Sunday, July 12, 2009

Fakes, Mocks, and Stubs

The other day, I was listening to Roy Osherove on Scott Hanselman's podcast, Hanselminutes, and I really liked the way that Roy described the difference between Fakes, Mocks, and Stubs.

As I heard it (which of course, may not be the way Roy intended it to be heard), it is something like the following:

  • Fakes are the various bits of test-infrastructure that you end up piecing together in order to write decent unit tests. Any code that is written solely to support testing falls into this category. There are lots of kinds of fakes, among which are Stubs, and Mocks.
  • Stubs are fakes which have no behavior, or which at best have trivial behavior. Stubs are simple-minded, and have no logic and make no decisions, simply providing an interface to compile/load/run with.
  • Mocks are fakes which verify the correct behavior of the test. That is, you can assert against mocks; mocks are part of the deciding about whether the test passed or failed.
Here's a link to Osherove's blog posting discussing this in more detail, with a bit of a diagram. In his post, he refers to Martin Fowler's longer and more detailed essay about Mocks and Stubs. Fowler, in turn, describes the various types of testing objects as follows, and cites Gerard Meszaros for the origin of this terminology:

The vocabulary for talking about this soon gets messy - all sorts of words are used: stub, mock, fake, dummy. For this article I'm going to follow the vocabulary of Gerard Meszaros's book. It's not what everyone uses, but I think it's a good vocabulary and since it's my essay I get to pick which words to use.

Meszaros uses the term Test Double as the generic term for any kind of pretend object used in place of a real object for testing purposes. The name comes from the notion of a Stunt Double in movies. (One of his aims was to avoid using any name that was already widely used.) Meszaros then defined four particular kinds of double:

  • Dummy objects are passed around but never actually used. Usually they are just used to fill parameter lists.
  • Fake objects actually have working implementations, but usually take some shortcut which makes them not suitable for production (an in memory database is a good example).
  • Stubs provide canned answers to calls made during the test, usually not responding at all to anything outside what's programmed in for the test. Stubs may also record information about calls, such as an email gateway stub that remembers the messages it 'sent', or maybe only how many messages it 'sent'.
  • Mocks are what we are talking about here: objects pre-programmed with expectations which form a specification of the calls they are expected to receive.
Of these kinds of doubles, only mocks insist upon behavior verification. The other doubles can, and usually do, use state verification. Mocks actually do behave like other doubles during the exercise phase, as they need to make the SUT believe it's talking with its real collaborators - but mocks differ in the setup and the verification phases.
There is an enormous amount of additional information available at, including several quite readable papers about the Mock Objects philosophy of testing.

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