Skip to content

Best practice for testing🔗

This is a guide on how to write tests for iceoryx. It intends to cover the most common cases which will probably apply to 99% of tests. This shall not encourage to be more royalist than the king and common sense shall be applied when the guidelines don't make sense. But if half of the tests don't follow the guidelines, it's a clear indicator that they need to be refactored.

The guide also expects some knowledge on gtest. At least the Googletest Primer document should be read before continuing with this guide.

Don't write tests just for the sake of having a high coverage number. First and foremost, tests must be meaningful and verify the code to prevent bugs and regressions. New code shall be created with testability in mind. Legacy code shall be refactored if it is not testable.

In general, the Arrange Act Assert pattern shall be used. This makes it trivial to isolate a test failure, since only one state transition is tested at a time. These two blog posts explain the AAA pattern in more detail.

While the AAA pattern provides a sensible structure, ZOMBIES help you to find sensible test cases.

Z = Zero
O = One
M = Many (or More complex)
B = Boundary Behaviors
I = Interface Definition
E = Exercise Exceptional Behavior
S = Simple Scenarios, Simple Solutions

This can be separated into ZOM and BIE with S bridging them together. ZOM are often simple tests, like a vector with zero items is empty or a vector with one item is not empty or a vector with N items has a size of N. The BIE part takes care of edge cases like adding one to Number::max saturates or division by zero returns error. The latter overlaps with a case from the ZOM part, which illustrates that these are not always clearly separated.

Exercise Exceptional Behavior means to not only test the happy path, but also the negative one. Basically to test with silly inputs and check for a graceful behavior like the previous example with division by 0. The linked blog post explains negative testing in a more thorough way.

The catchwords can be used to draw simple scenarios which nicely fits to the AAA pattern. A non-exhaustive list of these scenarios are - overflow - underflow - wrap around - empty - full - out of bounds - timeouts - copy - are the objects equal - is the copy origin unchanged - etc. - move - is the move destination object cleaning up its resources - is the move origin object in a defined but unspecified state - etc. - etc.

Following Hyrum's Law loosely, given enough users, one will find ways to use the software in a way it was never imagined. Therefore, never underestimate the creativity of brilliancy/stupidity.

In some cases it might be necessary to instantiate an object on the heap. While that's not allowed in production code, it is fine in test code. To avoid manual memory management with new/delete, smart pointer shall be used if possible. As a reminder, if a method takes a pointer to an object, this object can be instantiated on the stack and the address of this object can be passed to the method. A good reason to use the heap are large objects which might cause a stack overflow. Some operating systems have a rather small stack of only a few kB, so this limit might be closer one might think.

In general, the tests should be written in a fashion to not crash the application in case of a faulty implementation. It must be assumed that the implementation is broken and only a successful test run can prove otherwise. The sut (system under test) might return a nullptr instead of the expected valid pointer, so nullptr check has to be done with an ASSERT_* to gracefully abort the current test. Just using an EXPECT_* for the check is not sufficient since the potential nullptr will be dereferenced later on and will crash the application. The same applies to other potential dangerous operations, like accessing the value of an cxx::optional or cxx::expected or an out of bounds access of an cxx::vector.

Last but not least, apply the DRY principle (don't repeat yourself) and use typed and parameterized tests to check multiple implementations and variations without repeating much code.

Practical Example🔗

Let's test the following class

class SingleDigitNumber
    SingleDigitNumber() noexcept = default;

    constexpr SingleDigitNumber(uint64_t number) noexcept
        : m_number(number)

    constexpr operator uint64_t() const noexcept
        return m_number;

    constexpr SingleDigitNumber operator+(const SingleDigitNumber rhs) const noexcept
        return m_number + rhs.m_number;

    constexpr SingleDigitNumber operator-(const SingleDigitNumber rhs) const noexcept
        return m_number - rhs.m_number;

    uint64_t m_number;

This test fixture will be used

class SingleDigitNumber_test : public Test
    void SetUp() override{};
    void TearDown() override{};

First Attempt🔗

Well, this is quite a simple class, so the tests must also be simple, right?

TEST_F(SingleDigitNumber_test, TestClass)
    SingleDigitNumber number1;
    SingleDigitNumber number2(3U);
    SingleDigitNumber number3(2U);

    auto number4 = number2 + number3;
    auto number5 = number2 - number3;

    EXPECT_TRUE(number4 == 5U);
    EXPECT_EQ(1U, static_cast<uint64_t>(number5));

Done and we reached 100% coverage. We can clap ourselves on the shoulders and move on. Well, except that we can't.

The test above has several major and minor flaws. The first thing that leaps to the eye, it doesn't follow the AAA pattern. When the test fails, we don't know why and have to look in the code to figure out what went wrong. But even if only one aspect of the class would have been tested, there would still be essentially just a [ FAILED ] SingleDigitNumber_test.TestClass output and we would need to look at the code to know what exactly is broken. This test case checks too many state transitions and doesn't have a sensible name.

Furthermore, the default constructor is called in the test, but it is never checked to do the right thing. If there were a check, it would have revealed that m_number is not correctly initialized.

Then, EXPECT_TRUE is used to compare the values. While this works, when the test fails we just get the information of the failure, but not which values were compared. To get this information EXPECT_EQ or EXPECT_THAT should be used. Furthermore, it's important to easily distinguish between the actual and the expected value, therefore the ordering of the values should be the same as if EXPECT_THAT would be used. The first value should be the actual value and the second one the expected.

While the coverage might be 100%, there are no tests for: - invalid parameters, e.g. passing 10 to the constructor - overflow with operator+, e.g. adding 7 and 8 - underflow with operator-, e.g. subtracting 8 from 7

Here, ZOMBIES comes into play and gives us some guide to identify this cases.

Some of this test might made it necessary to define the behavior of the class in the first place, e.g. defining that an operator+ will saturate to the max value instead of overflowing.

How To Do It Better🔗

At first, the test is split into multiple test cases according to the AAA pattern

TEST_F(SingleDigitNumber_test, DefaultConstructedObjectIsCorrectlyInitialized)
    constexpr uint64_t EXPECTED_VALUE{0U};

    SingleDigitNumber sut;

    EXPECT_EQ(static_cast<uint64_t>(sut), EXPECTED_VALUE);

The test also has a meaningful name. If this fails in the CI, it is immediately clear what is broken. Additionally, the tested object is called sut. This makes it easy to identify the actual test object. Lastly, a constexpr is used for the expected value. This removes a magic value and also makes the output of a failed test more readable, since it is immediately clear what's the actual tested value and what's the expected value.

Now let's continue with further tests, applying the ZOMBIES principle

TEST_F(SingleDigitNumber_test, ConstructionWithValidValueCreatesNumberWithSameValue)
    constexpr uint64_t NUMBER_VALUE{7U};
    constexpr uint64_t EXPECTED_VALUE{NUMBER_VALUE};

    SingleDigitNumber sut{NUMBER_VALUE};

    EXPECT_EQ(static_cast<uint64_t>(sut), EXPECTED_VALUE);

TEST_F(SingleDigitNumber_test, ConstructionWithInvalidValueResultsInSaturation)
    constexpr uint64_t NUMBER_VALUE{42U};
    constexpr uint64_t EXPECTED_VALUE{9U};

    SingleDigitNumber sut{NUMBER_VALUE};

    EXPECT_EQ(static_cast<uint64_t>(sut), EXPECTED_VALUE);

TEST_F(SingleDigitNumber_test, AddingZeroDoesNotChangeTheNumber)
    constexpr SingleDigitNumber NUMBER{3U};
    constexpr SingleDigitNumber ZERO{0U};
    constexpr uint64_t EXPECTED_VALUE{3U};

    auto sut = NUMBER + ZERO;

    EXPECT_EQ(static_cast<uint64_t>(sut), EXPECTED_VALUE);

TEST_F(SingleDigitNumber_test, AddingOneIncreasesTheNumberByOne)
    constexpr SingleDigitNumber NUMBER{3U};
    constexpr SingleDigitNumber ONE{1U};
    constexpr uint64_t EXPECTED_VALUE{4U};

    auto sut = NUMBER + ONE;

    EXPECT_EQ(static_cast<uint64_t>(sut), EXPECTED_VALUE);

// and so on

These are some examples showing how to apply the ZOMBIES principle to find good test cases. They also exert all the good practices mentioned previously, like clear and distinct names or avoiding magic numbers.

Slightly More Advanced Topics🔗

Typed Tests🔗

There are situations when test cases only vary in the type applied to the sut. In this case typed tests can be used to reduce repetition. The there is a section for typed tests in the advanced gtest documentation.

A more thorough example is in the gtest github repository.

Parameterized Tests🔗

Similar to typed tests, there are cases where the same test case should run with multiple parameters. One example is the conversion of enum values to strings. While this can be done in a loop, a better approach are parameterized test.

This is quite a good blog post to get into parameterized tests. Additionally, there is a section in the advanced documentation for gtest.

The block post mentions tuples to pass multiple parameters at once. Since tuples can become cumbersome to use, especially if parameters are rearranged, it is recommended to create a struct to wrap the parameters instead.


Some classes are hard to test or to reach a full coverage. This might be due to external access or interaction with the operating system. Mocks can help to have full control over the sut and reliably cause error conditions to test the negative code path. There is an extensive gmock documentation in the gtest github repository.


  • apply the AAA pattern to structure the test and check only one state transition per test case (all side effects of that transition must be checked, though)
  • don't test previously tested behavior
  • use the ZOMBIES principle to find sensible test cases
  • meaningful names for the tests to indicate what the test is supposed to do and the expected outcome, like ...IsSuccessful, ...Fails, ...ResultsIn..., ...LeadsTo..., etc.
  • name the test object sut to make it clear what object is tested
  • don't use magic numbers
  • instantiate objects on the stack or use smart pointers for large objects and avoid manual memory management with new/delete
  • use ASSERT_* before doing a potential dangerous action which might crash the test application, like accessing a nullptr or a cxx::optional with a nullopt
  • use mocks to reduce the complexity of the test arrangement
  • apply the DRY principle by using typed and parameterized tests