Java – Making a private method public to unit test it…good idea


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I occasionally find myself needing to make a private method in a class public just to write some unit tests for it.

Usually this would be because the method contains logic shared between other methods in the class and it's tidier to test the logic on its own, or another reason could be possible be I want to test logic used in synchronous threads without having to worry about threading problems.

Do other people find themselves doing this, because I don't really like doing it?? I personally think the bonuses outweigh the problems of making a method public which doesn't really provide any service outside of the class…


Thanks for answers everyone, seems to have piqued peoples' interest. I think the general consensus is testing should happen via the public API as this is the only way a class will ever be used, and I do agree with this. The couple of cases I mentioned above where I would do this above were uncommon cases and I thought the benefits of doing it was worth it.

I can however, see everyones point that it should never really happen. And when thinking about it a bit more I think changing your code to accommodate tests is a bad idea – after all I suppose testing is a support tool in a way and changing a system to 'support a support tool' if you will, is blatant bad practice.

Best Solution

This answer was originally posted for the question Is unit testing alone ever a good reason to expose private instance variables via getters? which was merged into this one, so it may be a tad specific to the usecase presented there.

As a general statement, I'm usually all for refactoring "production" code to make it easier to test. However, I don't think that would be a good call here. A good unit test (usually) shouldn't care about the class' implementation details, only about its visible behavior. Instead of exposing the internal stacks to the test, you could test that the class returns the pages in the order you expect it to after calling first() or last().

For example, consider this pseudo-code:

public class NavigationTest {
    private Navigation nav;

    public void setUp() {
        // Set up nav so the order is page1->page2->page3 and
        // we've moved back to page2
        nav = ...;

    public void testFirst() {

        assertEquals("page1", nav.getPage());;
        assertEquals("page2", nav.getPage());;
        assertEquals("page3", nav.getPage());

    public void testLast() {

        assertEquals("page3", nav.getPage());

        assertEquals("page2", nav.getPage());

        assertEquals("page1", nav.getPage());