Test Anything JS

A Test-Anything-Protocol library for Node.js

npm install tap
tap test/*.js

Testing with Snapshots

As of version 11, tap supports saving and then comparing against “snapshot” strings. This is a powerful technique for testing programs that generate output, but it comes with some caveats.

Basics of Output Testing

Consider a test program like this:

module.exports = function (tag, contents) {
  return '<' + tag + '>' + contents + '</' + tag + '>'
}

We might have a test like this:

const t = require('tap')
const tagger = require('./index.js')
t.equal(tagger('tagName', 'content'), '<tagName>content</tagName>')

This is good for a couple of reasons:

  1. It’s clear reading our test what the expected output is.
  2. We’re unlikely to create a test without thinking carefully about what exactly it’s testing.

However, managing strings like this can become extremely tedious, especially in cases where the output is long, or there are many cases to test. If we make an intentional change to the output, then we need to manually update a large number of large strings, scattered throughout the test suite. The inevitable result is that we either make the tests less comprehensive, or even worse, treat some as “known failures”.

Testing Output with Snapshots

We could also write our test file like this:

const t = require('tap')
const tagger = require('./index.js')
t.matchSnapshot(tagger('tagName', 'content'), 'output')

But wait, where is the expected output?

To create the snapshot file, we run this command:

$ TAP_SNAPSHOT=1 tap test.js
test.js ............................................... 1/1
total ................................................. 1/1

  1 passing (207.826ms)

  ok

By setting TAP_SNAPSHOT in the environment, we tell tap to write the output to a special file, and treat the assertion as automatically passing.

The generated file is designed to be human-readable, but you should not edit it directly.

$ cat tap-snapshots/test.js-TAP.test.js
/* IMPORTANT
 * This snapshot file is auto-generated, but designed for humans.
 * It should be checked into source control and tracked carefully.
 * Re-generate by setting TAP_SNAPSHOT=1 and running tests.
 * Make sure to inspect the output below.  Do not ignore changes!
 */
'use strict'
exports[`test.js TAP > output 1`] = `
<tagName>content</tagName>

The filename is derived from the name of the test file. The headings of each string output are based on the names of your tests and assertions, and given a numeric index to handle collisions.

Snapshotting non-Strings

If the argument passed to t.matchSnapshot() isn’t a string, then it will be converted to a string using Node.js’s util.inspect. This is typically pretty easy for humans to understand, but of course if you prefer to use JSON.stringify or something else, you can do so easily enough.

Caveats

Track Changes

Important: you should check the snapshot file into source control!

When there are changes to it, inspect the diff and make sure that nothing unexpected happened to change your output.

If you don’t check this file into source control, then a significant part of your test is not checked in. This prevents people from collaborating on your project.

If you accept changes to it without care, then you can obscure unintended changes. (Though, even if this happens, git bisect can track down the source of the change quite quickly, so it’s not the end of the world if there are occasional mistakes.)

Strip Variables from Output

If your output includes data that is known to change from one run to the next, then these changes should be stripped before matching against a snapshot.

This includes process IDs, time stamps, and many other system details.

Consider this function:

function msgTime (msg) {
  return msg + ' time=' + Date.now()
}

Since the output will obviously be slightly different every time the function is tested, we need to strip out the time value.

const t = require('tap')

function clean (output) {
  return output.replace(/ time=[0-9]+$/g, ' time={time}')
}

const output = msgTime('this is a test')
t.matchSnapshot(clean(output), 'add timestamp to message')

When run with TAP_SNAPSHOT=1, it generates this snapshot file:

exports[`test.js TAP > add timestamp to message 1`] = `
this is a test time={time}
`