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Unit Testing

Software systems are built from units of collaborating classes. These units are often referred to as software components and an essential activity within the software development process is the testing of these components, however this activity is often neglected.

Most developers acknowledge that unit testing is very important, but at the same time report that unit tests are seldom available within their projects. Why is this? The answer has two parts: Firstly, development teams are under such pressure to meet delivery deadlines that in the rush to implement new features, there is never enough time to write enough test code to achieve sufficient coverage. Secondly, there is the issue of know-how. Software developers taxed with first having to understand and then implement complex business requirements have enough to do without also being expected to know how to test an EJB component running in a J2EE container, or a JSP in the web-tier, or a Java bean on a remote client. junit

Each development team should include a test programmer to work in parallel with application programmers to produce unit tests for each component. If the requirements and interfaces are well defined one can write unit tests for functions that are not yet implemented. In this case, the task of the developer is to write code for a new feature until all test cases successfully pass.

Unit testing is a quality control (QC) activity that exercises an application from the inside out - at the component level. Quality assurance (QA) exercises an application from the outside in - from the perspective of the end user. QC should logically proceed QA since it is not the purpose of QA to find bugs, but rather to provide feedback to the development team for fine-tuning the appearance and behavior of the application. Any software defects discovered by QA must be fed back to development for correction. These feedback cycles cost time, money and aggravation. It is therefore highly desirable to detect and correct bugs in the development phase.

Unit-test software effectively becomes an extension of the application. The principal clients of unit-test software are application developers; however QA engineers will also want to run the complete set of unit tests every now and then, especially during the integration phase and after deployment at the customer's site.

The return on investment (ROI) from unit testing is excellent considering the following benefits.

  • Early identification of design errors prevent major costs from occurring downstream.
  • Continuous feedback is available to project management for measuring real progress.
  • Aggressive code changes in the refactoring stage can be made without introducing defects.
  • Quality improvement is incrementally added to each subsequent release.
  • Developers are able to work faster knowing there is a test-suite to serve as a safety net.
  • The project is always ready to deliver working code, even if timing does not coincide with release date.
  • Stress on team members is reduced by avoiding last minute code fixes in the integration phase.
  • Unit tests become an extension of the application for use by development, QA, and deployment engineers.
  • Friction between development and QA teams is reduced when software releases are generally free of defects.
  • Software stability under simulated loads can be demonstrated to the customer during acceptance tests.

Complex applications often run in a distributed environment consisting of clients, web-servers, application servers, enterprise integration systems, and database servers. Each of these environments requires different testing frameworks and programming techniques. Therefore, make sure your team includes programmers who know how to unit-test the application.


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