Dusted Codes

Programming adventures

Guard clauses without test coverage, a common TDD pitfall

Today I wanted to blog about a little mistake which can easily creep into otherwise good TDD practices.

For this demo I'd like to start with an empty unit test project and initialize a subject under test. Then I add enough code to make the solution build:

namespace MyClassLibrary
{
    public class DomainClass { }

    [TestFixture]
    public class DomainClassTests
    {
        [Test]
        public void Test1()
        {
            var sut = new DomainClass();
        }
    }
}

For this example the method under test will have some very trivial business logic:

  1. Accept an argument
  2. Check if the argument is NULL and return early, otherwise proceed
  3. Call into a dependency
  4. Return a result

Let's finish the first test by checking for the simple case of a NULL argument:

[TestFixture]
public class DomainClassTests
{
    [Test]
    public void DoSomeWork_With_Null_Input_Will_Return_Null()
    {
        // Arrange
        var sut = new DomainClass();

        // Act
        var actual = sut.DoSomeWork(null);

        // Assert
        Assert.IsNull(actual);
    }
}

In true TDD practise you'd write just enough code to compile the project first, then let the test fail and at last return null to make it pass:

public class DomainClass
{
    public object DoSomeWork(object arg)
    {
        return null;
    }
}

However, at this point I have often seen developers implememnt a little bit more code than actually required by the test:

public class DomainClass
{
    public object DoSomeWork(object arg)
    {
        // This guard clause has not been enforced by a particular unit test yet:
        if (arg == null)
            return null;

        return input;
    }
}

It is very tempting to write a bit more code if you already know what the desired end result should look like. Guard clauses are so trivial that it makes it a very common mistake.

Someone might argue that the code is justified, because if you comment out the if statement the test will fail.

This is not true though, because the entire condition as a whole is not required yet and as we have proven above, a simple return null; statement satisfies the test as well.

This little mistake seems very harmless now, but it could inroduce a potential NullReferenceException later in the project when the first developer starts to re-factor code and remove redundant code.

This will essentially happen when we continue implementing the remaining unit tests and business logic for the method under test:

public object DoSomeWork(object arg)
{
    if (arg == null)
        return null;

    var result = _dependecy.ProcessData(arg);
    return result;
}

Now at this point I could delete the if statement together with the "return null" and the first test will still succeed:

public object DoSomeWork(object arg)
{
    // if (input == null)
    //    return null;

    var result = _dependecy.ProcessData(arg);
    return result;
}

Why? Well because in the first test we didn't set up a stub for the dependency yet:

[TestFixture]
public class DomainClassTests
{
    [Test]
    public void DoSomeWork_With_Null_Input_Will_Return_Null()
    {
        // Arrange
        var sut = new DomainClass();

        // Act
        var actual = sut.DoSomeWork(null);

        // Assert
        Assert.IsNull(actual);
    }
}

It means that var result = _dependecy.ProcessData(arg); will return null and make the test go green.

This is why it is best to not introduce little short cuts in TDD and be careful during your code reviews as well!