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The test_data gem

test_data does what it says on the tin: it provides a fast & reliable system for managing your Rails application's test data.

The gem serves as both an alternative to fixtures & factory_bot, as well a broader workflow for building test suites that will scale gracefully as your application grows in size and complexity.

What it does:

  • Establishes a fourth Rails environment (you can define custom Rails environments!) named test_data, which you'll use to create a universe of data for your tests by simply running and using your application. No Ruby DSL, no YAML files, no precarious approximations of realism: real data created by your app

  • Exposes a simple API for ensuring that your data will be pristine for each of your tests, whether the test depends on test_data, factories, fixtures, or an empty database

  • Safeguards your tests from flaky failures and supercharges your build by providing a sophisticated transaction manager that isolates each test while ensuring your data is only loaded once

If you've despaired over the seeming inevitability that all Rails test suites will eventually grow to become slow, flaky, and incomprehensible, then this gem is for you! And even if you're a factory_bot fan, we hope you'll be open to the idea that there might be a better way.

[Full disclosure: because the gem is still brand new, it makes a number of assumptions—chief among them being that Postgres & Rails 6+ are required—so it may not work for every project just yet.]


This gem requires a lot of documentation—not because test_data does a lot of things, but because managing one's test data is an inherently complex task. If there's one reason Rails apps often suffer from slow tests, it's that the most popular approaches to test data management oversimplify the problem—they might save time up front, but tend to cost you later. The test_data gem, meanwhile, is designed to tackle the problem head on: it takes longer to set up, but it'll scale along with your application for years to come.

  1. Getting Started Guide
    1. Install and initialize test_data
    2. Create some test data
    3. Dump your test_data database
    4. Load your data in your tests
    5. Keeping your test data up-to-date
  2. Factory & Fixture Interoperability Guide
  3. Rake Task Reference
  4. API Reference
  5. Assumptions
  6. Fears, Uncertainties, and Doubts (Q & A)
  7. Code of Conduct
  8. Changelog
  9. MIT License

Getting started guide

This guide will walk you through setting up test_data in your application. You might notice that it's more complicated than installing a gem and declaring some default Widget attributes! The hard truth is that designing robust and reliable test data is an inherently complex problem and takes some thoughtful planning. There are plenty of shortcuts available, but experience has shown they tend to collapse under their own weight as your app scales and your team grows—exactly when having a suite of fast & reliable tests is most valuable.

And if you get stuck or need help as you're getting started, please feel free to ask us for help!

Step 1: Install and initialize test_data

Adding a :test_data group to your Gemfile

Before even installing anything, it's important to understand that because test_data defines a new Rails environment and because Rails expects a gem group (like :development, :test, and :production) for each environment, any gems we want to be available to the test_data gem need to be installed with a :test_data group.

Since the test_data environment is designed to be used similarly to development (i.e. with a running server and interacting via a browser), any gems in your :development gem group should likely be included in a :test_data gem group as well.

For example, this:

group :development, :test do
  gem "standard"
  gem "cypress-rails"
  gem "test_data"

Should have its first line changed to:

group :development, :test, :test_data do

Adding the gem

Finally, add test_data to your Gemfile and bundle install it:

gem "test_data"

Configuring the gem and initializing the database

The gem ships with a number of Rake tasks, including test_data:install, which will generate the necessary configuration and initialize a test_data database:

$ bin/rake test_data:install

This should output something like:

      create  config/environments/test_data.rb
      create  config/initializers/test_data.rb
      insert  config/database.yml
      insert  config/webpacker.yml
      insert  config/webpacker.yml
Created database 'yourappname_test_data'

(1 row)

Your test_data environment and database are ready for use! You can now run
your server (or any command) to create some test data like so:

  $ RAILS_ENV=test_data bin/rails server

The purpose of the test_data database is to provide a sandbox in which you will manually generate test data by playing around with your app. Rather than try to imitate realistic data using factories and fixtures (a task which only grows more difficult as your models and their associations increase in complexity), your test data will always be realistic because your real application will have created it!

Step 2: Create some test data

Now comes the fun part! It's time to start up your server in the new environment and create some records by interacting with your system.

Running the server (and other commands)

To run your server against the new test_data database, set the RAILS_ENV environment variable:

$ RAILS_ENV=test_data bin/rails server

[If you're using webpacker, you may also need to start its development server as well with RAILS_ENV=test_data bin/webpack-dev-server]

Because test_data creates a full-fledged Rails environment, you can run any number of Rails commands or Rake tasks against its database by setting RAILS_ENV=test_data, either in your shell environment or with each command (e.g. RAILS_ENV=test_data bin/rake db:migrate)

[Aside: If you experience any hiccups in getting your server to work, please open an issue and let us know—it may present an opportunity for us to improve the test_data:configure task!]

Create test data by using your app

Once the app is running, it's time to generate some test data. You'll know how to accomplish this step better than anyone—it's your app, after all!

A few bits of advice click & type some test data into existence:

  • Spend a little time thoughtfully navigating each feature of your app in order to generate enough data to be representative of what would be needed to test them (e.g. one User per role, one of each kind of Order, etc.)
  • Less is more: the less test data you create, the more meaningful & memorable it will be to yourself and your teammates when writing tests. Don't keep adding test data unless it will allow you to exercise additional application code (e.g. enough Project models to require pagination, but not hundreds of them for the sake of looking "production-like")
  • Memorable names can become memes for the team to quickly recall and reference later (if the admin user is named "Angela" and the manager is "Maria", that'll probably serve you better than generic names like "TestUser #1")

If you make a mistake when creating your initial set of test data, it's perfectly okay to reset the database and start over! Your future tests will be coupled to this data as your application grows and evolves, so it's worth taking the time to ensure the foundation is solid. (But that's not to say everything needs to be perfect; you can always change things or add more data later—you'll just have to update your tests accordingly.)

Step 3: Dump your test_data database

Once you've created a good sampling of test data by interacting with your app, the next step is to flush it from the test_data database to SQL files. These database dumps are meant to be committed to source control and versioned alongside your tests over the life of the application. Additionally, they are designed to be incrementally migrated over time, just like you migrate production database with every release.

Once you have your test data how you want it, dump the schema and data to SQL files with the test_data:dump Rake task:

$ bin/rake test_data:dump

This will dump three files into test/support/test_data:

  • schema.sql - Schema DDL used to (re-)initialize the test_data environment database for anyone looking to update your test data

  • data.sql - The test data itself, exported as a bunch of SQL INSERT statements, which will be executed by your tests to load your test data

  • non_test_data.sql - Data needed to run the test_data environment, but which shouldn't be inserted by your tests (the ar_internal_metadata and schema_migrations tables, by default; see config.non_test_data_tables)

You probably won't need to, but these paths can be overridden with TestData.config method. Additional details can also be found in the test_data:dump Rake task reference.

Once you've made your initial set of dumps, briefly inspect them and—if everything looks good—commit them. (And if the files are gigantic or full of noise, you might find these ideas helpful).

Does it feel weird to dump and commit SQL files? That's okay! It's healthy to be skeptical whenever you're asked to commit a generated file! Remember that the test_data environment exists only for creating your test data. Your tests will, in turn, load the SQL dump of your data into the test database, and things will proceed just as if you'd been loading Rails' built-in fixtures from a set of YAML files.

Step 4: Load your data in your tests

Now that you've dumped the contents of your test_data database, you can start writing tests that rely on this test data.

To accomplish this, you'll likely want to add hooks to run before each test to put the database into whatever state the test needs.

For the simplest case—ensuring your test data is loaded into the test database and available to your test, you'll want to call the TestData.uses_test_data method at the beginning of the test. The first time uses_test_data is called, test_data will start a transaction and insert your test data. On subsequent calls to uses_test_data by later tests, the transaction will be rolled back to a save point taken just after the data was initially loaded, so that each test gets a clean starting point without repeatedly executing the expensive SQL operation.

If you want every single test to have access to your test data

If, for the sake of consistency & simplicity you want every single Rails-aware test to have access to your test data, you can accomplish this with a single global before-each hook.

If you're using Rails' default Minitest, you can load it in a setup hook in ActiveSupport::TestCase:

class ActiveSupport::TestCase
  setup do

Likewise, if you use RSpec, you can accomplish the same thing with global before(:each) hook in your rails_helper.rb file:

RSpec.configure do |config|
  config.before(:each) do

If some tests rely on test data and others need a clean slate

Of course, for simple units of code, it may be more prudent to manually create the test data they need inline as opposed to relying on a shared source of test data. For these tests, you can call TestData.uses_clean_slate in a setup hook.

For the best performance, you might consider a mode-switching method that's invoked at the top of each test listing like this:

class ActiveSupport::TestCase
  def self.uses(mode)
    case mode
    when :clean_slate
      setup { TestData.uses_clean_slate }
    when :test_data
      setup { TestData.uses_test_data }
      raise "Invalid test data mode: #{mode}"

# A simple model that will `create` its own data
class WidgetTest < ActiveSupport::TestCase
  uses :clean_slate
  # …

# An integrated test that depends on a lot of data
class KitchenSinkTest < ActionDispatch::IntegrationTest
  uses :test_data
  # …

Or, with RSpec:

module TestDataModes
  def uses(mode)
    case mode
    when :clean_slate
      before(:each) { TestData.uses_clean_slate }
    when :test_data
      before(:each) { TestData.uses_test_data }
      raise "Invalid test data mode: #{mode}"

RSpec.configure do |config|

RSpec.describe Widget, type: :model do
  uses :clean_slate
  # …

RSpec.describe "Kitchen sink", type: :request do
  uses :test_data
  # …

But wait, there's more! If your test suite switches between multiple modes from test-to-test, it's important to be aware of the marginal cost between each of those tests. For example, two tests in a row that call TestData.uses_test_data only need a simple rollback as test setup, but a TestData.uses_test_data followed by a TestData.uses_clean_slate requires a rollback, a truncation, and another savepoint. These small costs add up, so consider speeding up your build by grouping your tests into sub-suites based on their source of test data.

If your situation is more complicated

If you're adding test_data to an existing application, it's likely that you won't be able to easily adopt a one-size-fits-all approach to test setup across your entire suite. Some points of reference, if that's the situation you're in:

  • If your test suite is already using fixtures or factories and the above hooks just broke everything, check out our interoperability guide for help.
  • If you need to make any changes to the data after it's loaded, truncated, or after Rails fixtures are loaded, you can configure lifecycle hooks that will help you achieve a very fast test suite by including those changes inside the transaction savepoints
  • If you don't want test_data managing transactions and cleanup for you and just want to load the SQL dump, you can call TestData.insert_test_data_dump
  • For more information on how all this works, see the API reference.

Step 5: Keeping your test data up-to-date

Your app relies on its tests and your tests rely on their test data. This creates a bit of a paradox: creating & maintaining test data is literally a tertiary concern but simultaneously an inescapable responsibility that will live with you for the life of your application. That's true whether you use this gem, factory_bot, Rails fixtures, or something else as a source of shared test data.

Fortunately, we already have a fantastic tool available for keeping our test_data database up-to-date over the life of our application: Rails migrations. If your migrations are resilient enough for your production database, they should also be able to keep your test_data database up-to-date. (As a happy side effect of running your migrations against your test data, this means your test_data database may help you identify hard-to-catch migration bugs early, before being deployed to production!)

Whenever you create a new migration or add a major feature, you'll probably need to update your test data. Here's how to do it:

  • If the current SQL dumps in test/support/test_data are newer than your local test_data database:

    1. Be sure there's nothing in your local test_data database that you added intentionally and forgot to dump, because it's about to be erased

    2. Run rake test_data:reinitialize drop and recreate the test_data database and load the latest SQL dumps into it

    3. Run any pending migrations with RAILS_ENV=test_data bin/rake db:migrate

    4. If you need to create any additional data, start up the server (RAILS_ENV=test_data bin/rails s), just like in Step 2

    5. Export your newly-updated test_data database with rake test_data:dump

    6. Ensure your tests are passing and then commit the resulting SQL files

  • If the local test_data database is already up-to-date with the current SQL dumps, follow steps 3 through 6 above

It's important to keep in mind that your test data SQL dumps are a shared, generated resource among your team (just like a structure.sql or schema.rb file). As a result, if your team doesn't integrate code frequently or if the test data changes frequently, you'd be right to be concerned that the resulting merge conflicts could become significant, so sweeping changes should be made deliberately and in collaboration with other contributors.

[Aside: some Rails teams are averse to using migrations to migrate data as well as schemas, instead preferring one-off scripts and tasks. You'll have an easier time of things if you use migrations for both schema and data changes. Here are some notes on how to write data migrations safely. Otherwise, you'll need to remember to run any ad hoc deployment scripts against your test_data Rails environment along with each of your other deployed environments.]

Factory & Fixture Interoperability Guide

Let's be real, most Rails apps already have some tests, and most of those test suites will already be relying on factory_bot or Rails' built-in test fixtures. While test_data is designed to be an alternative to both of these approaches to managing your test data, it wouldn't be practical to ask a team to rewrite all their existing tests in order to migrate to a different tool. That's why the test_data gem goes to great lengths to play nicely with your existing tests, while ensuring each test is wrapped in an isolated and fast always-rolled-back transaction—regardless if the test depends on test_data, factories, fixtures, all three, or none-of-the-above.

This section will hopefully make it a little easier to incorporate new test_data tests into a codebase that's already using factory_bot and/or Rails fixtures, whether you choose to incrementally migrate to using test_data over time.

Using test_data with factory_bot

This section will document some thoughts and strategies for introducing test_data to a test suite that's already using factory_bot.

Getting your factory tests passing after adding test_data

Depending on the assumptions your tests make about the state of the database before you've loaded any factories, it's possible that everything will "just work" after adding TestData.uses_test_data in a before-each hook (as shown in the setup guide). So by all means, try running your suite after following the initial setup guide and see if the suite just passes.

If you find that your test suite is failing after adding TestData.uses_test_data to your setup, don't panic! Test failures are most likely caused by the combination of your test_data SQL dump with the records inserted by your factories.

One approach would be to attempt to resolve each such failure one-by-one—usually by updating the offending factories or editing your test_data database to ensure they steer clear of one another. Care should be taken to preserve the conceptual encapsulation of each test, however, as naively squashing errors risks introducing inadvertent coupling between your factories and your test_data data such that neither can be used independently of the other.

Another approach that the test_data gem provides is an additional mode with TestData.uses_clean_slate, which—when called at the top of a factory-dependent test—will ensure that the tables that test_data had written to will be truncated, allowing the test to create whatever factories it needs without fear of conflicts.

class AnExistingFactoryUsingTest < ActiveSupport::Testcase
  setup do
    # pre-existing setup
  # …

If you have a lot of tests, you can find a more sophisticated approaches for logically switching between types of test data declaratively above in the getting started section

Using test_data with Rails fixtures

While Rails fixtures are similar to factories, the fact that they're run globally by Rails and permanently committed to the test database actually makes them a little trickier to work with. This section will cover a couple approaches for integrating test_data into suites that use fixtures.

It's more likely than not that all your tests will explode in dramatic fashion as soon as you add TestData.uses_test_data to a setup or before(:each) hook. Typically, your fixtures will be loaded and committed immediately with your test_data dump inserted afterward, which makes it exceedingly likely that your tests will fail with primary key and unique constraint conflicts. If that's the case you find yourself in, test_data provides an API that overrides Rails' built-in fixtures behavior with a monkey patch.

And if that bold text wasn't enough to scare you off, here's how to do it:

  1. Before your tests have loaded (e.g. near the top of your test helper), call: TestData.prevent_rails_fixtures_from_loading_automatically! This will patch Rails' setup_fixtures and effectively render it into a no-op, which means that your test fixtures will not be automatically loaded into your test database

  2. In tests that rely on your test_data dump, call TestData.uses_test_data as you normally would. Because your fixtures won't be loaded automatically, they won't be available to these tests

  3. In tests that need fixtures, call TestData.uses_rails_fixtures(self) in a before-each hook. This will first ensure that any tables written to by test_data are truncated (as with TestData.uses_clean_slate) before loading your Rails fixtures

For example, you might add the following to an existing fixtures-dependent test to get it passing:

class AnExistingFixtureUsingTest < ActiveSupport::Testcase
  setup do
    # pre-existing setup

  # …

If you've adopted a mode-switching helper method like the one described above, you could of course add a third mode to cover any tests that depend on Rails fixtures.

Rake Task Reference


A meta-task that runs test_data:configure and test_data:initialize.


This task runs several generators:

  • config/environments/test_data.rb - As you may know, Rails ships with development, test, and production environments defined by default. But you can actually define custom environments, too! This gem adds a new test_data environment and database that's intended to be used to create and dump your test data. This new environment file loads your development environment's configuration and disables migration schema dumps so that you can run migrations against your test_data database without affecting your app's schema.rb or structure.sql.

  • config/initializers/test_data.rb - Creates an initializer for the gem that calls TestData.config with an empty block and comments documenting the currently-available options and their default values

  • config/database.yml - This generator adds a new test_data section to your database configuration, named with the same scheme as your other databases (e.g. your_app_test_data). If your configuration resembles Rails' generated database.yml and has a working &default alias, then this should "just work"

  • config/webpacker.yml - The gem has nothing to do with web assets, but webpacker will display some prominent warnings or errors if it is loaded without a configuration entry for the currently-running environment, so this generator defines an alias based on your development config and then defines test_data as extending it

  • config/secrets.yml - If your app still uses (the now-deprecated) secrets.yml file introduced in Rails 4.1, this generator will ensure that the test_data environment is accounted for with a generated secret_key_base value. If you have numerous secrets in this file's development: stanza, you may want to alias and inherit it into test_data: like the webpacker.yml generator does

  • config/cable.yml - Simply defines a test_data: entry that tells ActionCable to use the async adapter, since that's also the default for development


This task will verify that your configuration appears to be valid by checking with each of the gem's generators to inspect your configuration files, and will error whenever a configuration problem is detected.


This task gets your local test_data database up-and-running, either from a set of dump files (if they already exist), or by loading your schema and running your seed file. Specifically:

  1. Creates the test_data environment's database, if it doesn't already exist

  2. Ensures the database is non-empty to preserve data integrity (run test_data:drop_database first if you intend to reinitialize it)

  3. Checks to see if a dump of the database already exists (by default, stored in test/support/test_data/)

    • If dumps do exist, it invokes test_data:load to load them into the database

    • Otherwise, it invokes the task db:schema:load and db:seed (similar to Rails' built-in db:setup task)


This task is designed for the situation where you may already have a test_data database created and simply want to drop it and replace it with whatever dumps are in the test/support/test_data directory.

Dropping the database requires confirmation, either interactively or by setting the environment variable TEST_DATA_CONFIRM. It will additionally warn you in the event that the local database appears to be newer than the dumps on disk that would replace it. From there, this task behaves the same way as rake test_data:initialize.


This task is designed to be run after you've created or updated your test data in the test_data database and you're ready to run your tests against it. The task creates several plain SQL dumps from your test_data environment's database:

  • A schema-only dump, by default in test/support/test_data/schema.sql

  • A data-only dump of records you want to be loaded in your tests, by default in test/support/test_data/data.sql

  • A data-only dump of records that you don't want loaded in your tests in test/support/test_data/non_test_data.sql. By default, this includes Rails' internal tables: ar_internal_metadata and schema_migrations, configurable with TestData.config's non_test_data_tables

Each of these files are designed to be committed and versioned with the rest of your application. TestData.config includes several options to control this task.


This task will load your SQL dumps into your test_data database by:

  1. Verifying the test_data environment's database is empty (creating it if it doesn't exist and failing if it's not empty)

  2. Verifying that your schema, test data, and non-test data SQL dumps can be found at the configured paths

  3. Loading the dumps into the test_data database

  4. Warning if there are pending migrations that haven't been run yet

If there are pending migrations, you'll probably want to run them and then dump & commit your test data so that they're up-to-date:

$ RAILS_ENV=test_data bin/rake db:migrate
$ bin/rake test_data:dump


This task will create the test_data environment's database if it does not already exist. It also enhances Rails' db:create task so that test_data is created along with development and test whenever rake db:create is run.


This task will drop the test_data environment's database if it exists. It also enhances Rails' db:drop task so that test_data is dropped along with development and test whenever rake db:drop is run.

API Reference


This is the method designed to be used by your tests to load your test data into your test database so that your tests can rely on it. Typically, you'll want to call it at the beginning of each test that relies on the test data managed by this gem—most often, in a before-each hook.

For the sake of speed and integrity, TestData.uses_test_data is designed to take advantage of nested transactions (Postgres savepoints). By default, data is loaded in a transaction and intended to be rolled back to the point immediately after the data was imported between tests. This way, your test suite only pays the cost of importing the SQL file once, but each of your tests can enjoy a clean slate that's free of data pollution from other tests. (This is similar to, but separate from, Rails fixtures' use_transactional_tests option.)

See configuration option: config.after_test_data_load


If a test does not rely on your test_data data, you can instead ensure that it runs against empty tables by calling TestData.uses_clean_slate. Like TestData.uses_test_data, this would normally be called at the beginning of each such test in a before-each hook.

This method works by first ensuring that your test data is loaded (and the correspondent savepoint created), then will truncate all affected tables and create another savepoint. It's a little counter-intuitive that you'd first litter your database with data only to wipe it clean again, but it's much faster to repeatedly truncate tables than to repeatedly import large SQL files.

See configuration options: config.after_test_data_truncate, config.truncate_these_test_data_tables


As described in this README's fixture interop guide, TestData.uses_rails_fixtures will load your app's Rails fixtures by intercepting Rails' built-in fixture-loading code. As with the other "uses" methods, you'll likely want to call it in a before-each hook before any test that needs access to your Rails fixtures.

There are two additional things to keep in mind if using this method:

  1. Using this feature requires that you've first invoked TestData.prevent_rails_fixtures_from_loading_automatically! before your tests have started running to override Rails' default behavior before any of your tests have loaded or started running

  2. Because the method depends on Rails' fixture caching mechanism, it must be passed an instance of the running test class (e.g. TestData.uses_rails_fixtures(self))

Under the hood, this method effectively ensures a clean slate the same way TestData.uses_clean_slate does, except that after creating the truncation savepoint, it will then load your fixtures and finally create—wait for it—yet another savepoint that subsequent calls to uses_rails_fixtures can rollback to.

See configuration option: config.after_rails_fixture_load


Call this method before any tests have been loaded or executed by your test runner if you're planning to use TestData.uses_rails_fixtures to load Rails fixtures into any of your tests. This method will disable the default behavior of loading your Rails fixtures into the test database as soon as the first test case with fixtures enabled is executed. (Inspect the source for the patch to make sure you're comfortable with what it's doing.)


The generated config/initializers/test_data.rb initializer will include a call to TestData.config, which takes a block that yields a mutable configuration object (similar to Rails.application.config). If anything is unclear after reading the documentation, feel free to review the initializer and the Config class themselves.

Lifecycle hooks

Want to shift forward several timestamp fields after your test_data SQL dumps are loaded into your test database? Need to refresh a materialized view after your Rails fixtures are loaded? You could do these things after calling TestData.uses_test_data and TestData.uses_rails_fixtures, respectively, but you'd take the corresponding performance hit in each and every test.

Instead, you can pass a callable or a block and test_data will execute it just after performing the associated data operation but just before creating a transaction savepoint. That way, whenever the gem rolls back between tests, your hook won't need to be run again.


This is hook is run immediately after TestData.uses_test_data has loaded your SQL dumps into the test database, but before creating a savepoint. Takes a block or anything that responds to call.

TestData.config do |config|
  # Example: roll time forward
  config.after_test_data_load do
    Boop.connection.exec_update(<<~SQL, nil, [[nil, - System.epoch]])
      update boops set booped_at = booped_at + $1

This is hook is run immediately after TestData.uses_clean_slate has truncated your test data, but before creating a savepoint. Takes a block or anything that responds to call.

TestData.config do |config|
  # Example: pass a callable instead of a block

This is hook is run immediately after TestData.uses_rails_fixtures has loaded your Rails fixtures into the test database, but before creating a savepoint. Takes a block or anything that responds to call.

TestData.config do |config|
  # Example: refresh Postgres assets like materialized views
  config.after_rails_fixture_load do

test_data:dump options

The gem provides several options governing the behavior of the test_data:dump Rake task. You probably won't need to set these unless you run into a problem with the defaults.


Your application may have some tables that are necessary for the operation of the application, but irrelevant or incompatible with you your tests. This data is still dumped for the sake of being able to restore the database with rake test_data:load, but will not be loaded when your tests are running. Defaults to [], (but will always include ar_internal_metadata and schema_migrations).

TestData.config do |config|
  config.non_test_data_tables = []

Some tables populated by your application may not be necessary to either its proper functioning or useful to your tests (e.g. audit logs), so you can save time and storage by preventing those tables from being dumped entirely. Defaults to [].

TestData.config do |config|
  config.dont_dump_these_tables = []

The path to which the schema DDL of your test_data database will be written. This is only used by rake test_data:load when initializing the test_data database. Defaults to "test/support/test_data/schema.sql".

TestData.config do |config|
  config.schema_dump_path = "test/support/test_data/schema.sql"

The path that the SQL dump of your test data will be written. This is the dump that will be executed by TestData.uses_test_data in your tests. Defaults to "test/support/test_data/data.sql".

TestData.config do |config|
  config.data_dump_path = "test/support/test_data/data.sql"

The path to which the non_test_data_tables in your test_data database will be written. This is only used by rake test_data:load when initializing the test_data database. Defaults to "test/support/test_data/non_test_data.sql".

TestData.config do |config|
  config.non_test_data_dump_path = "test/support/test_data/non_test_data.sql"

Other configuration options


By default, when TestData.uses_clean_slate is called, it will truncate any tables for which an INSERT operation was detected in your test data SQL dump. This may not be suitable for every case, however, so this option allows you to specify which tables are truncated. Defaults to nil.

TestData.config do |config|
  config.truncate_these_test_data_tables = []

The gem outputs its messages to standard output and error by assigning a log level to each message. Valid values are :debug, :info, :warn, :error, :quiet. Defaults to :info.

TestData.config do |config|
  config.log_level = :info


If you just want to insert the test data in your application's SQL dumps without any of the transaction management or test runner assumptions inherent in TestData.uses_test_data, then you can call TestData.insert_test_data_dump to load and execute the dump.

This might be necessary in a few different situations:

  • Running tests in environments that can't be isolated to a single database transaction (e.g. orchestrating tests across multiple databases, processes, etc.)
  • You might ant to use your test data to seed pre-production environments with enough data to exploratory test (as you might do in a postdeploy script with your Heroku Review Apps)
  • Your tests require complex heterogeneous sources of data that aren't a good fit for the assumptions and constraints of this library's default methods for preparing test data

In any case, since TestData.insert_test_data_dump is not wrapped in a transaction, when used for automated tests, data cleanup becomes your responsibility.


The test_data gem is still brand new and doesn't cover every use case just yet. Here are some existing assumptions and limitations:

  • You're using Postgres

  • You're using Rails 6 or higher

  • Your app does not require Rails' multi-database support in order to be tested

  • Your app has the binstubs bin/rake and bin/rails that Rails generates and they work (protip: you can regenerate them with rails app:update:bin)

  • Your database.yml defines a &default alias from which to extend the test_data database configuration (if your YAML file lacks one, you can always specify the test_data database configuration manually)

Fears, Uncertainties, and Doubts

But we use and like factory_bot and so I am inclined to dislike everything about this gem!

If you use factory_bot and all of these are true:

  • Your integration tests are super fast and are not getting significantly slower over time

  • Minor changes to existing factories rarely result in test failures that require unrelated tests to be read & updated to get them passing again

  • The number of associated records generated between your most-used factories are representative of production data, as opposed to generating a sprawling hierarchy of models, as if your test just ordered "one of everything" off the menu

  • Your default factories generate models that resemble real records created by your production application, as opposed to representing the sum-of-all-edge-cases with every boolean flag enabled and optional attribute set

  • You've avoided mitigating the above problems with confusingly-named and confidence-eroding nested factories with names like :user, :basic_user, :lite_user, and :plain_user_no_associations_allowed

If none of these things are true, then congratulations! You are probably using factory_bot to great effect! Unfortunately, in our experience, this outcome is exceedingly rare, especially for large and long-lived applications.

However, if you'd answer "no" to any of the above questions, just know that these are the sorts of failure modes the test_data gem was designed to avoid—and we hope you'll consider trying it with an open mind. At the same time, we acknowledge that large test suites can't be rewritten and migrated to a different source of test data overnight—nor should they be! See our notes on migrating to test_data incrementally

How will I handle merge conflicts in these SQL files if I have lots of people working on lots of feature branches all adding to the test_data database dumps?

In a word: carefully!

First, in terms of expectations-setting, you should expect your test data SQL dumps to churn at roughly the same rate as your schema: lots of changes up front, but tapering off as the application stabilizes.

If your schema isn't changing frequently and you're not running data migrations against production very often, it might make the most sense to let this concern present itself as a real problem before attempting to solve it, as you're likely to find that other best-practices around collaboration and deployment (frequent merges, continuous integration, coordinating breaking changes) will also manage this risk. The reason that the dumps are stored as plain SQL (aside from the fact that git's text compression is very good) is to make merge conflicts with other branches feasible, if not entirely painless.

However, if your app is in the very initial stages of development or you're otherwise making breaking changes to your schema and data very frequently, our best advice is to hold off a bit on writing any integration tests that depend on shared sources of test data (regardless of tool), as they'll be more likely to frustrate your ability to rapidly iterate than detect bugs. Once you you have a reasonably stable feature working end-to-end, that's a good moment to start adding integration tests—and perhaps pulling in a gem like this one to help you.

Why can't I save multiple database dumps to cover different scenarios?

For the same reason you (probably) don't have multiple production databases: the fact that Rails apps are monolithic and consolidated is a big reason why they're so productive and comprehensible. This gem is not VCR for databases. If you were to design separate test data dumps for each feature, stakeholder, or concern, you'd also have more moving parts to maintain, more complexity to communicate, and more pieces that could someday fall into disrepair.

By having a single test_data database that grows up with your application just like production does—with both having their schemas and data migrated incrementally over time—your integration tests that depend on test_data will have an early opportunity to catch bugs that otherwise wouldn't be found until they were deployed into a long-lived staging or (gasp!) production environment.

Are you sure I should commit these SQL dumps? They're way too big!

If the dump files generated by test_data:dump seem massive, consider the cause:

  1. If you inadvertently created more data than necessary, you might consider resetting (or rolling back) your changes and making another attempt at generating a more minimal set of test data

  2. If some records persisted by your application aren't very relevant to your tests, you might consider either of these options:

    • If certain tables are necessary for running the app but aren't needed by your tests, you can add them to the config.non_test_data_tables configuration array. They'll still be committed to git, but won't loaded by your tests

    • If the certain tables are not needed by your application or by your tests (e.g. audit logs), add them to the config.dont_dump_these_tables array, and they won't be persisted by rake test_data:dump

  3. If the dumps are necessarily really big (some apps are complex!), consider looking into git-lfs for tracking them without impacting the size and performance of the git slug. (See GitHub's documentation on what their service supports)

[Beyond these options, we'd also be interested in a solution that filtered data in a more granular way than ignoring entire tables. If you have a proposal you'd be interested in implementing, suggest it in an issue!]

Tests shouldn't use shared test data, they should instantiate the objects they need!

Agreed! Nothing is simpler than calling new to create an object.

If it's possible to write a test that looks like this, do it. Don't use shared test data loaded from this gem or any other:

def test_exclude_cancelled_orders
  good_order =
  bad_order = true)
  user = User.create!(orders: [good_order, bad_order])

  result = user.active_orders

  assert_includes good_order
  refute_includes bad_order

This test is simple, self-contained, clearly demarcates the arrange-act-assert phases, and (most importantly) will only fail if the functionality stops working. Maximizing the number of tests that can be written expressively and succinctly without the aid of shared test data is a laudable goal that more teams should embrace.

However, what if the code you're writing doesn't need 3 records in the database, but 30? Writing that much test setup would be painstaking, despite being fully-encapsulated. Long test setup is harder for others to read and understand. And because that setup depends on more of your system's code, it will have more reasons to break as your codebase changes. At that point, you have two options:

  1. Critically validate your design: why is it so hard to set up? Does it really require so much persisted data to exercise this behavior? Would a plain old Ruby object that defined a pure function have been feasible? Could a model instance or even a Struct be passed to the subject instead of loading everything from the database? When automated testing is saved for the very end of a feature's development, it can feel too costly to reexamine design decisions like this, but it can be valuable to consider all the same. Easy to test code is easy to use code

  2. If the complex setup is a necessary reality of the situation that your app needs to handle (and it often will be!), then having some kind of shared source of test data to use as a starting point can be hugely beneficial. That's why factory_bot is so popular, why this gem exists, etc.

As a result, there is no one-size-fits-all approach. Straightforward behavior that can be invoked with a clear, concise test has no reason to be coupled to a shared source of test data. Meanwhile, tests of more complex behaviors that require lots of carefully-arranged data might be unmaintainable without a shared source of test data to lean on. So both kinds of test clearly have their place.

But this is a pretty nuanced discussion that can be hard to keep in mind when under deadline pressure or on a large team where building consensus around norms is challenging. As a result, leaving the decision of which type of test to write to spur-of-the-moment judgment is likely to result in inconsistent test design. Instead, you might consider separating these two categories into separate test types or suites, with simple heuristics to determine which types of code demand which type of test.

For example, it would be completely reasonable to load this gem's test data for integration tests, but not for basic tests of models, like so:

class ActionDispatch::IntegrationTest
  setup do

class ActiveSupport::TestCase
  setup do

In short, this skepticism is generally healthy, and encapsulated tests that forego reliance on shared sources of test data should be maximized. For everything else, there's test_data.

I'm worried my tests aren't as fast as they should be

The test_data gem was written to enable tests that are not only more comprehensible and maintainable over the long-term, but also much faster to run. That said—and especially if you're adding test_data to an existing test suite—care should be taken to audit everything the suite does between tests in order to optimize its overall runtime.

Randomized test order leading to data churn

Generally speaking, randomizing the order in which tests run is an unmitigated win: randomizing helps you catch any unintended dependency between two tests early, when it's still cheap & easy to fix. However, if your tests use different sources of test data (e.g. some call TestData.uses_test_data and some call TestData.uses_clean_slate), it's very likely that randomizing your tests will result in a significantly slower overall test suite. Instead, if you group tests that use the same type of test data together (e.g. by separating them into separate suites), you might find profound speed gains.

To illustrate this, suppose you had 5 tests that relied on your test_data data and 5 that relied on Rails fixtures. If all of these tests ran in random order (the default), you might see the following behavior at run-time:

$ bin/rails test test/example_test.rb
Run options: --seed 63999

# Running:

   test_data -- loading test_data SQL dump
.  fixtures  -- truncating tables, loading Rails fixtures
.  fixtures  -- rolling back to Rails fixtures
.  test_data -- rolling back to clean test_data
.  fixtures  -- truncating tables, loading Rails fixtures
.  test_data -- rolling back to clean test_data
.  fixtures  -- truncating tables, loading Rails fixtures
.  test_data -- rolling back to clean test_data
.  fixtures  -- truncating tables, loading Rails fixtures
.  test_data -- rolling back to clean test_data

Finished in 2.449957s, 4.0817 runs/s, 4.0817 assertions/s.
10 runs, 10 assertions, 0 failures, 0 errors, 0 skips

So, what can you do to speed this up? The most effective strategy to avoiding this churn is to group the execution of each tests that use each source of test data into sub-suites that are run serially, on e after the other.

  • If you're using Rails' defualt Minitest, we wrote a gem called minitest-suite to accomplish exactly this. Just declare something like suite :test_data or suite :fixtures at the top of each test class
  • If you're using RSpec, the suite option combined with a custom ordering can accomplish this. You might also consider using tags to organize your tests by type, but you'll likely have to run a separate CLI invocation for each to avoid the tests from being interleaved

Here's what the same example would do at run-time after adding minitest-suite:

$ bin/rails test test/example_test.rb
Run options: --seed 50105

# Running:

   test_data -- loading test_data SQL dump
.  test_data -- rolling back to clean test_data
.  test_data -- rolling back to clean test_data
.  test_data -- rolling back to clean test_data
.  test_data -- rolling back to clean test_data
.  fixtures -- truncating tables, loading Rails fixtures
.  fixtures -- rolling back to clean fixtures
.  fixtures -- rolling back to clean fixtures
.  fixtures -- rolling back to clean fixtures
.  fixtures -- rolling back to clean fixtures

Finished in 2.377050s, 4.2069 runs/s, 4.2069 assertions/s.
10 runs, 10 assertions, 0 failures, 0 errors, 0 skips

By grouping the execution in this way, the most expensive operations will usually only be run once: at the beginning of the first test in each suite.

Expensive data manipulation

If you're doing anything repeatedly that's data-intensive in your test setup after calling one of the TestData.uses_* methods, that operation is being repeated once per test, which could be very slow. Instead, you might consider moving that behavior into a lifecycle hook.

Any code passed to a lifecycle hook will only be executed when data is actually loaded or truncated and its effect will be included in the transaction savepoint that the test_data gem rolls back between tests. Seriously, appropriately moving data adjustments into these hooks can cut your test suite's runtime by an order of magnitude.

Redundant test setup tasks

One of the most likely sources of unnecessary slowness is redundant test cleanup. The speed gained from sandwiching every expensive operation between transaction savepoints can be profound… but can also easily be erased by a single before-each hook calling database_cleaner to commit a truncation of the database. As a result, it's worth taking a little time to take stock of everything that's called between tests during setup & teardown to ensure multiple tools aren't attempting to clean up the state of the database and potentially interfering with one another.

Code of Conduct

This project follows Test Double's code of conduct for all community interactions, including (but not limited to) one-on-one communications, public posts/comments, code reviews, pull requests, and GitHub issues. If violations occur, Test Double will take any action they deem appropriate for the infraction, up to and including blocking a user from the organization's repositories.