Thu 13 April 2017

Filed under programming

Tags python unittesting mocking opensource


Sometimes you come across a code-base which has no unit-tests. This makes contributing to the project risky. If an application has not been written with unit-tests in mind from the beginning, it is often very difficult to add them later on. This article takes one such project and uses the fantastic unittest.mock Python module to add tests without modifying the code.


From personal experience with old code-base maintainance, projects become hard to unit-test for four main reasons:

  • Violations of Demeter's Law.
  • Fuzzy borders between the main application code and external I/O (like stdout, databases, network services, ...).
  • Hidden global state.
  • Function-call side-effects / non-pure functions.

There are other reasons, but these are by far the ones I've ran across the most.


The following article mentions the open-source project munin-influxdb. It is only taken as illustrative example and I do not intend to paint this in a bad light.

As a starting point, we'll look at commit 8b6b4efca of munin-influxdb.

THe project confronts us with several challenges:

Challenge 1 - No Clear Entry-Point

The project contains a shell-script and separate modules in the bin subfolder. Additionally, the module does not define any entry_points


  • As nothing is packaged probably it becomes non-trivial to install. Neither in an isolated virtual environment, nor on the system.
  • Testing the main entry-point becomes more difficult as it is a bash script.


Move the scripts from the bin folder into the project itself, and remove the muninflux shell script. Use the argparse module to provide a well-known "UI" to the end user. This has been achieved between commit 8b6b4efca and acea4515f.

Challenge 2 - Global State

In order to add unit-tests it is important that one can look at a piece (a "unit") of code and can say what it's doing without looking through other parts of the code. The project makes this difficult in it's current state. It makes use of a Settings class containing key/value pairs which are populated at run-time by various methods, and are not known in advance. If there's a function taking a Settings instance as argument it's not trivial to "guess" the structure of that instance to be able to run the function.


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