On the importance of functional testing

I did not need further proof of the fact that functional tests are a vital piece in a project's overall testing strategy. I got that proof anyway last night, while watching the Pybots buildmaster status page. I noticed that the Twisted unit tests were failing, but not because of errors within the Twisted package, but because pre-requisite packages such as ZopeInterface could not be installed anymore. If you followed my post on setting up a Pybots buildslave, you know that before running the Twisted unit tests, I attempt to instal ZopeInterface and other packages using the newly-built python binary, via "/tmp/python-buildbot/local/bin/python setup.py install".

Well, all of a sudden last night this last command was failing with errors such as:
error: invalid Python installation:
unable to open /tmp/python-buildbot/local/lib/python2.6/config/Makefile
(No such file or directory)

This proved to be was a transient error, due to some recent checkins that modified the release numbers in the python svn trunk from 2.5 to 2.6. This issue was fixed within an hour, but the interesting thing to me was that, while this step was failing in the Pybots Twisted tests, the Python builbots running the Python-specific unit tests against the trunk were merrily chugging along, green and happy (at least on Unix platforms). This was of course to be expected, since nothing major changed as far as the internal Python unit tests were concerned. However, when running a functional test involving the newly-built Python binary -- and in my case that functional test consisted simply in running "python setup.py install" on some packages -- things started to break.

Lesson learned? Always make sure you test your application from the outside in, by exercising it as a user would. Unit tests are necessary (indeed, they are essential), but they are not sufficient by any means. A 'holistic' test strategy takes into consideration both white-box-type unit tests, and black-box-type functional tests. Of course, the recommended way of running all these types of tests is via a continuous integration tool such as buildbot.


David Webb said…
Functional Testing is critically important for the products success since it is the customer's first opportunity to be disappointed.

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