Test faster, fix more


These are a collection of introductory articles that can help you to learn how to use Hypothesis effectively. You don’t have to read all of these to get started! Feel free to dip in and out as the mood takes you.

We recommend the following reading order:

  1. What is Hypothesis?
  2. Getting started with Hypothesis
  3. Evolving toward property-based testing with Hypothesis
  4. Generating the right data
  5. Testing performance optimizations
  6. The Encode/Decode Invariant
  7. Rule Based Stateful Testing

After that, either just experiment with Hypothesis on your own, with help from the documentation, or check out some of the other articles here for more inspiration.

Solving the Water Jug Problem from Die Hard 3 with TLA+ and Hypothesis

This post was originally published on the author’s personal site. It is reproduced here with his permission.

In the movie Die Hard with a Vengeance (aka Die Hard 3), there is this famous scene where John McClane (Bruce Willis) and Zeus Carver (Samuel L. Jackson) are forced to solve a problem or be blown up: Given a 3 gallon jug and 5 gallon jug, how do you measure out exactly 4 gallons of water?

(The video title is wrong. It's Die Hard 3.)

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Another invariant to test for encoders

The encode/decode invariant is one of the most important properties to know about for testing your code with Hypothesis or other property-based testing systems, because it captures a very common pattern and is very good at finding bugs.

But how do you go beyond it? If encoders are that common, surely there must be other things to test with them?

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Hypothesis vs. Eris

Eris is a library for property-based testing of PHP code, inspired by the mature frameworks that other languages provide like QuickCheck, Clojure’s test.check and of course Hypothesis.

Here is a side-by-side comparison of some basic and advanced features that have been implemented in both Hypothesis and Eris, which may help developers coming from either Python or PHP and looking at the other side.

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Generating recursive data

Sometimes you want to generate data which is recursive. That is, in order to draw some data you may need to draw some more data from the same strategy. For example we might want to generate a tree structure, or arbitrary JSON.

Hypothesis has the recursive function in the hypothesis.strategies module to make this easier to do. This is an article about how to use it.

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What is Hypothesis?

Hypothesis is a library designed to help you write what are called property-based tests.

The key idea of property based testing is that rather than writing a test that tests just a single scenario, you write tests that describe a range of scenarios and then let the computer explore the possibilities for you rather than having to hand-write every one yourself.

In order to contrast this with the sort of tests you might be used to, when talking about property-based testing we tend to describe the normal sort of testing as example-based testing.

Property-based testing can be significantly more powerful than example based testing, because it automates the most time consuming part of writing tests

  • coming up with the specific examples - and will usually perform it better than a human would. This allows you to focus on the parts that humans are better at - understanding the system, its range of acceptable behaviours, and how they might break.

You don’t need a library to do property-based testing. If you’ve ever written a test which generates some random data and uses it for testing, that’s a property-based test. But having a library can help you a lot, making your tests easier to write, more robust, and better at finding bugs. In the rest of this article we’ll see how.

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Calculating the mean of a list of numbers

Consider the following problem:

You have a list of floating point numbers. No nasty tricks - these aren’t NaN or Infinity, just normal “simple” floating point numbers.

Now: Calculate the mean (average). Can you do it?

It turns out this is a hard problem. It’s hard to get it even close to right. Lets see why.

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Evolving toward property-based testing with Hypothesis

Many people are quite comfortable writing ordinary unit tests, but feel a bit confused when they start with property-based testing. This post shows how two ordinary programmers started with normal Python unit tests and nudged them incrementally toward property-based tests, gaining many advantages on the way.

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Generating the right data

One thing that often causes people problems is figuring out how to generate the right data to fit their data model. You can start with just generating strings and integers, but eventually you want to be able to generate objects from your domain model. Hypothesis provides a lot of tools to help you build the data you want, but sometimes the choice can be a bit overwhelming.

Here’s a worked example to walk you through some of the details and help you get to grips with how to use them.

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Testing performance optimizations

Once you’ve flushed out the basic crashing bugs in your code, you’re going to want to look for more interesting things to test.

The next easiest thing to test is code where you know what the right answer is for every input.

Obviously in theory you think you know what the right answer is - you can just run the code. That’s not very helpful though, as that’s the answer you’re trying to verify.

But sometimes there is more than one way to get the right answer, and you choose the one you run in production not because it gives a different answer but because it gives the same answer faster.

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Rule Based Stateful Testing

Hypothesis’s standard testing mechanisms are very good for testing things that can be considered direct functions of data. But supposed you have some complex stateful system or object that you want to test. How can you do that?

In this article we’ll see how to use Hypothesis’s rule based state machines to define tests that generate not just simple data, but entire programs using some stateful object. These will give the same level of boost to testing the behaviour of the object as you get to testing the data it accepts.

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The Encode/Decode invariant

One of the simplest types of invariant to find once you move past just fuzzing your code is asserting that two different operations should produce the same result, and one of the simplest instances of that is looking for encode/decode pairs. That is, you have some function that takes a value and encodes it as another value, and another that is supposed to reverse the process.

This is ripe for testing with Hypothesis because it has a natural completely defined specification: Encoding and then decoding should be exactly the same as doing nothing.

Lets look at a concrete example.

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Getting started with Hypothesis

Hypothesis will speed up your testing process and improve your software quality, but when first starting out people often struggle to figure out exactly how to use it.

Until you’re used to thinking in this style of testing, it’s not always obvious what the invariants of your code actually are, and people get stuck trying to come up with interesting ones to test.

Fortunately, there’s a simple invariant which every piece of software should satisfy, and which can be remarkably powerful as a way to uncover surprisingly deep bugs in your software.

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