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phpspec? PHPUnit? BDD? TDD? Buzzwords?

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Theory time! Wait, come back! Um... it's interesting theory... and we'll do something fun when it's over - I promise. Ok, fine: and I'll buy you all ice cream. Let's do this.

Functional, Integration & Unit Tests

In the world of testing, there are three types, and we cover each of these in our PHPUnit tutorial. The first type - unit tests - is when you're testing the code directly: you literally call methods like setLength() and getLength() on objects and assert that the values you get back are correct. The key thing in unit testing is that, if your object depends on another object - like a database connection, or a mailer object - you mock those dependencies, instead of using the real object. We'll do this later in the tutorial. Unit tests are the "pure" tests: you're testing the input and output of a method in complete isolation.

The second type of tests is called integration tests. They look and smell a lot like unit tests: you work directly with objects, call methods on them, and make sure you get back what you expect... actually exactly like unit tests. The key difference is how dependencies are treated. Instead of, for example, "mocking" a database connection object that the class you're testing needs, you use the real database connection! Crazy! And, yea, that means that your code makes actual database queries!

Integration tests are super useful when you have a lot of pieces working together and want to make sure the whole system "integrates" correctly. Or if you're making a complex database query and want to make sure you get back what you expect.

The third type of tests are functional tests. In a functional test, instead of calling methods directly on an object, you write code that commands a browser to literally go to a page, click on a link, fill out a form, and assert some text showed up on the next page. Or, if you're testing an API, you would literally make real HTTP requests to your API and assert that the JSON you get is what you expect. In a functional test, you're basically using your application as if you were an end user.

So... which tests should you write? None of them! Kidding - probably... all of them! Sometimes the "scary" or "complex" behavior you want to test lives entirely inside a single class. Use a unit test to crush that situation. Other times, integration tests are perfect when you want to check what a function does... but what it does involves database queries or a lot of other little pieces. And a lot of the time, at least for us at SymfonyCasts, we want to make sure the user experience is exactly what we want. We verify that with functional tests.

PHPUnit, Behat, phpspec?

So... which tools should we use for all of this? Well, PHPUnit can be used to do all three types. Behat - an awesome library we talk about in another tutorial - can only be used for functional tests. And... what about phpspec? Well, it can only do unit tests.

So... wait... if PHPUnit can be used for any test... and these other tools are more limited... why the heck are we even talking about them?

Simply: because tools like Behat and phpspec do a better job for the types of tests they focus on. Well, ok, that's totally subjective - but let me explain. Instead of "just writing tests and getting them to pass", both Behat & phpspec help you focus on the quality of your app. Behat forces you to think about the external quality of your app - by focusing you on the experience of your users first and coding second. That's the key difference between writing functional tests in Behat versus PHPUnit.

phpspec is the exact same for unit tests. Instead of just writing tests and getting them to pass, phpspec makes you think about the design, behavior and purpose of your PHP classes first. And as a nice by-product, you get unit tests.


Got it? Great - let's move onto some buzzwords. How does all of this fit in with TDD - test-driven development versus BDD - behavior driven development. First, both of these aim to accomplish the same thing: creating high-quality applications. The difference is the language used and the focus. With test-driven development, you are literally supposed to write the tests first, and then write the code. You allow your tests to drive the code that you need to develop.

With behavior-driven development, the process is technically the same. But instead of starting with:

Let's figure out what tests I need to write!

you start by thinking about the behavior that you want each part of your app to have. phpspec is a tool that promotes behavior driven development because it forces us to think about the behavior that we want each class to have - not the test.

Oh, and by the way, Behat is another tool that promotes BDD. The difference is that Behat is used for functional tests. Behat is "story" BDD: you write "user stories" that describe behavior. phpspec is "spec" BDD: you write specifications for your classes. Honestly, understanding all this stuff isn't that important - but now, you are fully ready to throw out these buzzwords at your next party.

The point is this: a tool like phpspec doesn't technically give you anything that PHPUnit can't give you. But it changes your focus to be the design of your classes instead of just writing the tests.

Next: let's talk a little bit about the super-rewarding red-green-refactor cycle and then... put a dinosaur in our terminal. You'll see.