Introducing Alba for integration testing against ASP.Net Core applications

My shop has started to slowly transition from FubuMVC to ASP.Net Core (w/ and w/o MVC) in our web applications. Instead of going full blown Don Quixote and writing my own alternative web framework like I did in 2009, I’m trying to embrace the mainstream concentrate on tactical additions where I think that makes sense.

I’ve been playing around with a small new project called Alba that seeks to make it easier to write integration tests against HTTP endpoints in ASP.Net Core applications by adapting the “Scenario” testing mechanism from FubuMVC. I’ve pushed up an alpha Nuget (1.0.0-alpha-28) if you’d like to kick the tires on it. Right now it’s very early, but we’re going to try to use it at work for a small trial ASP.Net Core project that just started. I’m also curious to see if anybody is interested in possibly helping out with either coding or just flat out testing it against your own application.

A Quick Example

First, let’s say we have a minimal MVC controller like this one:

    public class TextController : Controller
        public string Get()
            // I'm an MVC newb, and I'm sure there's a better way
                .Append("content-type", "text/plain");

            return "Hello, world";

With that in place, I can use Alba to write a test that exercises that HTTP endpoint from end to end like this:

    public class examples : IDisposable
        private readonly SystemUnderTest theSystem;

        public examples()
            theSystem = SystemUnderTest.ForStartup<Startup>();

        public void Dispose()

        public async Task sample_spec()
            var result = await theSystem.Scenario(_ =>
                _.ContentShouldContain("Hello, world");

            // If you so desire, you can interrogate the HTTP
            // response here:

A couple points to note here:

  • The easiest way to tell Alba how to bootstrap your application is to just pass your Startup type of your application to the SystemUnderTest.ForStartup<T>() method shown above in the constructor function of that test fixture class.
  • Alba is smart enough to set up the hosting content path to the base directory of your application project. To make that concrete, say your application is at “src/MyApp” and you have a testing project called “src/MyApp.Testing” and you use the standard .Net idiom using the same name for both the directory and the assembly name. In this case, Alba is able to interrogate your MyApp.Startup type, deduce that the “parallel” folder should be “MyApp.Testing,” and automatically set the hosting content path to “src/MyApp” if that folder exists. This can of course be overridden.
  • When the Scenario() method is called, it internally builds up a new HttpContext to represent the request, calls the lambda passed into Scenario() to configure that HttpContext object and register any declarative assertions against the expected response, and executes the request using the raw “RequestDelegate” of your ASP.Net Core application. There is no need to be running Kestrel or any other HTTP server to use Alba — but it doesn’t hurt anything if Kestrel is running in side of your application.
  • The Scenario() method returns a small object that exposes the HttpContext of the request and a helper object to more easily interrogate the http response body for possible further assertions.

Where would this fit in?

Alba itself isn’t a test runner, just a library that can be used within a testing harness like xUnit.Net or Storyteller to drive an ASP.Net Core application.

One of the things I’m trying to accomplish this quarter at work is to try to come up with some suggestions for how developers should decide which testing approach to take in common scenarios. Right now I’m worried that our automated testing frequently veers off into these two non-ideal extremes:

  1. Excessive mocking in unit tests where the test does very little to ascertain whether or not the code in question would actually work in the real system
  2. End to end tests using Selenium or Project White to drive business and persistence logic by manipulating the actual web application interface. These tests tend to be much more cumbersome to write and laborious to maintain as the user interface changes (especially when the developers don’t run the tests locally before committing code changes).

Alba is meant to live in the middle ground between these two extremes and give our teams an effective way to test directly against HTTP endpoints. These Scenario() tests originally came about in FubuMVC because of how aggressive we were being in moving cross cutting concerns like validation and transaction management to fubu’s equivalent to middleware. Unit testing an HTTP endpoint action was very simple, but you really needed to exercise the entire Russian Doll of attached middleware to adequately test any given endpoint.

How is this different than Microsoft.AspNetCore.TestHost?

While I’ve been very critical of Microsoft’s lack of attention to testability in some their development tools, let me give the ASP.Net team some credit here for their TestHost library that comes out of the box. Some of you are going to be perfectly content with TestHost, but Alba already comes with much more functionality for common set up and verifications against HTTP requests. I think Alba can provide a great deal of value to the .Net ecosystem even with an existing solution from Microsoft.

I did use a bit of code that I borrowed from an ASPNet repository that was in turn copy/pasted from the TestHost repository. It’s quite possible that Alba ends up using TestHost underneath the covers.


10 thoughts on “Introducing Alba for integration testing against ASP.Net Core applications

  1. Nice!
    I started playing around with doing something like this a couple of years ago and ran out of time. We’re looking at doing more automated testing at work and I think we will definitely take a look at this.

  2. We should meet up soon. I’ve gone deeper into API testing with ST and still think it’s a better route than the nunit way 😉

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