How are Mocks meant to be used


When I originally was introduced to Mocks I felt the primary purpose was to mock up objects that come from external sources of data. This way I did not have to maintain an automated unit testing test database, I could just fake it.

But now I am starting to think of it differently. I am wondering if Mocks are more effective used to completely isolate the tested method from anything outside of itself. The image that keeps coming to mind is the backdrop you use when painting. You want to keep the paint from getting all over everything. I am only testing that method, and I only want to know how it reacts to these faked up external factors?

It seems incredibly tedious to do it this way but the advantage I am seeing is when the test fails it is because it is screwed up and not 16 layers down. But now I have to have 16 tests to get the same testing coverage because each piece would be tested in isolation. Plus each test becomes more complicated and more deeply tied to the method it is testing.

It feels right to me but it also seems brutal so I kind of want to know what others think.

Best Solution

I recommend you take a look at Martin Fowler's article Mocks Aren't Stubs for a more authoritative treatment of Mocks than I can give you.

The purpose of mocks is to unit test your code in isolation of dependencies so you can truly test a piece of code at the "unit" level. The code under test is the real deal, and every other piece of code it relies on (via parameters or dependency injection, etc) is a "Mock" (an empty implementation that always returns expected values when one of its methods is called.)

Mocks may seem tedious at first, but they make Unit Testing far easier and more robust once you get the hang of using them. Most languages have Mock libraries which make mocking relatively trivial. If you are using Java, I'll recommend my personal favorite: EasyMock.

Let me finish with this thought: you need integration tests too, but having a good volume of unit tests helps you find out which component contains a bug, when one exists.