Unit testing calls to complex extension methods

This article isn’t about unit testing an extension method. That is pretty straight forward. This article is about unit testing and object that calls an extension method where the extension method is difficult to test. Likely the method is difficult to test because it touches an external system, such as a database or a remote web service.

If you have an extension method that is simple and doesn’t touch and external system, it is easy to unit test. Look at the example below. There is nothing blocking you from Unit Testing code that calls this method.

public static int Add(this int left, int right) 
{
    return left + right;
}

Now image the extension method is more complex, say for a shopping cart.

public static void PlaceOrder(this Order order) 
{
    SaveToDb(Order);
    ChargeCreditCard(Order.CreditCardDetails);
}

How are you going to unit test code that calls an extension method that place an order and charges a customer’s Credit Card. Yikes. That is little harder to Unit Test, right?

How to Unit Test a call to a complex extension method

Imagine you have the following code:

  1. An object you are test called ObjectUnderTest
    public class ObjectUnderTest
    {
        private void MyObject = new MyObject();
    
        public object SomeFunction() 
        {
            return myObj.DoWork(val);
        }
    }
    
  2. An dependent object MyObject : IMyObject
    public class MyObject : IMyObject
    {
     // ... some code
    }
    
  3. An extension method on IMyObject: DoWork(this IMyObject obj, string value).
    public static object DoWork(this IMyObject obj, string value)
    {
        // really complex stuff and touches external systems
    }
    

You need Unit Tests for SomeFunction(). Imagine that all other code is 100% unit tested. But you are struggling with how to Unit Test SomeFunction because it has two dependencies:

  1. MyObject
  2. DoWork

The Unit Tests should not call the real DoWork because it does really complex stuff and touches external systems. However, you need the parent method to provide a valid return value.

Well, you could just drop the ExcludeFromCodeCoverageAttribute on the method and move on. But what if there are a half-dozen other objects that call the parent method that also need to be tested and they need a return value from SomeFunction()? It would be best to solve this in this object as so you only change one class file, not a half-dozen.

One option to resolve this is to use dependency injection. Dependency Injection (DI) simply means that any dependencies can be injected. When some people hear DI, they think they immediately need the huge overhead of an IoC Container. IoC containers are nice and have their uses. But using an IoC container only to allow unit tests substitute a dependency is a huge overkill. If your project already has an IoC container, feel free to use it. Otherwise, I recommend you use a simpler option. I prefer an internal lazy injectable property.

Creating a Lazy Injectable Property

An internal lazy injectable property is a property that is instantiated on first use if it is null, but always for code with internal access to swap out the property value. Here is the syntax:

Note: This assumes your unit tests references your project already, has InternalsVisibleTo configured, and has Moq from NuGet applied to the test project.

    internal IMyObject MyObjectProperty
    {
        get { return _MyObject ?? (_MyObject = new MyObject()); }
        set { _MyObject= value; }
    } private List<object> _MyObject;

Look how simple the above code is. If _MyObject is null, the first time MyObjectProperty is called, it is instantiated to a new MyObject().It is internal because only the unit test will every replace it. I don’t really want this property exposed elsewhere. We can use InternalsVisibleTo to allow the Unit Tests access.Now my ObjectUnderTest will look like this:

public class ObjectUnderTest
{
    internal IMyObject MyObjectProperty
    {
        get { return _MyObject ?? (_MyObject = new MyObject()); }
        set { _MyObject= value; }
    } private IMyObject _MyObject;

    public object SomeFunction()
    {
        var val = "doesn't matter for this example";
        return MyObjectProperty.DoWork(val);
    }
}

Now, in the unit test, the MyObjectProperty can be replaced with a mock IMyObject.

[TestMethod]
public void SomeFunctionTest()
{    // Arrange
    var mockMyObject = new Mock<IMyObject>();
    var objUnderTest = new ObjectUnderTest();
    objectUnderTest.MyObjectProperty = mockMyObject.Object;

    // More to come . . .
}

However, it is questionable whether this is even necessary. Does MyObject do anything that requires this level of abstraction? Not in this example. It isn’t the object itself that is complex, it is the extension method that really needs to be injectable.

Creating a Lazy Injectable Property for a method

You might be asking yourself, “What about the extension method? It is a method not an object. How can I inject that?” Well, you can. Remember, even methods can be treated as objects. The answer doesn’t change much. The only difference is understanding how to treat a method as an object.You can objectify methods using multiple objects such as Action, Func, Predicate, delegate, etc. I am not going to go into how to do that here beyond the minimal needed to accomplish this task.

Quick tip: Use Action for void methods, Predicate for methods return bool, Func for methods with any return value, delegate if you have ref or out paramters.

Here are the steps:

  1. Create the following Lazy Injectable Property inside ObjectUnderTest:

    Note: I am using Func because it has a return value of object. (See the Quick Tip a few lines up.) Since I have two paramters and a return type, I will specifically use the generic Func.

        internal Func<IMyObject, string, object> DoWorkMethod
        {
            [ExcludeFromCodeCoverage]
            get { return _DoWorkMethod ?? (_DoWorkMethod = (obj, val) => { return obj.DoWork(val); }); }
            set { _DoWorkMethod = value; }
        } private Func<IMyObject, string, object> _DoWorkMethod;
    
  2. Change SomeFunction() to run the method via the Action object instead of running the method directly.
        public object SomeFunction()
        {
            var val = "doesn't matter for this example";
            return DoWorkMethod.Invoke(MyObjectProperty, val);
        }
    
  3. In your Unit Test, you can create your ObjectUnderTest. Then you can swap out the DoWork method object.
    [TestMethod]
    public void SomeFunctionTest()
    {
        // Arrange
        var mockMyObject = new Mock<IMyObject>();
        var objUnderTest = new ObjectUnderTest();
        objUnderTest.MyObjectProperty = mockMyObject.Object;
        bool methodWasCalled = false;
        objUnderTest.DoWorkMethod = (obj, val) => {
            methodWasCalled = true;
            return new object();
        };
            
        // Act
        var result = objUnderTest.SomeFunction();
    
        // Assert
        Assert.IsTrue(methodWasCalled);
    }
    

You are now 100% covered. The only code we can’t cover is the lambda call to obj.DoWork because we can’t Unit Test that as it touches an external system. Which is why we marked it with the ExcludeFromCodeCoverageAttribute.

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