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Posted 23 May 2007
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How design patterns can help you in developing unit testing-enabled applications

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This article shows how you can mix together Model-View-Presenter, Domain Model, Services, ActiveRecord, and Repository patterns to create a testable application.

Screenshot - Northwind.gif

1. Introduction

Unit testing is certainly one of the most overlooked steps in the software development cycle. More than often, developers create a very simple set of tests (like a console application) that ensures that the implemented functionality is working properly, before handing over their applications to others to test it. But the coding of unit tests usually doesn't get as much attention as the coding of the application itself, and the average developer certainly will not "waste time" maintaining test code. This is obviously not true for those who have embraced Test Driven Development (TDD), one of the offsprings of Extreme Programming. Let's enumerate just a few of the TDD principles:

  • Do Simple Things: programmers should do the simplest thing that could possibly work.
  • Code Unit Test First: programmers should always code automated tests before coding the functionality that will be tested.
  • Once and Only Once: programmers should systematically refactor their code to avoid duplication and allow reusability.

That being said, it is no surprise that TDD enthusiasts have long created a set of programming tools and frameworks in order to simplify the coding of automated unit testing. Some benefits of automated unit tests:

  • Maintainability: Just like the application code, automated unit tests are written in a set of classes, usually maintained in test projects, and mapped to the classes to be tested in a one-by-one basis.
  • Reusability: Automated unit tests can be extended and executed as many times as the development team wishes. Besides, the successful execution of the unit tests can be a requirement for the pre-build phase.
  • Visibility: Unit tests can be used by a code coverage tool so that developers can see how much of the application code has been tested by the unit tests.
  • Developer's Confidence: If a code is properly tested and the automated tests can be easily executed, the developer can refactor or implement new code with much more confidence.
  • Documentation: Unit tests can help in extending the class documentation, and in providing practical examples of its correct usage.

Unfortunately, there are many pitfalls in the path, and coding unit tests can be a very hard (if not impossible) task, due to bad design choices made by merely applying to new projects the same paradigms of the legacy projects. This is why software architectures should add testability as a requirement for their development cycles.

The rest of this article tries to demonstrate how the use of design patterns can allow your future applications to benefit from (and to be enabled for) unit testing, even if you don't choose a Test Driven Development approach from the beginning.

Since the sample application was written in C#, I will use the NUnit framework, which is a porting of jUnit for .NET. There are other interesting unit testing frameworks, like MBUnit and Visual Team System, but I'm going to focus only on NUnit, which is a member of the popular xUnit framework family.

I want to close this introduction by thanking the people who have inspired me to write this article, especially Martin Fowler, Hamilton Verissimo, Jean-Paul Boodhoo, Billy McCafferty, and Ayende Rahien.

2. Background

It might be said that an application can be deemed easy to be tested if its components (assemblies and classes) are easy to be tested.

What do you mean by "easy to be tested"?

An easy-to-be-tested class is one which can be easily isolated from the other classes it interacts with. That is, we should be able to test a class individually, without having to be concerned with other classes' implementation. Thus, if a unit test fails, it would be much easier to find the source of the bug. In unit testing, we isolate the class being tested by creating mocks of the classes it depends on. Mocks are fake instances of a class/interface, and stand for concrete objects. Mocks are critical tools for unit testing isolation. But before going on with mocks, let's say you have created an Invoice Application with two classes, InvoiceServices and TaxServices:

public class InvoiceServices
    TaxServices taxServices = new TaxServices();

    public InvoiceServices() { }

    public float CalculateInvoice(params int[] productCodes)
        float invoiceAmount = 0;
        //Here goes the code to calculate 

        //the invoice amount based on products

        return invoiceAmount + taxServices.CalculateTax(invoiceAmount);

public class TaxServices
    public TaxServices() { }

    public float CalculateTax(float invoiceAmount)
        float tax = 0;
        // Here goes the code to calculate invoice tax

        return tax;

You have also another class, named InvoiceServicesTest, which tests the InvoiceServices class:

public void CalculateInvoiceTest()
    InvoiceServices invoiceServices = new InvoiceServices();
    float totalAmount = invoiceServices.CalculateInvoice(10001, 10002, 10003);
    //we expect an invoice with product codes 10001, 10002 and 10003 

    //to have a total amount of $105.35

    float expectedTotalAmount = 105.35F;
    Assert.AreEqual(expectedTotalAmount, totalAmount, 
    string.Format("Total amount should be {0}", 

Now, let's say you discover that the CalculateInvoice() function is returning an incorrect value. How can you tell which of the two classes (InvoiceServices and TaxServices) is not correctly doing its job? The answer is, you should refactor your test code and introduce a mock for the TaxServices class, so that your InvoiceServices class could be isolated. Unfortunately, you can't do it easily. The problem relies on the fact that InvoiceServices instantiates directly the object TaxServices uses. This is called "tight coupling", and is a bad design, which hinders the testability of your application, because you will not be able to easily isolate the two classes. Most mock frameworks can't work with tight-coupled classes. Certainly, there are tools (like TypeMock) which can do that job. But since we are trying to apply best practices in our application, and avoiding to rely on a specific mock framework, we should refactor our code to use loose coupling through the Dependency Injection Pattern, also known as Inversion of Control (IoC).

The Dependency Injection Pattern (a.k.a. Inversion of Control)

The Dependency Injection Pattern, or Inversion of Control (IoC) is a pattern which enables loose coupling in our applications. To enable loose coupling, we should refactor our InvoiceServices class: first, by removing the construction of a concrete instance of TaxServices inside InvoiceServices. Second, by creating an instance of TaxServices outside of InvoiceServices and passing it via the constructor or a property setter injection. Let's see how the refactoring looks like:

public class InvoiceServices
    ITaxServices taxServices;

    public InvoiceServices(ITaxServices taxServices)
        this.taxServices = taxServices;


Now that we don't create a TaxServices instance anymore, we have to do it outside InvoiceTax and pass it via the constructor. So, let's refactor our InvoiceServicesTest class, to create a "mocked" TaxServices object with the NMock framework:

using NMock2;
using NUnit.Framework;
using System;
using System.Collections.Generic;
using System.Text;

namespace InvoiceServices.Test
    public class InvoiceServicesTest
        public void CalculateInvoiceTest()
            Mockery mockery = new Mockery();
            ITaxServices mockTaxServices = (ITaxServices)

            InvoiceServices invoiceServices = 
            new InvoiceServices(mockTaxServices);
            float totalAmount = 
            invoiceServices.CalculateInvoice(10001, 10002, 10003);

            //we expect an invoice with product codes 10001, 10002 and 10003 

            //to have an amount of $100.00 + a tax amount of $5.35 = $105.35

            float expectedTotalAmount = 105.35F;
            string.Format("Total amount should be {0}", 

So, what's new in our refactoring? First, we added a reference to the NMock framework (in the line "using NMock2;"). Then, we instantiated a Mockery object. Mockery is the NMock class which acts as a mock factory. Then, we instantiated the mock object mockTaxServices from the ITaxServices interface, using the Mockery object. The other line is an "expectation", that tells the mocked object mockTaxServices to wait for a call in its CalculateTax function. Since the mock object doesn't have any code, the function would return null, and our test would be useless. Fortunately, the Expect line we've just added also tells the NMock framework to return the value $5.35 if the invoice amount equals to $100.00. This shows how Dependency Injection enables you to create mocks for unit testing isolation. Please note that even though I used NMock, it must be said that there are better options, like Rhino Mocks and TypeMock, which implement expectations in a strong-typed manner and use the so-called Record-Replay model, allowing Intellisense and refactoring tools to rename the mock members. The reader is certainly welcomed to experiment with these other mock frameworks.

3. The Northwind Solution: Putting Things Together

I decided to create an easy-to-be-tested Windows Forms application based on the Northwind sample database for SQL Server 2000.

The sample application deals only with the Northwind tables: customer and order. Please note that the application only allows you to retrieve, create, update, and delete rows of the Customers table, while the Order table is used as a lookup table for each customer.

The application architecture looks like this:

Screenshot - Northwind1.jpg

In the above diagram, you can notice that I not only made a clear distinction between the UI and the presentation, but also put them in separate layers. Why is that? To answer this question, let's see another design pattern.

The Model-View-Presenter pattern

It is a well-known problem that user interfaces are difficult to be tested. If you maintain both user interface and presentation logic in a view object (e.g., a Windows form) and you need to apply automated unit tests to that view object, you'll be in trouble. To solve this problem, there is a set of design patterns such as Model-View-Controller and Model-View-Presenter. I prefer using the MVP approach because it enhances testability.

The participants of a MVP pattern are:

  • Model: The domain model objects (e.g., the Customer class).
  • View: A lightweight user interface (e.g., Windows form).
  • Presenter: A layer coordinating the interaction between the view and the model.

Martin Fowler describes the view and the presenter components of MVP as Passive View and Supervising Controller. This means that, instead of simply calling the presenter, the view hands off its events to the presenter. Then, the view becomes passive, because now the presenter is responsible for coordinating all presentation logic. Making the view as simple as possible enables us to create automated unit tests on the presentation layer. In addition, there will be very little risk of non-tested view functionality.

Usually, in MVP implementations, the presenter is responsible for updating the model. But in this Northwind sample, I used a services layer as a mediator for every access to the model. I'll discuss the Services layer soon in this article.

Separated Interface pattern

Taking a closer look on the interaction between the view and the presenter in the package diagram below, we'll see that the Northwind sample uses a Separated Interface pattern. The Windows form named CustomerView implements an ICustomerView interface, which is placed in another assembly (the presenter package). The CustomerPresenter object knows it will have to control a view, but since it holds a reference to the ICustomerView interface, it really doesn't know how the concrete view is going to look like. This pattern is another good design for enabling unit testing, because we'll be able to easily inject a "mocked" view in the presenter, thus performing isolated unit tests on presentation logic.

Screenshot - Northwind2.jpg


Since our CustomerView Windows form is a passive view, it should be stripped from any presentation logic, and this includes not only the form-level logic, but also the presentation logic needed for its constituent controls (a.k.a. "widgets"). This is made by exposing the widgets as properties to be accessed from the CustomerPresenter object. These properties return UI controls (see the UI Controls package) that act as wrappers for real Windows Forms controls. These wrapper classes implement a separated interface located in the TransferObjects package. To clarify this process, let's imagine how the CustomerPresenter controls the behavior of the btnSaveButton of the CustomerView Windows form:

Screenshot - Northwind3.jpg

  • In the TransferObjects package, there is an IActionButton interface, with a Click event and an Enabled property.
  • public interface IActionButton
        event EventHandler Click;
        bool Enabled { get; set; }
  • In the UI Controls package, there is a WinActionButton class, that implements the IActionButton interface.
  • public class WinActionButton : IActionButton
        public event EventHandler Click;
        public bool Enabled
            get { return underlyingButton.Enabled; }
            set { underlyingButton.Enabled = value; }
  • In the Presentation package, there is a IViewCustomerView, with a property named SaveActionButton, which returns an IActionButton object.
  • public interface IViewCustomerView
        IActionButton SaveActionButton { get;}
  • In the Presentation package, there is a CustomerPresenter class, with a public method SaveCustomer, which is responsible for calling the save functionality in the Services layer.
  • public class ViewCustomerPresenter
        public void SaveCustomer()
  • In the UI package, the CustomerView Windows form implements the IViewCustomerView interface.
  • public partial class ViewCustomers : Form, IViewCustomerView
  • Inside the ViewCustomers constructor, it creates a CustomerPresenter instance using Dependency Injection via CustomerPresenter's constructor. The view injects itself in the presenter, and then explicitly wires the Click event of its btnSaveButton to the SaveCustomer public method of CustomerPresenter.
  • public ViewCustomers()
        presenter = new ViewCustomerPresenter(this);
        this.SaveActionButton.Click += delegate { presenter.SaveCustomer(); };

Presentation Layer Test Results

Screenshot - Northwind6.jpg

The Services Layer

Some lines above, I said that in the Northwind application, the presenter doesn't modify the model directly. Instead, it should call methods in the Services layer. The Services layer is a good design option, because it exposes well defined processes of the application. Besides, it is a good place where you can define transaction scope; and, if you want to implement transactional updates on domain objects, you can implement the Command pattern in the Service layer (the Command pattern would enable you to support undoable operations on domain model objects).

In fact, the presenter doesn't event know the domain model. It only knows the Transfer Objects (see the TransferObjects package). The transfer objects in the application sample are read-only copies of the actual domain model. Every interaction between the Presenter and the Services layer is made through transfer objects. It should be emphasized that only the Services layer knows how to manipulate the domain model objects in a transactional way (even though I don't use transactional object manipulation in the Northwind sample...). The Services layer also protects the domain model from being improperly updated by the Presentation layer.

The CustomerServices class implements the ICustomerServices interface, which exposes the CRUD methods (Create, Retrieve, Update, and Delete), and one more method for customer listing:

  • NewCustomer(string customerId)
  • GetDetailsForCustomer(string customerId)
  • UpdateCustomer(CustomerTO customerTO)
  • DeleteCustomer(string customerId)
  • GetCustomerList()

Ther CustomerServices class has a reference to the IRepository interface. The CustomerServices client (in this case, the Presenter object) can create the CustomerServices object with one of its two repository "modes": Database and InMemory. The former makes the CustomerServices instantiate a repository for a live relational database (SQL Server 2000, in our sample application), and the latter mode will tell CustomerServices to work with an In-Memory repository. The Repository objects will soon be discussed in this article.

Services Layer Test Results

Screenshot - Northwind7.jpg

The Transfer Objects layer

The transfer objects are read-only POCOs (Plain Old C Sharp Objects) that transfer domain model object data between the layers in the application. In the sample Northwind solution, they are applied only between the Presentation layer and the Services layer. Transfer objects are pretty dumb by definition, and should never carry any kind of validation or business logic.

The TOHelper class is a static class that offers two functionalities:

  • Creates a Transfer Object from an equivalent Domain Model object and;
  • Updates a Domain Model object from the Transfer Object data.

Both functions use Reflection techniques to investigate object properties and copy data from one instance to another. This increases reusability and extensibility of the data transfer process.

Transfer Objects Layer Test Results

Screenshot - Northwind8.jpg

The Domain Model Layer

I started the design of my domain model with a generic class, DomainBase<t>, where the parameterized type "t" is the type used in the virtual ID property. Every domain class should override this base ID property with a proper ID. The Customer ID is a string, while the Order ID is an integer.

The Customer class is pretty simple, and the only validation it makes is for not null/not empty values in the setters of the CompanyName and Phone properties.

Notice that in the Northwind sample, the domain object classes are decorated with two attributes: ActiveRecord and MappedTO.

public class Customer : DomainBase<string>
  • The ActiveRecord attribute provides the table name the domain object it is mapped to. This attribute is used by the ActiveRecord framework, an Object-Relational Mapper framework, and will be discussed later on in this article.
  • The MappedTO attribute provides the Transfer Object full name, and is used by the TOHelper class (in the TransferObjects package) in the Domain Object-to-Transfer Object copy operations.

The Unit of Work pattern

The DomainBase class also stores the values IsNew and IsDirty, indicating whether the domain model instance is a new one and if it has been modified since the last time it has been persisted in repository.

The Unit of Work Pattern helps you in keeping the roundtrips to the database as minimum as possible. If you ask the repository to persist a collection of objects, it will only make trips to the database for those instances marked as new or dirty. Every not-new and not-dirty objects will be ignored in the process.

Domain Model Layer Test Results

Screenshot - Northwind5.jpg

The Active Record Pattern

Martin Fowler describes Active Record as:

An object that wraps a row in a database table or view, encapsulates the database access, and adds domain logic on that data.

The Northwind sample uses the Castle Project ActiveRecord, which is a very good implementation of the Active Record pattern. The Castle ActiveRecord was built on top of NHibernate, and provides a powerful, yet simple, set of Object-Relational Mapping functionalities which allow you to persist your domain objects very easily. With Castle ActiveRecord, you can focus on designing your domain model, while saving time working in data access maintenance.

As I explained before, the domain objects act as Active Record objects. This is made by decorating each domain object class with an ActiveRecord attribute. In addition, each property in a domain object has to be decorated with a PrimaryKey or a Property attribute, indicating which table column the property is mapped to. If the table column name is not provided, the ActiveRecord framework will assume it has the same name as the class property.

[PrimaryKey(Column = "CustomerID", Generator = PrimaryKeyType.Assigned)]
public override string ID
    public string CompanyName

The Repository Pattern

The last pattern in this article is the Repository pattern. Edward Hieatt and Rob Mee state that the Repository pattern.

Mediates between the domain and data mapping layers using a collection-like interface for accessing domain objects.

In the Northwind sample, the repositories form the core of the Data Access layer. I've implemented two repositories based on the generic, collection-like IRepository interface:

public interface IRepository<t,t> where T : DomainBase<t>
    T Load(t id);
    void AddOrUpdate(ISession session, T domainModel);
    void Remove(ISession session, T domainModel);
    T[] FetchByExample(T example);
  • The RepositoryBase works with the NHibernate framework, and is responsible for persisting/retrieving data to/from a live database (SQL Server 2000, in this case). Let's see how it implements the AddOrUpdate method:
  • public void AddOrUpdate(ISession session, T domainModel)
        if (domainModel.IsNew)
            domainModel.IsNew = false;
            domainModel.IsDirty = false;
            if (domainModel.IsDirty)
                domainModel.IsDirty = false;
  • The InMemoryRepositoryBase works with a Dictionary variable, and uses this collection to provide in-memory persistence functionalities. This is how it implements the AddOrUpdate method:
  • public void AddOrUpdate(ISession session, T domainObject)
        if (domainObject.IsNew)
            domainObject.IsNew = false;
            domainObject.IsDirty = false;
            inMemoryDictionary.Add(domainObject.ID, domainObject);
            if (domainObject.IsDirty)
                domainObject.IsDirty = false;
                inMemoryDictionary[domainObject.ID] = domainObject;

As I described before in the Services layer section, the presenter will ask the user to choose the kind of repository he/she wants to start working with. The presenter then creates an instance of CustomerServices passing the RepositoryMode to its constructor.

Data Access Layer Test Results

Screenshot - Northwind4.jpg

4. Conclusion

With this article, I hope to provide developers/students with insights about how important it is to add testability to their applications. The sample application certainly is not perfect. Perhaps, it needs more decoupling and factories. I'm willing to improve it as much as I can, so feel free to post your opinions about it.

Article History

  • 2007/05/23 - Initial posting.
  • 2007/05/24 - Layout changes.
  • 2007/05/30 - Unit testing images added, source code updated.
  • 2007/06/18 - Bug fix: new orders were not being saved.


This article, along with any associated source code and files, is licensed under The Code Project Open License (CPOL)


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Comments and Discussions

Questionpromblems in making list Pin
wacau18-Mar-09 21:20
memberwacau18-Mar-09 21:20 
AnswerRe: promblems in making list Pin
Marcelo Ricardo de Oliveira23-Mar-09 16:20
memberMarcelo Ricardo de Oliveira23-Mar-09 16:20 
QuestionMore about the widgets? Pin
Eric_nv15-Oct-08 14:06
memberEric_nv15-Oct-08 14:06 
AnswerRe: More about the widgets? Pin
Marcelo Ricardo de Oliveira19-Oct-08 12:45
memberMarcelo Ricardo de Oliveira19-Oct-08 12:45 
GeneralGreat! Pin
Steffen Lange20-Aug-08 5:20
memberSteffen Lange20-Aug-08 5:20 
GeneralRe: Great! Pin
Marcelo Ricardo de Oliveira22-Aug-08 15:07
memberMarcelo Ricardo de Oliveira22-Aug-08 15:07 
GeneralFantastic article. Pin
Ricardo Drizin5-Feb-08 7:41
memberRicardo Drizin5-Feb-08 7:41 
GeneralRe: Fantastic article. Pin
Marcelo Ricardo de Oliveira11-Feb-08 6:11
memberMarcelo Ricardo de Oliveira11-Feb-08 6:11 
GeneralExcellent Article =) Pin
dotnetangel15-Nov-07 9:17
memberdotnetangel15-Nov-07 9:17 
GeneralRe: Excellent Article =) Pin
Marcelo Ricardo de Oliveira16-Nov-07 4:59
memberMarcelo Ricardo de Oliveira16-Nov-07 4:59 
QuestionHow to add query expression? Pin
NadiaCinta31-Oct-07 21:28
memberNadiaCinta31-Oct-07 21:28 
AnswerRe: How to add query expression? Pin
Marcelo Ricardo de Oliveira4-Nov-07 9:23
memberMarcelo Ricardo de Oliveira4-Nov-07 9:23 
GeneralRe: How to add query expression? Pin
NadiaCinta4-Nov-07 17:28
memberNadiaCinta4-Nov-07 17:28 
GeneralRe: How to add query expression? Pin
Marcelo Ricardo de Oliveira5-Nov-07 2:10
memberMarcelo Ricardo de Oliveira5-Nov-07 2:10 
GeneralRe: How to add query expression? Pin
NadiaCinta11-Nov-07 16:24
memberNadiaCinta11-Nov-07 16:24 
GeneralRe: How to add query expression? Pin
Marcelo Ricardo de Oliveira15-Nov-07 6:41
memberMarcelo Ricardo de Oliveira15-Nov-07 6:41 
GeneralRe: How to add query expression? Pin
NadiaCinta15-Nov-07 16:09
memberNadiaCinta15-Nov-07 16:09 
QuestionIs it possible to exclude Active Record? Pin
nji784-Jul-07 0:19
membernji784-Jul-07 0:19 
AnswerRe: Is it possible to exclude Active Record? Pin
Marcelo Ricardo de Oliveira16-Nov-07 2:01
memberMarcelo Ricardo de Oliveira16-Nov-07 2:01 
GeneralMVP Pattern experience Pin
devnet24718-Jun-07 22:24
memberdevnet24718-Jun-07 22:24 
GeneralRe: MVP Pattern experience Pin
Marcelo Ricardo de Oliveira19-Jun-07 14:07
memberMarcelo Ricardo de Oliveira19-Jun-07 14:07 
QuestionActiveRecord does not saving bag items? Pin
nji7815-Jun-07 12:27
membernji7815-Jun-07 12:27 
AnswerRe: ActiveRecord does not saving bag items? Pin
Marcelo Ricardo de Oliveira18-Jun-07 14:17
memberMarcelo Ricardo de Oliveira18-Jun-07 14:17 
GeneralIs there any reason why you didn't use the ActiveRecordBase object Pin
nji7815-Jun-07 6:05
membernji7815-Jun-07 6:05 
GeneralRe: Is there any reason why you didn't use the ActiveRecordBase object Pin
Marcelo Ricardo de Oliveira15-Jun-07 6:49
memberMarcelo Ricardo de Oliveira15-Jun-07 6:49 

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