What does TDD mean?

Test Driven Development (TDD) is not about writing tests. Writing tests is writing tests, period. TDD is more than that, it’s a methodology.  It has started as a part of the agile methodology invented by Ken Beck called eXtreme Programming (we recommend Kent Beck’s book “Extreme Programming Explained”). The main idea of TDD is to write tests before code. It’s seems to be irrational but it’s not!

I try to do TDD every time when I’m writing code, but I won’t name myself a TDD expert. Experts like Robert C. Martin a.k.a. Uncle Bob, Kent Beck, Roy Osherove, Corey Haines and my teacher Kristoph Manuszewski, just to name a few, inspired me.

I’d like to share my knowledge about TDD and I’ll refer to articles/posts/books/screencast of people mentioned above.

It’s so f… simple

Most programmers can’t understand ‘Why the hell should I write a test for all code that I’m writing? It is so f… simple‘. Maybe it is, maybe it isn’t, but you can’t be sure that in the future the code remains the same. Edward V Berard says that ‘Walking on water and developing software from a specification are easy, if both are frozen’. Requirements are changing all the time, the environment is no longer stable. Perhaps someone else will extend/change your code. He is not you and he doesn’t know all the tricks you’ve used in your code. He can easily break your code without knowing it. This “he” could even be you after a couple of months.

Benefits of using TDD

It is proven that using TDD reduces the amount of bugs by at least 50% (The Cost of a Bug). I mean good TDD, not only automated tests. Consider this, how long does finding a bug take (and what about when an end-user finds it)? How long does tracing and fixing the bug take? How long do you need for integration tests to confirm you haven’t broken anything after fixing a bug?

Let’s assume the above will take 15 minutes to 3 hours per bug. How many bugs can there be in a single project? 100? 1000? So how much time do you spend on fixing them? This can easily grow up to 1,5h * 1000 = 1500h. Are you still there?

What would you say if you can save 750h in your project when using TDD? I think it is worth trying.

Tests are your safety net

Good tests (later on I’ll use “tests” for “good tests”) assure you that you haven’t broken anything in your previous functionality. This is the first (but not the only one) reason why you must (SIC!) write a test for every production code (production code is everything but tests) based functionality. If you have a code coverage of over 90% you will have certainty your code works. You won’t have to run the application to know that. This is your ‘safety net’, your parachute. Your tests should be as trustworthy as a net or a parachute.

Test driven code shows the user standpoint

When you write a test before writing production code you’ll understand how you (or somebody else) will use it, because the test is the first user of your code. And when you think from a user’s standpoint you will think about the interface first. This is a good design practice. Your code will be easy to use. It will become self explanatory.

Test Driven Design forces you to think upfront

Often after creating some class, you want to use it in another place and then you realize it cannot be reused in an easy way. It’s great and does lots of beautiful things at once. But it isn’t sufficiently useful. It isn’t flexible enough. It isn’t configurable, because you didn’t think of such things before.

If you’d written tests before you’d know about this stuff earlier and wrote this class in a different way. This is the greatest benefit of TDD!

Really, try it!

Usage specification better than documentation

Another advantage of tests is when someone reads them he’ll know how to use your code. Tests are like specification. Even better, they are usage specification, a tutorial ‘how to use the code’. Imagine that you are starting to use a new tool. With the tool you’ve got fat documentation with code samples on the back. What do you read first, API documentation or code samples? Furthermore, tests and code will always be in sync, so you don’t have to bother with synchronizing your documentation while the code is changing.

S.O.L.I.D. principles become natural

The next thing about writing tests before production code is that you won’t create big complex classes, because you really don’t want to write a complex test with lots of stubs. So, you will create small classes with only one responsibility. Your code will be decoupled, flexible and configurable. You don’t have to worry about S.O.L.I.D. principles. It will be so natural to follow them.

The proof of the pudding ….

In the end the proof of the pudding is in the eating. Therefor, to convince you probably the best example is a ‘real’ example. Robert C. Martin wrote series of articles about a young person (after school) who wants to become a programmer. But he didn’t want to write tests because he ‘can do this right without tests. It is so f… simple‘. I really recommend reading the whole story! You will find it here: http://www.objectmentor.com/resources/publishedArticles.html -> By Topic -> Craftsman

Test Driven Development gives you the opportunity to create well designed, flexible and easy to use code, good dependency decoupling and specification at once. Saying that writing tests before code costs you too much time is senseless. Redesigning, rewriting, debugging and creating specifications takes much more time. Furthermore, tests can assure you that your code (always) works, this is a priceless thing and nothing but automatic tests can give you such certainty. So… DO TDD!!

Do you have any experience with TDD? I would like to hear your opinion. Feel free to drop a line below. In case you have any question feel free to ask it below as well. We will get back to you for sure!

I study Computer Science at Gdańsk University of Technology. I’m agile methodologies enthusiast, especially TDD. In free time I play volleyball, watch movies or hang out with my friends. In winter, I enjoy skiing and snowboarding, in summer I sail (or windsurf) or just swim in a lake or sea.
  • Good article and well written :). Missed some disadvantages of TDD or issues in handling though. For example something about maintaining the test suits intact because many developers dealing with legacy code tend to comment out some tests or some lines just to pass the suit thus spreading the “test cancer” 😉

  • Thanks for your comment. Good point about issues with tests maintainence. I will have this in mind when writing more posts about TDD. Legacy code is yet another topic which need to be considered.

  • Thanks for your comment. Good point about issues with tests maintainence. I will have this in mind when writing more posts about TDD. Legacy code is yet another topic which need to be considered.

  • “many developers dealing with legacy code tend to comment out some tests” – it is not disadvantage of TDD, but of developer 😉 If you want do TDD in good way, you should use “continuous integration” to maintain tests. 

  • I didn’t say that this is a disadvantage of TDD but it would be nice to read about some issues in handling and maintaining TDD 😉

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