Saturday, 15 March 2008

Concordion 1.2.0

I've released a new version of Concordion.

  • Support for full set of JUnit4.4 annotations (@Before, @After etc.)
  • New command: assertTrue
For example, this instrumented specification:
<p>
The first name <span concordion:set="#firstName">Bob</span>,
<span concordion:assertTrue="#firstName.startsWith(#letter)">
starts with the letter <b concordion:set="#letter">B</b></span>.
</p>
Will result in the following output:
Success

A failure would look like this:
Failure

Thursday, 13 March 2008

Big Hairy Tables

I like Keith Braithwaite's "software gauges" metaphor. As he explains, a gauge is a shortcut for deciding whether something passes or fails some criteria. For example, if your bag fits inside the metal cage at an airport then it can be taken onboard as hand luggage. You don't need to use a tape measure. What's interesting about gauges is that you don't necessarily need to be able to articulate "the rules"; if you need to know the rules you can infer them from the gauge.

However, I'm not convinced with what Keith says about trader spreadsheets making good gauges. Obviously he's had success with them, so they definitely can be made to work, but would they have worked even better another way? Basically what it boils down to is that I like tables; I just don't like big hairy tables!

If the hand-luggage cage can be taken as an example of good practice then some of the properties of a good gauge appear to be: sturdy and reliable; correct enough for all practical purposes; obvious; unambiguous; quick to use; and simple to understand by the gauge user.

The spreadsheets Keith showed me contained a large number of sparsely populated columns of denormalised data with lots of magic numbers and magic strings. This doesn't seem to stack up well against the list of desirable traits for a gauge. They're not designed with the gauge user in mind. If your domain model doesn't fit the gauge, is it because the model is wrong? Or the gauge is wrong? Or your interpretation of the gauge is wrong? With so many moving parts, it's got to be difficult to work out, even with help from the traders.

Isn't it better to treat the spreadsheets as a starting point rather than an ending point? And then have someone skilled at analysis and abstraction work with the traders and extract smaller, more practical gauges. There's nothing to stop you holding these gauges in spreadsheets too. I have a lot of respect for the customer, but I don't see why, just because the traders have written a spreadsheet, you can't help them improve it. They've got their skills you've got yours.

Sunday, 9 March 2008

Acceptance Test Driven Development

Most of the examples on the Concordion website are technical in nature, so I've put together a short business-focused example. Please take a look.

I'm not trying to push Concordion on you. You can do something similar with other test frameworks. It's really the approach that I'm trying to get across: focusing the acceptance tests on goals, not solutions; and decomposing behaviours, keeping each test as isolated and simple as you can.

While I'm here, let me join in the 2x2 matrix fun:

2x2 Matrix: Abstract vs Concrete / Goal vs Solution

The user-interface (UI) of an application is a solution, not a goal. I often see people writing test scripts in terms of direct user interface interactions (e.g. using a record/playback/verify tool like Selenium) unaware that by doing so they're locking themselves into a particular design.

If, instead, they hid the scripting behind goal-oriented acceptance tests they would leave themselves a lot more freedom to change the solution. I guess not all teams need that kind of freedom. But I wonder how many even know there's a choice?