Test Invariant

5 January 2006

There's been a long-running, if low-key, argument between the advocates of Design by Contract (DbC) and Test Driven Development (TDD). I'm not going to delve into that right now, but I will pass on an idea to merge the two that came up when I was talking with Daniel Jackson.

In DbC you define an invariant for each class. This invariant states the properties of the class that must always be true. A object must always satisfy its invariant (unless it's in the middle of doing anything.) Using Eiffel the class invariant is automatically checked before calling a method (in pre-condition checking) and after (in post-condition checking). A failure in the invariant throws an exception. (This checking may be turned off for production use if desired for performance.)

Applying this idea to TDD means that you define a common method to test the invariant in your production classes and test it in your test code.

It's time for the usual trivial example.

public class Bowler ...
    int overs, runs, wickets;

A simple invariant for a bowler is that these values should all by non-negative. So you could have an invariant defined like this.

    public boolean passesInvariant() {
        return (runs >= 0 && overs >= 0 && wickets >= 0);

You would then using during testing after the setup and exercise phases of the test.

    public void testConcedingRunsAddsToRunsScore() {
        Bowler botham = new Bowler();       // setup - showing my age
        assert botham.passesInvariant();
        botham.concedeRuns(4);              //exercise
        assert botham.passesInvariant();
        assertEquals(4, botham.getRuns());  //verify

I haven't tried this myself, nor am I aware of anyone else who does. But I thought I'd mention it as an interesting thought.