User-defined test dialects

Testing is a fundamental part of software development. Follows that writing tests should be as accessible as possible. Although automatic test generation is an established practice (using e.g. a Quickcheck implementation such as the one provided by Logtalk), tests are often manually written. Thus, anything that gets in the way of expressing what we want to test hurts productivity.

Testing tools such as lgtunit aim to simplify writing tests by providing support for multiple test dialects where the programmer can choose from a minimal dialect, where we have only a test name and a test goal, to a dialect offering fine control on test setup. But that’s not enough. People writing tests are not necessarily programmers. Notably, they can be domain experts that want a straight-forward solution to express that “for these inputs, we should get this output” or “if this happens, this should be triggered” without having to learn a programming language and its developer tools. The solution? Define a DSL for writing tests and take advantage of lgtunit support for user-defined test dialects.

Let’s look into a simple but complete example. Assume that we’re testing an application that uses a predicate that takes three floating-point values as input and generates an atom. The domain experts want to be able to write tests using the following notation:

{12.7, 3.89, 5.67} => open_valve.
{2.04, 1.23, 0.77} => close_valve.
{20.4, 2.91, 6.97} => open_valve.

The notation is nice and clear and abstracts all details irrelevant for the domain experts, including the name of the predicate being tested and how to call it.

The first step is to define an object, implementing the expanding protocol, that will convert the facts above into one of the supported test dialects. For simplicity, we’re going to assume that the predicate being tested is named app::compute/4:

:- object(test_dsl,

    :- public(op(1200, xfx, =>)).

    :- uses(gensym, [gensym/2, reset_gensym/1]).
    :- uses(os, [decompose_file_name/4]).

        [begin_of_file, (:- object(Name, extends(lgtunit)))]
    ) :-
        logtalk_load_context(source, Source),
        decompose_file_name(Source, _, Name, _),

        ({A, B, C} => D),
        (test(Test, true(R == D)) :- app::compute(A, B, C, R))
    ) :-
        gensym(t, Test).

        [(:- end_object), end_of_file]

:- end_object.

Using the test_dsl object as an hook object to expand a data file with =>/2 facts results in the generation of a tests object named after the data file. But how do we run the tests? As test objects must be compiled using lgtunit as the hook object, we simply chain the two hook objects. Assuming the =>/2 facts are defined in a file, a suitable tester.lgt driver file for the tests would be:

:- op(1200, xfx, =>).

:- initialization((
    set_logtalk_flag(report, warnings),

The hook_pipeline/1 parametric object takes as argument a list of hook objects, implementing a pipeline of term-expansions. In this case, the terms expanded by the test_dsl object are passed to lgtunit object for further expansion.

As an usage example, assuming the contents of the file are the =>/2 facts above and that we only have a placeholder for the test predicate defined as:

:- object(app).

    :- public(compute/4).
    compute(_, _, _, open_valve).

:- end_object.

we will get:

?- {tester}.
% tests started at 2019/11/5, 14:45:22
% running tests from object tests
% file: /Users/pmoura/test_dsl/
% t1: success
!     t2: failure 
!       test assertion failed: open_valve==close_valve
!       in file at or above line 2
% t3: success
% 3 tests: 0 skipped, 2 passed, 1 failed
% completed tests from object tests
% no code coverage information collected
% tests ended at 2019/11/5, 14:45:22

Note that the line numbers in the failed tests reflect the line of the original =>/2 fact.

The solution we described is easily applied to any user-defined test dialect. Thus, anytime you find the predefined test dialects not ideal for a particular application, consider simply defining your own custom test dialect.