Am I a Mockist now?

I’ve always considered myself on the classicist side of using test doubles. It just clicked with me I guess, and it didn’t help that I’ve not had good experiences with using mocking frameworks. The first time I tried it in Python I ended up asserting different functions were being called in such a way that my test started mirroring the production code, and at that point I stopped. It was clearly the wrong direction, but I at least I noticed. I had the displeasure once to review a test like that once and had to convince the authors it was a bad idea.

I recently bought and read Jay Fields’s Working Effectively With Unit Tests and was finally exposed to how a mockist goes about writing their tests. I was a bit of an eye-openener: the examples and explanations actually made sense, and I started thinking that maybe mockist thinking wasn’t so bad. What was really surprising to me was that using mocks was described as testing behaviour instead of state: I’d always thought that the downsides of mocks were that they tested implementation instead of behaviour. I started realising that well-written mockist tests just get to the same destination by a different way. I’d just never seen well written tests with mocks before.

Coincidentally, just after I’d finished that book I listened to a podcast interview with J.B. Rainsberger of Integrated Tests are a Scam fame. I heard him say something I’d never heard before: “Don’t mock types you don’t own”. That was also eye-opening: everything that made mocking bad in my eyes suddenly disappeared. If you’re only ever mocking types/functions under your control, then testing implementation isn’t such a bad thing, you can always refactor the implementation of the code you own without tests breaking. No more brittle tests and no more writing test doubles by hand.

I tried it out recently at work and I was actually pleased with the result. Am I a mockist now? I don’t know. Even though I used mocks I ended up with a hybrid approach for some tests, so I guess I’m just trying to use the right tool for the job. Which is always a good thing, right?


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