref = ref []
  let fake = (fun p1 ->
                  a := p1 :: !a
                  t := !t + 1
  (fake, (fun () ->
                {TestFakeRecord.timesCalled = !t;
                 args = !a}))

// Using Record Alternate 2
let makeFake_OneArg_RecordAlternate2 () = 
  let result = ref {TestFakeRecord.timesCalled = 0; args = []}
  let fake = (fun p1 ->
              result := {timesCalled = (!result).timesCalled + 1;
                         args = p1 :: (!result).args}
  (fake, (fun () -> !result))

The only way to use a record is to delay its construction via a lambda which must be executed by the test code. Both are complex: what we need is a mutable data structure which we can access via a reference. A record is not that. We can approximate it using tricks, but ultimately I find both alternatives to be too complex to justify their use. Sometimes a mutable data structure is the best choice to solve your problem efficiently. The power of F# is that it gives us the ability to choose the best tool for the job: records for immutability, classes for mutability.

steve shogren

software developer, manager, author, speaker

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