Unit Testing

There are many stories about unit testing. Developers sometimes say that they don’t write tests because they write a good quality code. Does it make sense, if no one is infallible?.

At studies only a  few teachers talk about unit testing, but they only show basic examples of unit testing. They require to write a few tests to finish final project, but nobody really  teaches us the importance of unit testing.

I have also always wondered what benefits can it bring. As time is a really important factor in our work it often happens that we simply resign of this part of process development to get “more time” rather than spend time on writing stupid tests. But now I know that it is a vicious circle.

Customers requierments does not help us. They put a high pressure to see visible results not a few statistics about coverage status. None of them cares about some strange numbers. So, as I mentioned above, we usually focuses on building new features and get riid of tests. It may seem to save time, but it doesn’t.

In reality tests save us a lot of time because we can identify and fix bugs very quickly. If a bug ocurrs because someone’s change we don’t have to spend long hours trying to figure out wgat is going out. That’s why we need tests.  

It is especially visible in huge open source projects. FOSSASIA organization has about 200 contributors. In OpenEvent project we have about 20 active developers, who generate many lines of code every single day. Many of them change over and over again as well as interfere  with each other.

Let me provide you with a simple example. In our team we have about 7 pull requests per day. As I mentioned above we want to make our code high quality and free of bugs, but without testing identifying if pull request causes a bug is very difficult task. But fortunately this boring job makes Travis CI for us. It is a great tool which uses our tests and runs them on every PR  to check if bugs occur. It helps us to quickly notice bugs and maintain our project very well.

What is unit testing?

Unit testing is a software development method in which the smallest testable parts of an application are tested

Why do we need writing unit tests?

Let me point all arguments why unit testing is really important while developing a project.

  • To prove that our code works properly

If developer adds another condition, test checks if method returns correct results. You simply don’t need to wonder if something is wrong with you code.

  • To reduce amount of bugs

It let you to know what inputs params’ function should get and what results should be returned. You simply don’t  write unused code

  • To save development time

Developers don’t waste time on checking every code’s change if his code works correctly

  • Unit tests help to understand software design
  • To provide quick feedback about method which you are testing
  • To help document a code

How to write unit test in Python

In my work I write use tests in Python. I am going to share my sample code  with you now

  • Import module unittest
  • Choose function to test
  • Write unit test

Example OpenEvent test in Python

class TestPagesUrls(OpenEventTestCase):

   def setUp(self):

       self.app = Setup.create_app()

   def test_if_urls_exist(self):

       """Test all urls via GET method"""

       with app.test_request_context():

           for rule in app.url_map.iter_rules():

               if excluded_paths(rule):

                   status_code = self.app.get(request.url[:-1] + str(rule).replace('//', '/'),        follow_redirects=True).status_code

                   self.assertTrue(status_code in [200, 302, 401])


I want to check if all views exist but it required a lot of time. That’s why I wonder I how to avoid writing similar tests. Finally, based  on our list of routes I am able to write test which checks code’s status  on every page.

If some of them response returns status_code different than 200, 302 or 401, test fails.This results means that somethings is wrong. Simple, isn’t it ?  Try to test it manually…. This one short test cover about 40 use cases…

This example shows an incredible value of unit tests! If developer makes a bug in response he receives an error that something is wrong with a view. Travis CI allows to reject all  wrong pull requests and merge only these which fulfill our quality requirements.   

Fixing  error is one part but finding a bug is even harder task. But an ability to detect bug on early stage of process development reduces cost of software.


Code Quality in the knittingpattern Python Library

In our Google Summer of Code project a part of our work is to bring knitting to the digital age. We is Kirstin Heidler and Nicco Kunzmann. Our knittingpattern library aims at being the exchange and conversion format between different types of knit work representations: hand knitting instructions, machine commands for different machines and SVG schemata.

Cafe instructions
The generated schema from the knittingpattern library.
The original pattern schema Cafe.








The image above was generated by this Python code:

import knittingpattern, webbrowser
example = knittingpattern.load_from().example("Cafe.json")

So far about the context. Now about the Quality tools we use:


Continuous integration

We use Travis CI [FOSSASIA] to upload packages of a specific git tag  automatically. The Travis build runs under Python 3.3 to 3.5. It first builds the package and then installs it with its dependencies. To upload tags automatically, one can configure Travis, preferably with the command line interface, to save username and password for the Python Package Index (Pypi).[TravisDocs] Our process of releasing a new version is the following:

  1. Increase the version in the knitting pattern library and create a new pull request for it.
  2. Merge the pull request after the tests passed.
  3. Pull and create a new release with a git tag using
    setup.py tag_and_deploy

Travis then builds the new tag and uploads it to Pypi.

With this we have a basic quality assurance. Pull-requests need to run all tests before they can be merge. Travis can be configured to automatically reject a request with errors.

Documentation Driven Development

As mentioned in a blog post, documentation-driven development was something worth to check out. In our case that means writing the documentation first, then the tests and then the code.

Writing the documentation first means thinking in the space of the mental model you have for the code. It defines the interfaces you would be happy to use. A lot of edge cases can be thought of at this point.

When writing the tests, they are often split up and do not represent the flow of thought any more that you had when thinking about your wishes. Tests can be seen as the glue between the code and the documentation. As it is with writing code to pass the tests, in the conversation between the tests and the documentation I find out some things I have forgotten.

When writing the code in a test-driven way, another conversation starts. I call implementing the tests conversation because the tests talk to the code that it should be different and the code tells the tests their inconsistencies like misspellings and bloated interfaces.

With writing documentation first, we have the chance to have two conversations about our code, in spoken language and in code. I like it when the code hears my wishes, so I prefer to talk a bit more.

Testing the Documentation

Our documentation is hosted on Read the Docs. It should have these properties:

  1. Every module is documented.
  2. Everything that is public is documented.
  3. The documentation is syntactically correct.

These are qualities that can be tested, so they are tested. The code can not be deployed if it does not meet these standards. We use Sphinx for building the docs. That makes it possible to tests these properties in this way:

  1. For every module there exists a .rst file which automatically documents the module with autodoc.
  2. A Sphinx build outputs a list of objects that should be covered by documentation but are not.
  3. Sphinx outputs warnings throughout the build.

testing out documentation allows us to have it in higher quality. Many more tests could be imagined, but the basic ones already help.

Code Coverage

It is possible to test your code coverage and see how well we do using Codeclimate.com. It gives us the files we need to work on when we want to improve the quality of the package.


Landscape is also free for open source projects. It can give hints about where to improve next. Also it is possible to fail pull requests if the quality decreases. It shows code duplication and can run pylint. Currently, most of the style problems arise from undocumented tests.


When starting with the more strict quality assurance, the question arose if that would only slow us down. Now, we have learned to write properly styled pep8 code and begin to automatically do what pylint demands. High test-coverage allows us to change the underlying functionality without changing the interface and without fear we may break something irrecoverably. I feel like having a burden taken from me with all those free tools for open-source software that spare my time to set quality assurance up.

Future Work

In the future we like to also create a user interface. It is hard, sometimes, to test these. So, we plan not to put it into the package but build it on the package.

Importance of the test cases for the KnitLib

Having test cases is very important especially for a library like KnitLib because using test cases; we can clearly test particular fields.  In KnitLib, test cases show the information of how the KnitLib should be checked. Also test cases help for new contributors to understand about the KnitLib.

There are several test cases for the current KnitLib implementation such as tests on ayab communication, tests on ayab image, tests on command line interface, tests on KnitPat module and tests on knitting plugin.

For an example in ayab communication there are several important functions have been tested. Test on closing serial port communication, test on opening serial port with a baud rate of 115200 which ayab fits, tests on sending start message to the controller, tests on sending line of data via serial port and tests on reading line from serial communication.  Most of these tests have been done using mock tests. Mock is a python library to test in python.  Using mocks we can replace parts of our system with mock objects and have assertions about how they have been used. We can easily represent some complex objects without having to manually set up stubs as mock objects during a test.

It is very important to improve further test cases on the KnitLib because with the help of good test cases we can guarantee that the KnitLib’s features and functionalities should be working great.