Saturday, March 21, 2015

Why TDD is good for you

I must confess, I've realized that TDD is a must have in a project. Though I don't even like TDD, right now there's no better way of developing software. Writing software is like solving a perverted salesman traveling problem where the destination keeps changing and somehow the paths you took start to make less sense as the software progress. To know if you ended up with the best solution, you'd have to build all different versions of the problem to know if that's the best way of doing it, and that's not a viable idea.

Given that you have different developers with different backgrounds you must have something they know that somebody else is producing something accordingly something they know will have the same structure and background. And you'll have to keep doing it throughout the project and if you stray off the methodology you'll end up with inconsistencies in your code. And really in a project, you don't want to spend too much time (or any) discussing technical details related to pure code.

What I don't like with TDD

One important aspect of TDD is that I think TDD gets credit for is things which is TDD cannot solve. One thing is that it somehow creates layers, and this I think is deducted from the fact that TDD help with creating better abstractions, and that is a feature which is really nice with TDD, but it's really a side effect of practicing TDD. And it's not really TDD's fault for not being able to build layers because abstractions cannot be totally abstract, because if they could, that would mean that you could send in any data (or none) and get something which is exactly the data you want, which would be an impossible thing to do. There's only one thing that could pull that off, and I doubt that it actually exist, although there are many believers out there.

Also TDD does different thing to different languages so you get more from TDD in certain languages where others benefits less of it (one could argue that those languages which needs more TDD practices are bad languages).

TDD will influence your code and therefore your solution, and this will inevitably to “test induced design damage”. This means, as Conway's law states, your code will be tainted by TDD and code written with TDD in mind will be easier to integrate in a TDD project. That also means that code which is NOT written according to TDD will be a hard to fit in a TDD project (and no it's not about framework's abilities to be integrated). That also means that trying to use TDD in a project which is not started as a TDD project, will be very hard to start using the TDD practice. Most of the time, TDD projects are not being consistent and this will hurt you in the end.

Also I think TDD is showing that your language is failing describing what you really want, and you need to rely on something external to somehow verify that you have written something which is correct accordingly to your understanding. Instead of having TDD as some sort of “document”, I'd rather have the power of have all those assertions expressed by the code. I usually consider tests which are large a code smell since they give away that the code either does too many things or the code is not expressing enough intention or is not powerful enough.

But most importantly TDD creates some sort of focus on tests and unit tests, where TDD is not about those. It's about dealing with information and always confirming to that information and the test case is about verifying this, an sort of implementation of the TDD abstraction, but also we should be able to get rid of it.

If one consider that TDD is language and tech agnostic, meaning we need TDD to have a framework to actually deliver working code, the amount of work needed to verify your code should say something about the chosen language. If the language requires a lot of test cases to verify that you did something you intended to do would mean that that language is a poor choice. I'm not going to point on specific languages here and I leave this to some future discussion.

I really hope that we one day can get rid of TDD, but as for now, there are simply no better ways to write software.

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