Quick Twitch Coding with TestDriven.Net

EDIT: There’s a newer version available here.

I started working in earnest with CoreCLR and project.json-enabled projects a couple weeks ago, and by “working” I mean upgrading tools and cleaning out detritus in my /bin folders until I could actually sweet talk my computer into compiling code and running tests. I’ve been very hesitant to jump into the CoreCLR world in no small part because Test Driven Development (TDD) is still my preferred way to write code and I felt like the options for test runners in the CoreCLR ecosystem has temporarily taken a huge step backward from classic .Net in my opinion (not having AppDomain’s in CoreCLR knocked out a lot of the existing testing tools).

Fortunately, there’s a functioning EAP of TestDriven.Net – my long time favorite test runner – that works with xUnit and CoreCLR that dropped a couple weeks ago that I’m already using. You can download the alpha version of TestDriven.Net here.

If you’re not familiar with TestDriven.Net, it’s a very lightweight addon for Visual Studio.Net that allows you to run NUnit/xUnit.Net/Fixie tests through keyboard shortcuts or context menu commands. The test output is just the VS output window, so there’s no performance hit from launching a heavier graphical tool or updating UI. It’s simple and maybe a little crude, but I’ve always been a fan of TestDriven.Net because it supports a keyboard-centric workflow that makes it very easy to quickly transition from writing code to running tests and back again.

One of my pet peeves is working with folks in the main office who constantly give me lectures about why I should be using vim then proceed to use some absurdly clumsy mouse-centric process to trigger unit tests while I try hard to remain patient.

How I Use It

One of the few customizations I do to my Visual Studio.Net setup is to map the TestDriven.Net keyboard shortcuts to the list below. I’m not saying this is the ultimate way to use it, but I’ve done it for years and it’s worked out well for me.

  • CTRL-1: Run test(s). Put the cursor inside a single test, inside a test class outside of a method, or on a namespace declaration and use the keyboard shortcut to immediately build and execute the selected tests
  • CTRL-2: Rerun the last test(s). When I’m doing real TDD my common workflow is to write the next test (or a couple tests), then run the tests once just to make them TestDriven.Net’s active set. After that, I switch to writing the real code, trigger the CTRL-2 shortcut. From there TestDriven.Net will try to save all outstanding files with changes, recompile, and run the previously selected tests. I like this workflow, especially when it takes more than a single attempt to make a test pass, because it’s much faster than finding the right test to run via any kind of mouse-centric process. Warning though, this shortcut will run the test in the debugger if you previously debugged through the unit test the last time.
  • CTRL-3: Rerun the last test(s) in the debugger. Ideally, you really don’t want to spend a lot of time using the debugger, but when you do, it’s really nice to be able to quickly jump into the exact right place.
  • CTRL-4: Rerun the last test(s) in the original context. Say I have to jump into the debugger to figure out why a test is failing. As soon as I make the changes that I expect to fix the issue, I can trigger CTRL-4 to re-run the current test set without the debugger.
  • CTRL-5: Run all tests in the solution. For simpler solutions, I’ve typically found that running tests this way is faster than the corresponding command line tooling — but that advantage seems to have gone away with the new “dotnet test” tooling.


Why not auto-test?

I’m actually not a big fan of auto test tools, at least not on any kind of sizable project and test suite. I really liked using Mocha in its watched mode with Growl in my Javascript work, but even that started to break down when the project started getting larger.

My experience is that auto-test mechanisms are too slow a feedback cycle and they don’t allow you to very easily zero in on the subset of the system you’re actually interested in. Plus I’m getting really tired of Mocha tests getting accidentally checked in with temporary “.only()” calls;)

In addition, my opinion is that “dotnet watch test” functionality doesn’t become terribly useful to me until it’s integrated with something like Growl. Even then, I don’t think I would use it on anything but the smallest test suites.

I will admit thought that I’ve never tried out NCrunch and plenty of the folks I interact with like that, so maybe I’ll change my mind on this one later.


3 thoughts on “Quick Twitch Coding with TestDriven.Net

  1. The shortcuts that you mention are useless without the corresponding action name in VS. Ctrl+1 is different for each user the vast mojority of the time.

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