We’ve previously looked into testing performance optimizations using Hypothesis, but this article is about something quite different: It’s about testing code that is designed to optimize a value. That is, you have some function and you want to find arguments to it that maximize (or minimize) its value.
As well as being an interesting subject in its own right, this will also nicely illustrate the use of Hypothesis’s data() functionality, which allows you to draw more data after the test has started, and will introduce a useful general property that can improve your testing in a much wider variety of settings.
We’ll use the Knapsack Packing Problem as our example optimizer. We’ll use the greedy approximation algorithm described in the link, and see if Hypothesis can show us that it’s merely an approximation and not in fact optimal.
def pack_knapsack(items, capacity): """Given items as a list [(value, weight)], with value and weight strictly positive integers, try to find a maximum value subset of items with total weight <= capacity""" remaining_capacity = capacity result =  # Sort in order of decreasing value per unit weight, breaking # ties by taking the lowest weighted items first. items = sorted(items, key=lambda x: (x / x, x)) for value, weight in items: if weight <= remaining_capacity: result.append((value, weight)) remaining_capacity -= weight return result
So how are we going to test this?
If we had another optimizer we could test by comparing the two results, but we don’t, so we need to figure out properties it should satisfy in the absence of that.
The trick we will used to test this is to look for responses to change.
That is, we will run the function, we will make a change to the data that should cause the function’s output to change in a predictable way, and then we will run the function again and see if it did.
But how do we figure out what changes to make?
The key idea is that we will look at the output of running the optimizer and use that to guide what changes we make. In particular we will test the following two properties:
- If we remove an item that was previously chosen as part of the optimal solution, this should not improve the score.
- If we add an extra copy of an item that was previously chosen as part of the optimal solution, this should not make the score worse.
In the first case, any solution that is found when running with one fewer item would also be a possible solution when running with the full set, so if the optimizer is working correctly then it should have found that one if it were an improvement.
In the second case, the opposite is true: Any solution that was previously available is still available, so if the optimizer is working correctly it can’t find a worse one than it previously found.
The two tests look very similar:
from hypothesis import given, assume, settings, Verbosity import hypothesis.strategies as st def score_items(items): return sum(value for value, _ in items) PositiveIntegers = st.integers(min_value=1, max_value=10) Items = st.lists(st.tuples(PositiveIntegers, PositiveIntegers), min_size=1) Capacities = PositiveIntegers @given(Items, Capacities, st.data()) def test_cloning_an_item(items, capacity, data): original_solution = pack_knapsack(items, capacity) assume(original_solution) items.append(data.draw(st.sampled_from(original_solution))) new_solution = pack_knapsack(items, capacity) assert score_items(new_solution) >= score_items(original_solution) @given(Items, Capacities, st.data()) def test_removing_an_item(items, capacity, data): original_solution = pack_knapsack(items, capacity) assume(original_solution) item = data.draw(st.sampled_from(original_solution)) items.remove(item) new_solution = pack_knapsack(items, capacity) assert score_items(new_solution) <= score_items(original_solution)
(The max_value parameter for integers is inessential but results in nicer example quality).
The data strategy simply provides an object you can use for drawing more data interactively during the test. This allows us to make our choices dependent on the output of the function when we run it. The draws made will be printed as additional information in the case of a failing example.
In fact, both of these tests fail:
Falsifying example: test_cloning_an_item(items=[(1, 1), (1, 1), (2, 5)], capacity=7, data=data(...)) Draw 1: (1, 1)
In this case what happens is that when Hypothesis clones an item of weight and value 1, the algorithm stuffs its knapsack with all three (1, 1) items, at which point it has spare capacity but no remaining items that are small enough to fit in it.
Falsifying example: test_removing_a_chosen_item(items=[(1, 1), (2, 4), (1, 2)], capacity=6, data=data(...)) Draw 1: (1, 1)
In this case what happens is the opposite: Previously the greedy algorithm was reaching for the (1, 1) item as the most appealing because it had the highest value to weight ratio, but by including it it only had space for one of the remaining two. When Hypothesis removed that option, it could fit the remaining two items into its knapsack and thus scored a higher point.
In this case these failures were more or less expected: As described in the Wikipedia link, for the relatively small knapsacks we’re exploring here the greedy approximation algorithm turns out to in fact be quite bad, and Hypothesis can easily expose that.
This technique however can be more widely applied: e.g. You can try changing permissions and settings on a user and asserting that they always have more options, or increasing the capacity of a subsystem and seeing that it is always allocated more tasks.