panic

You’d better Test to save some Rest

a strategy to fight the big WTF that is always lurking

Since the day I became a developer, I've always feared the Big What The Fuck.

The BWTF is not only related to the code you write, it is the lack of knowledge that threatens to crush your entire project. It can be as simple as a server misconfiguration that causes a gaping security flaw.

dude-wtf

When the BWTF strike, there is nowhere to go; there is no place to hide. The BWTF is like the worst earthquake in the world: no building endures. A big part of your application, job and/or reputation goes to waste. And nobody wants this to happen.

How can you protect yourself from the Big What The Fuck?

Well, the first step is to accept that this risk exists. The next step is to conceive a strategy to mitigate that risk. After more than 10 years striving to avoid the BWTF I am now quite sure there is no way to remove that risk from your life. It is part of your life.

The best strategy to mitigate the risk of a Big What The Fuck is Testing.

I am not constraining the discussion to the source code. You should consider testing to be a strategy for a better life, with or without code. A strategy that you can use to fight the BWTF. Which is always lurking behind every corner, always present.

Say you plan to go holiday to the Red Sea, let's try to work out a test to stress that decision:

You do the same activity when coding a procedure that takes 2 integers and return the sum:

The more tests that you are able to produce against a decision / procedure, the bigger chance you have to find early issues, with less of a risk of a Big What The Fuck in the future.

When it comes to a code scenario the most likely BWTF is to forget to consider a minor requirement from the customer. Then you deliver a product that will fail in the future when that minor requirement will manifest. Your phone will ring like crazy, your inbox will choke and you'll move abroad to escape your shame.

The BWTF is due to the unpredictability of when the problem will arise.

unpredictability

The later it shows up, the less you'll recall what the minor requirement was and where the problem lies within the code base. And how the hell it works! By the time an issue like that manifests itself, you may have moved to another technology.

In real life a Big What The Fuck can be even worse. Almost four years ago I bought a brand new house and I took a loan for it. Less than two years later I moved to Sweden to join a challenging job opportunity. To this date I still haven't sold that house, but I'm still paying the mortgage. Of course this is not a life threatening issue, but I can assure you it is annoying to throw away money like that. What if I had prepared myself with a more accurate test when I decided to buy the house?

Well, I must confess that I didn't create any of those tests at the time of the buying.

As you can see by yourself there is no known ways to completely remove the risk of a Big What The Fuck. The right way to behave is to mitigate that risk by running every decision / procedure against a good amount of tests. What the word good means in this context is up to you, but in general the more the tests the less the risk.

Another important point is that you can build you tests through time; it is always the right moment to add a new test. This is easier within a coding scenario. You may have missed a minor requirement but as soon you recognise it you can add a specific test to secure that requirement.

My test suite for real life scenarios is practical common sense but when it comes to a code scenario I can give some more specific pieces of advice which are specific to Javascript.

common-sense

KarmaJS is a NodeJS command line tool which runs your unit tests. Among its features I should mention that you can run tests on multiple target browsers. You can test mobile devices connected to the same network. I use KarmaJS in combination with GruntJS or GulpJS to integrate tests into my building processes.

MochaJS is a Javascript test framework which helps in creating your specs files. It provides utility methods for a nice code organization of your unit tests.

ChaiJS is an assertion library that works great with Mocha. It allows you to write expect(foo).to.be.a.string so your assertions comes close to a natural language.

SinonJS is a mocking library which provides a set of tools to investigate your code. Does this method fire twice? Did it receive a string argument? You can go further and completely mimic an XHR request.

I maintain a simple NPM module which combines the above tools to provide you with a ready to use test suite for Javascript: grunt-mocha-chai-sinon.

For a more sophisticated tool that brings a building process for single page applications give a try to PoliteJS/Workspace.

WebDriver is a NodeJS bridge to Selenium functional testing suite. You can build your FAT in Javascript driving a browsing session with full access to Selenium's API.

DalekJS is a standalone alternative to WebDriver. Even if it is on an early stage it looks very promising.

So remember your Takeaway:

  1. the Big What The Fuck is always lurking and there is no way to avoid it
  2. testing is the best strategy you have to mitigate the risk of a BWTF
  3. you can apply testing to your professional and private life

succeed

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