Plant Test Factory for .NET September 1, 2010

Plant is a test factory for .NET 4.0. I created Plant because factories like this are something that I've gotten very used to in Ruby.  As I started writing more and more tests in my C# projects, I noticed that I was writing more and more helper test methods to create commonly used model objects in my tests.  This would often lead to ad-hoc and abused chunks of code that became harder and harder to maintain.  The Ruby ecosystem has good answers to this problem, there’s factory_girl and machinist.  I couldn’t find anything like that for .NET.  NBuilder is in that area, but feels too heavy handed for what I wanted.

Goals

The primary goal of this tool is to allow you to write smaller and more focused tests.  I find this beneficial because, like most other things in software, tests with fewer concerns tend to be easier to maintain and provide more value.  Tests which test less are more resistant to illegitimate failures. A secondary goal of mine is to keep Plant’s syntax as lightweight and concise as possible.  Code with less noise is easier to understand and code that’s easier to understand helps you get your job done.  C# doesn’t always make this easy.  Not being able to assign a delegate to an anonymous type forces me to require users to use a special class for some things (i.e. LazyProperty).  As this project grows, I’ll do my best to keep the syntax readable.

Direction

The only client of the Plant project at the moment is pretty small and will likely never use all of Plant’s features.  However, instead of dreaming up features that I think will one day be useful for Plant I decided to copy factory_girl’s feature-set.   I’ve used factory_girl quite a bit in the past and found almost every one of its features useful at some point or another. So far I’ve got several of factory_girl’s features implemented, one it doesn’t have (creation via constructor parameters), and there are several Plant is still missing.

Plant’s features at the time of this writing are

  • Object creation via properties
  • Object creation via constructor arguments
  • Overriding default property and constructor argument values
  • Module object definition
  • Lazily evaluated property and constructor argument values

Upcoming features

  • Allowing multiple named definitions for one object
  • Sequenced properties (you can do this today with lazy properties, but I want to make it easier)
  • Lazy associations (again, something you can do today with lazy properties, but the syntax can be more concise and explicit)
  • Allow user to specify after-creation actions to be taken on created objects (like saving them to a database)

Scenarios that Plant does not support

  • Constructor arguments whose names differ only in capitalization.
  • Indexed properties
  • Refactoring.  Since properties are passed around using anonymous objects, refactoring tools will miss them.  This can be fixed for properties but not for constructor arguments.  I’m not sure what the right answer is here.

  • Open generic types (You can tell Plant how to create a Foo, but not a Foo where T is specified at time of creation.

Find it on Github here: http://github.com/jbrechtel/plant (the current release is tagged 0.1.0 here) It will be available on Nu shortly.

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