My Secret Life as a Spaghetti Coder
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As I'm finishing up a Ruby on Rails project today, I've been reflecting on some of the issues we had, and what caused them. One glaring one is our lack of automated tests - in the unit (what Rails calls unit, anyway) test and functional test categories.

The "unit" tests - I'm not too concerned about, overall. These tests run against our models, and since most of them simply inherit from ActiveRecord::Base (ActiveRecord is an ORM for Ruby), with some relationships and validation thrown in (both of which taken care of by ActiveRecord). In the few cases we have some real code to test, we've (for the most part) tested it.

What concerns me are the functional tests (these test our controllers). Of course, Rails generates test code for the scaffolds (if you use them), so we started with a nice, passing, suite of tests. But the speed of development in Rails combined with the lack of a convenient way to run tests and the time it takes to run them has caused us to allow our coverage to degrade, pretty severely. It contributed to very few automated tests being written, compared with what we may have done in a Java project, for example.

Of course, there were some tests written, but not near as many as we'd normally like to have. When a small change takes just a couple of seconds to do and and (say, for instance) 30 seconds to run the test, it becomes too easy to just say, "forget it, I'm moving on to the next item on the list." It definitely takes a lot of discipline to maintain high coverage (I don't have any metrics for this project, but trust me, its nowhere near acceptable).

Well that got me thinking about Coldfusion. I notice myself lacking in tests there as well. I'd traditionally write more in Coldfusion that what we did on this Rails project, but almost certainly I'd write less than in an equivalent Java project. And it's not just less because there is less code in a CF or Rails project than in Java - I'm talking more about the percent of code covered by the tests, rather than the raw number. It's because there is no convenient way to run them, and run them quickly.

For Rails development, I'm using RadRails (an Eclipse plugin), so at least I can run the tests within the IDE. But, there is no easy way to run all the tests. I take that back, there is, but for some reason, it always hangs on me at 66%, and refuses to show me any results. I can also use rake (a Ruby make, in a nutshell) to run all the tests via the console, but it becomes very difficult to see which tests are failing and what the message was with any more than a few tests. Couple this with the execution time, and I've left testing for programming the application.

In Coldfusion, it takes quite a while to run the tests period. This is due partly to the limitations of performance in creating CFCs, but also to the fact I'm testing a lot of queries. But at least I can run them pretty conveniently, although it could be a lot better. Now, I've got some ideas to let you run one set of tests, or even one test at a time, and to separate slow tests from fast ones, and choose which ones you want to run. So, look out in the future for this test runner when I'm done with it (it's not going to be super-sweet, but I expect it could save some much-needed time). And then the next thing to go on my mile-long to-do list will be writing a desktop CF server and integrate the unit testing with CFEclipse... (yeah, right - that's going on the bottom of the list).

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