Sunday, March 15, 2009

Implicit Typing Can Make TDD Harder

Starting with C# 3.0 the language supports the concept of implicit typing at the method level using 'var'. While on one hand this new keyword has its benefits such the possibility to change return types of methods without having to change the type of all local variables that the return value is assign to, there is also a draw back of this new language feature. If you are using strict TDD, you write your tests to drive your design. That means it is not uncommon that a new method on a class doesn't exist yet, though you can write your test including assertions on the return type. Example:
public class Result {
   public long Status { get; set; }

public class Foo {
Given this starting point you may want to write the following unit test to ensure that class Foo requires a method 'Result NewMethod()':
public void TestNewMethod() {
   var foo = new Foo();
   var result = foo.NewMethod();
   Assert.AreEqual(0, result.Status);
As you type you will notice that when you have typed the dot after 'result' you will not be offered the member list of Result. It's not possible to implicitly type the variable 'result' since the method 'NewMethod()' doesn't exist yet. As a result writing tests in a TDD approach is slowed down when using 'var' instead of explicit types. Here is another view you may take: Writing tests for 'NewMethod()' should include all specifications, including the type of the return value. If you agree with that view you may want to avoid using 'var' in your unit tests. This certainly doesn't apply to people who create their unit tests after the method has been added to the class. I personally wouldn't call this test-first development, let alone test-driven development (or test-driven design as some people argue). Bottom line it depends on where you are coming from. 'var' might not always be the best choice even if it is a new 'cool' feature in C# 3.0.


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