Isn’t life funny? Two weeks ago I stated my opinion that unit-testing graphical user interfaces isn’t worth the trouble. Now I find myself doing it, writing unit-tests for GUI components.
What happened, did I come to my senses or go crazy (pick the expression that fits your point of view) during Christmas holidays? No, I still think that unit-testing user interfaces is most likely a waste of time, but for some special occasions, like this one, they will pay off.
My task is to make changes to a tool box control in a legacy application. The control is full of application logic and it has a strong and complicated relationship to an edit area control. There are two things I need to do:
First I have to pull out the application logic of the tool box and break the tight relationship to the edit area. Then I need to push that application logic deeper into the application core, so that the tool box could be used via the plug-in framework.
I figured I had two options. I could either refactor the tool box and make the changes in small steps, or I could rebuild the complete tool box logic and then change the controls to use the new programming interface.
I found the rebuild alternative too risky. The code base is full of booby traps and I have to be very careful not to introduce bugs. Therefore I decided to go with refactoring.
But refactoring requires a unit-testing harness, which of course this application doesn’t have. Trust me; you don’t want to refactor without extensive unit-testing, so here I am setting up the tests around the involved GUI controls. It’s a lot of work, especially since I don’t have a decent framework for creating mock objects, but it’ll be worth the effort once I start messing around with the code.
As a conclusion I’d like to refine the “Don’t unit-test GUI” statement to read “Don’t unit-test GUI unless you’re refactoring it, and there’s no easier way to make sure your changes doesn’t break anything.”