Not all Tests are Passing ... is that so Bad?

For the Whiley compiler, I currently have over 500 end-end tests and in excess of 15,000 unit tests (most of which were auto-generated and target the type system).  Each end-end test is a short Whiley program that is  categorised as either valid or invalid.  Valid tests also include sample output and are expected to compile, execute and produce matching output.  The invalid tests are expected to generate a compile-time error.  To make this more precise, I categorise the kinds of error that the compiler can produce as:* internal failure*, syntax error or verification error.  Every invalid test is specified to raise either a syntax error or a verification error, and the test will not pass if the compiler does anything else.  Thus, an invalid test which should produce a syntax error will not pass if the compiler barfs out a NullPointerException.

Now, the thing is: not all my end-end tests are currently passing.  In fact, I don’t think it’s ever been the case that all of the tests have passed.  That may seem like a bad thing, but I think there are some mitigating circumstances:

  • My test suite is constantly growing.  As soon as I spot an error, or think of a possible problem, I add a test.  Adding tests makes me feel good, and I love it!  That’s because a test is a piece of knowledge locked-in.  Once the test is written and checked in, I can’t forget.

  • Some failures represent issues that I’ve given very low priority to.  Eventually, I will get to them … but not yet.  I do sometimes make use of the @Ignore annotation for these kinds of tests.

  • Some failures represent significant design flaws in the system.  They should be high-priority, but represent weeks or months of refactoring and redesigning to fix.  I don’t like to @Ignore these ones … I prefer to feel the pain.

In a way, my test suite is like a queue.  My tests never all pass because by the time I fixed all the ones that are failing … I’ve added some more!

This is similar to Test-driven development I suppose.  What I don’t like about TDD though, is that you’re supposed to write a test and then immediately make it pass.  That doesn’t work for me since,  in a few seconds, I can write a test that might takes months of careful refactoring to solve.   I’m never going to fix those ones immediately … they need serious hammock time!