Mock Free Example, Part 1: Project Intro

Previously, I presented mocks as nuclear weapons. Unsurprisingly, commenters wanted examples. I exist to serve.

This series will discuss a partly-completed project that I have lying around. The project isn’t perfect. But it will serve to discuss some of the ideas. Since it’s only partly complete, some ideas visible in this stage that would likely become much more subtle with another few days’ work. Or so I hope.

It’s also a full project. The ideas blend into each other at the edges. I am not creating an example to demonstrate an idea; I’m showing how those ideas interact with each other in the wild. This will make the examples more difficult to follow. Sorry. I’ll do my level best to guide you to the areas that I find interesting (whether positive, negative, or simply unfinished).

This post introduces the project. Future posts will examine some of the ideas in it, such as:

  • Designing libraries for substitutability—Simulators.
  • Data flow pipelines, my most favoritest pattern ever.
  • UI doubles – like test doubles, but useful.
  • Asynchronicity for the win.
  • (Probably) Simulators, redux.
  • Extending your language to improve testability.
  • Default non-nullability.
  • Test class per responsibility.

But those are potentially interesting, so you have to wait for all of them.

Project synopsis

I need to print my 4th Edition D&D characters. I am picky about format. In particular, I want to print the entire character to cards—not just the powers. I found a design template on the web; I want my cards to look like that.

The complications

The character file contains only the dynamic data. All of the rules are available via a web service (The D&D Compendium), which requires authentication. This web service delivers HTML, with semi-structured data. I’ll need to correct various common patterns of error in the data.

The character file contains partial computations for a bunch of things that I want to show on my cards. These computations are typically stored in text. I’ll need to find them, parse them, combine the results with more parsed text from the web service, compute the resulting calculation, and print it on the card.

I need to be able to inject cards that aren’t in the character file (such as my personality traits notes). I’ll also need to allow per-character modification of any of the auto-gen cards. I need to hand-tweak cards to take into account house rules, new rules, and other special cases.

To achieve the above, I’ve created a config file for each character. Thus, my card printer is actually more of a WYSIWYG config file editor with print capability. Change the config file; see the resulting set of cards. This user interaction is actually the valuable part of the domain. Of course, the printing is high-precision. So the WYSISYG experience has to have perfec tfidelity, regardless of printer.

This is actually the second system. The first was in Python. it was hacked out in a weekend. It was reasonably well designed, but untested. Several parts were very useful, so I transliterated them into C# and included them in my initial project. So I start with instant legacy code. This legacy has a middling debt level. So I’ve got an area with high legacy, moderate debt (high value, moderate testability problems).

Project restatement

Build a print layout tool for 4th Edition D&D. The user uses the tool to define a custom layout, with WYSISYG functionality. When happy, he prints the result. The printed result always looks exactly like the one on the screen.

Technical details

The code is at It is a 4 project C# solution. It is not very well organized yet. It is the result of about 20 hours’ work, so the design has not emerged fully. Still, some parts of the design are just starting to emerge. We’ll talk about several of these in later posts in the series.

Also, I intentionally used this project to learn about the new async libraries in .Net 4.0. I’d used the concepts before in other languages (mostly futures and continuations). However, I used them everywhere in this project, just to see where they were useful. Reflecting, I am surprised at some of the places they turned out to be a good idea. I’d still not use them quite so much in my next project.

Finally, I really, really, recommend that you use real tooling to play with this project. I assume Visual Studio, ReSharper, and Expression Blend. I do some things to really take advantage of those tools. Two of the blog posts in this series will focus on how I take advantage of strong tooling to eliminate sources of trouble.

To restate more firmly: I do not view a project as the sum of its code. Rather, it is the view of that code through the tooling that it is designed to take advantage of. By targeting my code towards my tools, I can get a lot of value with a lot less code.

I want to show how my design choices play out in real projects, so I’m using a real project to discuss them. That means that it is large, messy, and has requirements that will make it more difficult for some of you to navigate. For that difficulty, I am sorry. I could distill it to its essence. However, then it looks like answers to toy problems. People have difficulty seeing how it would apply in a real system. In this series, I intend to fail in the other direction.

6 thoughts on “Mock Free Example, Part 1: Project Intro”

  1. Arlo, you must mean something else when you say "mock free", because there are test doubles all over the place. Do you mean (narrowly) that you don't set method expectations?

    1. There are, indeed, test doubles all over this code. Remember when I said it's messy?
      I think that most of these doubles point to design problems with the code. I'll talk about some of them in more detail, later (and show an alternate design for at least one case, which eliminates the doubles).

  2. Yes! A real-world, messy example is exactly what's needed and I really appreciate your putting the time into writing about it. Thanks!

  3. Sounds like a great series, I'm looking forward to it.

    I find I've just written another test of the sort that makes me wonder "am I doing this wrong?" I could eliminate many of the fakes, and that would make the test more readable in some respects, but at the expense of more setup/teardown code, and would run counter to the "one bug causes one test to fail", as without the fakes I'd invoke code in more units.

    1. Well, the system as a whole is not free of all test doubles. But I think that it could be (and would be, were I to spend more than the 20 hours of so that I've put into it so far).

      Mostly, however, there are parts of it that I can use to demonstrate some of the techniques that I use for mock-free TDD in larger projects. As I stated at the outset, this project isn't my best work ever. However, I think I can use it to talk about some of the common solutions that I use where others reach for a mock.

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