Getting Started With Front End Tests: a Mindset

One thing that I feel has been a blind spot for myself in terms of my development skill set is testing. That is, writing automated tests that help ensure that your code doesn’t break as you make changes moving forward.

I’m still pretty early on in this journey, but wanted to share a few things that I’ve learned. This isn’t a technical how-to, this is more of a general mindset that I wish I had going into this.

  • First, you really have to think about things very, very logically. I have an art background. As a front end developer, my specialty has been visual presentation - I care about semantic markup, layout, accessibility, etc. I do not have a Computer Science / Engineering background. I feel that a lot of the thought process around testing out there assumes a CSish background. It all feels very abstract and not very relatable.
  • To build on the last point - when getting started with unit tests specifically, you will only be testing very specific pieces of code - the ones that have demonstrable logic. Can you pass some input to a function and get a clear answer returned? Great. Unit test that. Does the function open a pop up? Don’t unit test that.
  • When approaching a big chunk of code, start by testing what is easily tested. If something is proving too difficult, just skip it and move on. It’s better to have some tests than no tests.
  • That being said, if a piece of code is too difficult to test, you need to eventually understand why. It may mean it needs to be refactored so that the logic is more clean and reliable. Are logic and behavior being intermingled? They usually shouldn’t be.
  • There are various levels of testing, so be sure you’re thinking about the right level of testing.
    • Unit tests - tests written around very specific functions. These are where you supply an input, and describe an expected output.
    • Integration tests - these tests are written to make sure that different systems can, well, integrate successfully. Think of making sure an app can talk to a database.
    • Functional tests / End-to-End Tests / E2E / Browser tests are tests that are written to verify the end functionality. An example would be writing a test to make sure a user can log in to their account.
  • In terms of how many tests you should write, it should roughly break down to:
    • Write as many unit tests as you can
    • Write considerably fewer integration tests, as they tend to be much slower
    • Write as few functional/e2e tests as you can get away with, as they tend to be slow and brittle. Figure out what your primary business goals are, and what functionality has to work in order for those goals to be met, and write your tests based on that.
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