Thursday, June 10, 2010

Test Fakes - Solving a Domain Entity Issue

Follow on from :Testing with Domain Driven Design

Background on the design in question

  • We are using NHibernate for persistence on Oracle.
  • We have service that accept command that are coarse grained and perform a clearly defined business function, they are not chatty services.
  • We are using the notion of aggregate roots so all child objects are created and managed by the owning aggregate root. If you need to access the child it must be done via the AR
  • The domain is relatively large and complex.

Background problem

We had issues where we were dealing with domain objects in test and getting problems with interrogating child collections. For example we sometimes need to be able to update a child of an aggregate root and we were using the id of the child (within our command object) to indicate which child to update. We are using a basic database identity field (oracle sequence) for setting the ids on all of our user defined entities.
Herein lies our problem;* In our test we create an aggregate root complete with child objects. We then want to test, for example, updating a child of the aggregate root via a DTO based command (i.e. using an id to define the child to update) and we run into issues when all of the child object have the same id of 0 as they are not persisted (it’s a unit test). Now this would never happen in real life. Why would you issue a command to update something that has not been persisted, how do you even know about that object?
The quick solution that I have seen used a lot is to set the ids of all of the domain objects prior to running the test. I don’t like this if you are doing this by exposing the ID setter on the domain object. This is opening up the API of our domain for testability and is potentially the start of a slippery slope in to a pit of hell. An easy way around this is to use fakes. These object are just child object of the domain objects in question that help expose stuff the domain shouldn’t; in this case the ID setter.
The other alternative is to set the id on creation of the fake so the setter of the id is not exposed. This can also work but it will mean your fake will always have an id set. For the situation I was in this was not suitable.

The end solution

All domain objects have a fake create for it. All of the fake implement an interface ISettableId. This interface is defined as below:

public interface ISettableId
    bool HasIdBeenSet();
    void SetId(TId id);

With an implementation example (its id type is and integer) :
public class FooFake : Foo, ISettableId
    public FooFake(string name, TypeRequiredForValidConstruction myDependecy)
    : base(name, myDependecy)
    public bool HasIdBeenSet()
        return _id != 0;
    public void SetId(int id)
        _id = id;

This mean we can now create fake objects and emulate persistence later by reflecting down the object graph and setting all of the ids. This is much faster than hitting the database and has proved to be a very valid exercise as we can now run tests again transient and persisted versions of the object graph without having a db connection.
One additional thing I should mention is that the creation of child object now must be exposed as a hook. For example when we create child objects I do not just new up to object and add it to a collection. I call a protected virtual method that creates the child object and then add that to the list. This allows my fake to override the return type that is added to the list so children can also be fakes. This has not increased the exposure of the domain but has now facilitate a hook to allow me to create fakes for my child collection.


Fakes should not include any logic. The fakes I am using only allow the setting of ids. The only logic they have is to check whether the id is set (this allows us to skip objects that have had their ids set when we walk the object graph and not go around in circles). The only other methods that are required is the overrides of the creation of child objects.
Other methods you may find in the fakes are builder methods. Instead of having big factories for creating test object you may choose to put the object creation closer to the owner by putting it in the fake class itself.


As I mentioned, we have a pretty large and complex domain we were running into issues where the difference between persisted and non persisted objects graphs was becoming problematic; using the fakes has allowed us to keep the domain clean and only as open as possible while allowing us to emulate persistence without the cost of hitting a database. Over all I’m pretty happy with the result.

*I’m sure there are other way to solve this higher level problem

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