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Default arguments for cooler testing

In my other post about creating properly typechecked helper functions in Typescript, I missed something out from the examples that’s present in the real code: default parameters! There’s a function, createEvent, that returns an object with a dynamically generated UUID value in it. It also includes the current timestamp. This is great from the programmer’s point of view as there’s no need to wire up these values manually, but it sucks for unit tests because the values always change! The solution is to use default parameters to keep the ergonomics of a clean public API, but still support unit testing and special cases gracefully.

Let’s say we have the following function:

import { v4 } from 'uuid';

function createUser(
  name: string, 
  email: string
) {
  return {
    name,
    email,
    id: v4(),
    created_at: (new Date()).toISOString()
  }
}

Pretty standard. Calling it is ergonomic:

const user = createUser(
  'Bobby Beans',
  'bobby@beans.com'
);

Great, my ground-breaking code goes live yet again. Or would if I had any unit tests! Fine. Bloody review process.

Unit testing

Unit testing this function should be pretty easy, right? I’ll just write something like this (using Mocha and Chai):

describe('Create user', () => {
  it('Creates a user with ID and created at fields', () => {
    const expected = {
      name: "Bobby Beans",
      email: "bobby@beans.com",
      id: "33713144-3a28-4eac-ba0b-f626489d3993",
      created_at: "2018-01-02T03:04:05"
    };

    const created = createUser(
      'Bobby Beans',
      'bobby@beans.com'
    );

    expect(created).to.deep.equal(expected);
  })
})

A pretty contrived test, but good enough for the purposes of this post. Naturally, it fails.

Because UUIDs are unique, the value returned by createUser will be different every time, failing our expect() equality check. Similarly, the timestamp returned is always the current timestamp so that’s of no use to compare against either.

One solution to this problem is to only check that some fields are returned, perhaps just name and email, but this makes the unit test even less useful. Let’s fix it properly by using default parameters in our createUser function:

import { v4 } from 'uuid';

function createUser(
  name: string, 
  email: string,
  _uuid = v4,
  _timestamp = () => (new Date()).toISOString()
) {
  return {
    name,
    email,
    id: _uuid(),
    created_at: _timestamp()
  }
}

When the function is called normally as createUser(name, email), _uuid and _timestamp are left undefined, so use their default values as used. These are v4 (from uuid) and a function that returns the current timestamp. This doesn’t change the normal interface to this function, however now we can do much nicer stuff with our test:

describe('Create user', () => {
  it('Creates a user with ID and created at fields', () => {
    const id = "33713144-3a28-4eac-ba0b-f626489d3993";
    const created_at = "2018-01-02T03:04:05";

    const expected = {
      name: "Bobby Beans",
      email: "bobby@beans.com",
      id,
      created_at
    };

    const created = createUser(
      'Bobby Beans',
      'bobby@beans.com',
      () => id,
      () => created_at
    );

    expect(created).to.deep.equal(expected);
  })
})

The above changes hardcode the id and created_at values, allowing the test to do a deep comparison on the whole returned object. This simplifies the test code, and improves coverage by ensuring that every field returned is what we expect. Adding tests like this to a well-typed Typescript codebase should lead to more robust code and fewer (hopefully no) errors in production. Fingers crossed anyway.

Now someone can approve my pull request. Hooray!

Caveats

There’s a somewhat major caveat to this method, and that’s one of argument counts. What if I want to add a third field password to my handy createUser function? That’s easy enough, but now all the existing code that uses createUser will error out. The _uuid argument is now being given a string as input, which is of course not what we want it to do. Typescript will likely warn you in this case, but maybe not. A solution I can think of is to pass all your arguments to the function as an object with overridable functions defined after:

import { v4 } from 'uuid';

function createUser(
  {
    name 
    email
  }: { 
    name: string,
    email: string
  },
  _uuid = v4,
  _timestamp = () => (new Date()).toISOString()
) {
  return {
    name,
    email,
    id: _uuid(),
    created_at: _timestamp()
  }
}

Now adding password is as easy as extending the first arguments object, and the “hidden” test helper arguments _uuid and _timestamp are left neatly alone. Personally I think this is safer and easier to reason about than positional string arguments, so take this as just another reason to pass objects as function arguments.

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