Trailhead’s Hidden Gem: Apex Testing

Trailhead.

Trailhead is by far and away my favorite learning tool for Salesforce development. The combination of guided tutorials with hands-on, in-org development is unbeatable. On top of this, the guided tutorials have built-in direct feedback to help. Until recently, the state of the art for teaching programming languages was books. The best we had for checking our work was compiler and interpreter errors. I’ve waxed philosophical about Trailhead before, but it’s unparalleled as a teaching tool. Recently a Lightning Dev week participant asked me what my favorite Trailhead module was? After some consideration, I think my favorite module is…

Apex Testing.

trailhead_apexTestingI spend a lot of time on the developer forums and Salesforce Stack Exchange. I think it’s safe to say that the majority of questions are about testing. There’s the classic “will you write my tests for me.” The philosophical “why must I write unit tests?” But my favorite is still, how can I increase my test coverage for this code? Trailhead’s Apex Testing module, while it doesn’t cover everything, is a great start.

The module’s components.

The Apex Testing module has three components that build on each other. First, it starts with an overview of unit testing basics like assertions. This component tops off with a practical test — write a unit test for a given class. To pass the challenge, you have to meet 100% test coverage. The challenge of 100% test coverage reinforces several core ideas. Most importantly it enforces the practice of testing all the logical paths in your code.

Unit Testing Apex Triggers.

Because Triggers execute in response to DML events, unit tests for triggers have to contain assertions and DML statements. While orgs have to maintain 75% aggregate average code coverage, all triggers have to have some coverage. This has the practical effect of a many more testing questions related to Triggers. Learning to test triggers in Trailhead serves not just to train developers but to advance the community. It does this by decreasing the number of routine “how do I write a test for this trigger?” questions on the forums.

Creating Test Data.

Of all the components in the Trailhead Apex Testing module I find the last one most valuable. In this last component readers learn why it’s important to create your own test data. This is more than just a practical matter and the key to why this is a hidden gem. Testing your code is arguably more important than actually writing it. While a majority of us wouldn’t neglect objects or other code dependencies; Data dependencies are often overlooked. Learning to write proper tests means learning to write code that fulfills all dependencies. By fulfilling all the dependencies and writing proper tests, developers gain the confidence that their test is valid not only today, but next week and next release!

A good three base hit.

Trailhead’s Apex Testing covers three of the most important aspects of unit Testing. While Trailhead takes the time to teach the basics of unit testing I believe it misses two key facets. First, and most importantly, it doesn’t address the importance testing different users and scenarios. Specifically, I want Trailhead to teach developers to write tests that:

  1. Test the “expected” behavior — so-called “positive” test cases. These tests pass in expected input and test for expected output. One positive test case for each logical branch.
  2. Test expected Exceptions — so-called “Negative” test cases. These tests pass in invalid or otherwise faulty data into the unit of code. Negative tests assert that the code threw an exception. Bonus points for tests that assert a specific type of exception and it’s message.
  3. Test the code with various user roles and permissions. Can the code handle execution with a non-sysadmin?

Each of these test types safeguards against common exception cases. By testing more of these common cases, we gain more confidence in the robustness of our code. Perhaps Trailhead will expand to teach these three test types. (Dear Trailhead team, if you’d like help with that, tweet me!)

Secondly, I wish Trailhead also discussed HTTP callout tests. More and more of our work as Salesforce developers involves integrations. These integrations often take the form of api integrations through HTTP callouts. Testing callouts requires knowledge of the HttpCalloutMock interface and using the Test.startTest() and Test.stopTest() methods.

Regardless of these two sticky bits, I think this module is the best one out there. Testing is one of those key skills that every Salesforce developer has to master. Trailhead provides not only knowledge transfer but skill practice and evaluation — a combination that can’t be beat — especially for testing.

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