Test-Parallel Development

Here’s a post (albeit dated) where a developer lists a few problems with test driven development. There are plenty more where that came from. What I’ve found works better is a hybrid approach, where we write tests at the same time as code (or just after). The idea behind pure TDD is one of those that sounds good on paper but is difficult to implement practically. Developing to the test means that we abandon some of the best parts of Agile by again tying our hands to strict requirements (this time the requirements are automated tests that don’t work until the code required is implemented). While I am a big supporter of functional automated tests and their inclusion in CI, I don’t think pure TDD is practical. A much better approach is to write functional code and tests together.

The biggest problem I have with TDD is included on the Wikipedia entry on the subject:

Test-driven development is difficult to use in situations where full functional tests are required to determine success or failure. Examples of these are user interfaces, programs that work with databases, and some that depend on specific network configurations. TDD encourages developers to put the minimum amount of code into such modules and to maximize the logic that is in testable library code, using fakes and mocks to represent the outside world.

Fakes and mocks are fine, but I prefer to spend more time implementing tests that run against real world conditions. Also, most all applications that I work on include a UI and/or database. Often, database and UI design occurs alongside all other development.

Taking HTMLUnit as an example, how often do we know what form and input names will appear on a page before we implement it? The same is generally true of database design. In an ideal world, pure TDD would be a great approach. In the real world, where I work, I need more flexibility. This being said, I think most software teams aren’t anywhere near this being a problem. Most have yet to spend appropriate time on automated tests.