How should I unit test multithreaded code

multithreadingunit-testing

I have thus far avoided the nightmare that is testing multi-threaded code since it just seems like too much of a minefield. I'd like to ask how people have gone about testing code that relies on threads for successful execution, or just how people have gone about testing those kinds of issues that only show up when two threads interact in a given manner?

This seems like a really key problem for programmers today, it would be useful to pool our knowledge on this one imho.

Best Solution

Look, there's no easy way to do this. I'm working on a project that is inherently multithreaded. Events come in from the operating system and I have to process them concurrently.

The simplest way to deal with testing complex, multithreaded application code is this: If it's too complex to test, you're doing it wrong. If you have a single instance that has multiple threads acting upon it, and you can't test situations where these threads step all over each other, then your design needs to be redone. It's both as simple and as complex as this.

There are many ways to program for multithreading that avoids threads running through instances at the same time. The simplest is to make all your objects immutable. Of course, that's not usually possible. So you have to identify those places in your design where threads interact with the same instance and reduce the number of those places. By doing this, you isolate a few classes where multithreading actually occurs, reducing the overall complexity of testing your system.

But you have to realize that even by doing this, you still can't test every situation where two threads step on each other. To do that, you'd have to run two threads concurrently in the same test, then control exactly what lines they are executing at any given moment. The best you can do is simulate this situation. But this might require you to code specifically for testing, and that's at best a half step towards a true solution.

Probably the best way to test code for threading issues is through static analysis of the code. If your threaded code doesn't follow a finite set of thread safe patterns, then you might have a problem. I believe Code Analysis in VS does contain some knowledge of threading, but probably not much.

Look, as things stand currently (and probably will stand for a good time to come), the best way to test multithreaded apps is to reduce the complexity of threaded code as much as possible. Minimize areas where threads interact, test as best as possible, and use code analysis to identify danger areas.