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Exemplor doesn't care about your unit tests. He demands usage examples.

Exemplor (the exemplar)


Exemplor is testing framework for high level integration tests that read like example usage scenarios. It's designed with the minimum possible vocabulary, so you can spend more time writing tests and less time learning the testing framework.

The ideal user of exemplor is a developer who is writing their program in small pieces, from the highest level of abstraction they have currently implemented.

For example lets say you were writing a command-line utility to delete all those .DS_store files the OS X finder generates when it's going about its business.

The approach the current crop of test frameworks encourage is to write a failing test that calls a method on an instance of a class. For example:

require 'test_framework'
require 'my_code'

context MyMainClass do

  setup do
    # fixture setup

  it "deletes .DS_store files" do
    assert(not File(@fixture_directory + '/.DS_store').exist?)
    assert(File(@fixture_directory + '/other_file.txt').exist?)


No test framework forces the programmer to start this way. These are just the kind of examples that come up in the documentation and the open source projects that make use of the frameworks.

There are a number of issues with this style of testing.

  1. The test file must reference:

    • The main library file my_code.rb
    • The main class MyMainClass
    • The primary internal entry point - initialization of MyMainClass with a directory argument and then a call to method_that_deletes_files instance method

      If any of these names change, the test must be updated accordingly.

  1. There is one compulsory level of nesting in the test file. Even if each file only has one context, all tests must be nested under it.

  2. If the assert calls fail, generally the output of the framework is not sufficient enough to determine the exact cause of failure. This is often partially solved with additional methods (or macros) such as assert_size, should_exist etc. These methods just increase the amount the user must learn to start effectively using the framework.

  3. The command-line utility - the stated goal of the program - is not yet under test.

The exemplor approach would be something like:

require 'exemplor'

def run_inside directory
  system "cd #{directory} && ./path/to/utility"

eg.setup do
  # fixture setup

eg "deletes .DS_store files" do
  run_inside @fixture_directory
  Assert(not File(@fixture_directory + '/.DS_store').exist?)
  Assert(File(@fixture_directory + '/other_file.txt').exist?)

This tests the public interface (the command-line interface) of the utility without any information about its internal implementation. All the test knows about is the path to the actual command under test.

This approach to testing allows the developer to write the first implementation without any classes, then refactor to instance methods on a class, then put that class inside a module, then move the library file into a lib directory, etc. All while continuing to run the tests that ensure the program works as expected.

Exemplor is not just for command-line utilities. It's for testing the parts of your application that constitute the public interface. In a web app it would be the urls. In a library, it would be the public API. Exemplor can also be used to test your underlying implementation but if you find yourself with a bunch of those tests and nothing that covers the public interface then your doing it wrong.

API Overview

The api is tiny. Here it is

eg.setup do
  # run before each example, set instance variables here

eg "an example" do
  # example usage of the thing under test

eg.helpers do
  # helper methods that need to run the context of an example

When run from a terminal, the output optimised for human readability and a high signal-to-noise ratio.

When standard out points to something other than a terminal, the output is information-rich YAML.

Writing Examples

The simplest possible example:

eg 'example without Assert() or Show() calls' do

Will just print:

• example without Assert() or Show() calls: foo

This is useful for "printf driven development" where you just want to check that your code runs and does something useful. To print more than one value per example you can use the Show() method:

eg 'using Show()' do
  list = [1, 2, 3]
  list << 4

prints as:

∙ Showing the value of some expression
  • list.first: 1
∙ using Show()
  • list.last: 3
  • list.first: 1
  • list.last: 4

Show() is like a fancy Kernel#puts, you don't need to worry about distinguishing between different calls like you would with normal puts:

puts "last item: #{item.first.to_yaml}"
puts "last item: #{item.last.to_yaml}"
# etc.

because Show() works out the label from the source code and automatically pretty prints the value as yaml.

Exemplor has only one kind of assertion: Assert(). It works like Show() in that the label will be read from the source:

eg 'using Assert()' do
  list = [1, 2, 3]
  Assert(list.last == 3)


∙ using Assert()
  • list.last: 3
  ✓ list.last == 3

If the example contains no Show() calls and all the asserts are successful then the entire example is considered successful:

eg 'using Assert()' do
  list = [1, 2, 3]
  Assert(list.first == 1)
  Assert(list.last == 3)


✓ using Assert()

If an assertion fails then the name of the test is printed with an ✗ next to it:

eg 'The second Assert() will fail' do
  list = [1, 2, 3]
  Assert(list.first == 1)
  Assert(list.last == 1)


✗ The second Assert() will fail
  ✓ list.first == 1
  ✗ list.last == 1

Nothing fancy, no "expected" and "actual" values are printed, if you want to inspect those you can just add a Show() call before the assert.

Running Examples

Run the example file through ruby

$> ruby examples.rb

To run only examples that match the regex "location | setting/x"

$> ruby examples.rb "location | setting/x"

Running with --list or -l lists all examples:

$> ruby examples.rb -l
- errors are caught and nicely displayed
- check_output_matches_expected_for :no_checks
- check_output_matches_expected_for :oneliner
- check_output_matches_expected_for :no_checks_non_string
- check_output_matches_expected_for :with_checks
- check_output_matches_expected_for :check_with_disambiguation
- check_output_matches_expected_for :assertion_success
- check_output_matches_expected_for :assertion_failure
- check_output_matches_expected_for :assertion_success_and_failure
- check_output_matches_expected_for :helpers
- check_output_matches_expected_for :with_setup
- called with --list arg
- called with --l arg
- called with some other arg (always interpreted as a regex)

Testing Rack Apps

Exemplor has built-in support for rack-test. First make sure you have the rack-test gem installed. Then require exemplor/rack, then simply call and pass in your rack app:

hello_app = lambda { [200,{},'oh hai'] } hello_app

eg "rack support works" do
  get '/'
  Assert(last_response.body == 'oh hai')


Exemplor was inspired by testy.

What really kicked me over the line to this style of testing and eventually lead to writing exemplor was Yehuda Katz's "Writing Code That Doesn't Suck" presentation at RubyConf 2008. I wasn't there but luckily an excellent video of the presentation is available online[1]. If none of this readme made any sense to you or you have additional questions/concerns I strongly recommend watching that presentation.


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