Integration Testing: IHost Lifecycle with xUnit.Net

I’m part of an initiative at work to analyze and ultimately improve our test automation practices. As part of that work, I’ll be blogging quite a bit about test automation starting with my brain dump on test automation last week and my most recent post on mocks and stubs last month. From here on out, I’m curating all of my posts and selected writings from other folks on my new Automated Testing page.

I’m already on record as saying that the generic host (IHost) in recent versions of .Net is one of the best things that’s ever happened to the .Net ecosystem. In my previous post I stated that I strongly prefer having the system under test running in process with the test harness for faster feedback cycles and easier debugging. The generic host builder introduced in .Net Core turns out to be a very effective way to bootstrap your system within automated test harnesses.

Before I dive into how to use the IHost in automated testing, here’s a couple issues I think you have to address in your integration testing strategy before we go willy nilly spinning up an IHost:

  • You ideally want to test against your code running in a realistic way, so the way code is bootstrapped and configured should be relatively close to how that code is started up in the real application.
  • There will inevitably need to be at least some configuration that needs to be different in testing or some services — usually accessing resources external to your system — that need to be replaced with stubs or some other kind of fake implementation.
  • It’s important to cleanly dispose or shutdown any IHost object you create in memory to avoid potential locks of resources like database connections, files, or ports. Failing to clean up resources in tests can easily make it harder to iterate through test fixes if you find yourself needing to manually kill processes or restart your IDE to release locked resources (been there, done that).
  • The IHost can be expensive to build up, and sometimes there’s going to be some serious benefit in reusing the IHost between tests to make the test suite run faster.
  • But the IHost is stateful, and there could easily be resources (singleton scoped services, databases, and whatnot) that could impact later test runs in the suite.

Before I jump into solutions, let’s assume that I have two projects:

  1. WebApplication is an ASP.Net Core web service project. WebApplication uses Lamar as its underlying DI container.
  2. A test project that references WebApplication

xUnit.Net Mechanics

I’m more comfortable with xUnit.Net, so I’m going to use that first. My typical usage is to share the IHost through xUnit.Net’s CollectionFixture mechanism (and if you think the usage of this thing is confusing, welcome to the club). First up, I’ll build out a new class I usually call AppFixture to manage the lifecycle of the IHost. The example project I’ve built here is an ASP.Net Core web service project, so I’m going to use Alba to wrap the host inside of AppFixture as shown below:

    public class AppFixture : IDisposable, IAsyncLifetime
        public IAlbaHost Host { get; private set; }
        public async Task InitializeAsync()
            // Program.CreateHostBuilder() is the code from the WebApplication
            // that configures the HostBuilder for the system
            Host = await Program
                // This extension method starts up the underlying IHost,
                // but Alba replaces Kestrel with a TestServer and
                // wraps the IHost

        public Task DisposeAsync()
            return Host.StopAsync();

        public void Dispose()

A couple things to note in that code above:

  • As we’ll set up next, that class above will be constructed once in memory by xUnit and shared between test fixture classes
  • The Dispose() and DisposeAsync() methods both dispose the IHost. By normal .Net mechanics, that will also dispose the underlying Lamar IoC container, which will in turn dispose any services created by Lamar at runtime that implement IDisposable. Disposing the IHost also stops any registered IHostedService services that your application may be using for long running tasks (for my colleagues who may be reading this, both NServiceBus and MassTransit start and stop their message listeners in an IHostedService, so that might be in use even if you don’t explicitly use that technique).

Next, we’ll set up AppFixture to be shared between our integration test classes by using the [CollectionDefinition] attribute on a marker class:

    public class AppFixtureCollection : ICollectionFixture<AppFixture>

Lastly, I like to build out a base class for integration tests like this one:

    public abstract class IntegrationContext
        protected IntegrationContext(AppFixture fixture)
            theHost = fixture.Host;
            // I am using Lamar as the underlying DI container
            // and want some Lamar specific things later on
            // in the tests
            Container = (IContainer)fixture.Host.Services;

        public IAlbaHost theHost { get; }
        public IContainer Container { get; }

The [Collection] attribute is meaningful here because that makes xUnit.Net run all the tests that are contained in test fixture classes that inherit from IntegrationContext in a single thread so we don’t have to worry about concurrent test runs.*

And finally to bring this all together, let’s say that WebApplication has this simplistic web service code to do some arithmetic:

    public class Result
        public int Sum { get; set; }
        public int Product { get; set; }

    public class Numbers
        public int[] Values { get; set; }
    public class ArithmeticController : ControllerBase
        public Result DoMath([FromBody] Numbers input)
            var product = 1;
            foreach (var value in input.Values)
                product *= value;

            return new Result
                Sum = input.Values.Sum(),
                Product = product

In the next code block, let’s finally see a test fixture class that uses the new IntegrationContext as a base class and tests the HTTP endpoint shown in the block above.

    public class ArithmeticApiTests : IntegrationContext
        public ArithmeticApiTests(AppFixture fixture) : base(fixture)

        public async Task post_to_a_secured_endpoint_with_jwt_from_extension()
            // Building the input body
            var input = new Numbers
                Values = new[] {2, 3, 4}

            var response = await theHost.Scenario(x =>
                // Alba deals with Json serialization for us
                // Enforce that the HTTP Status Code is 200 Ok

            var output = response.ReadAsJson<Result>();

Alright, at this point we’ve got a way to shared the system’s IHost in tests for better efficiency, and we’re making sure that all the resources in the IHost are cleaned up when the test suite is done. We’re using the WebApplication’s exact configuration for the IHost, but we still might need to alter that in testing. And there’s also the issue of needing to roll back state in our system between tests. I’ll pick up those subjects in my next couple posts, as well as using NUnit instead of xUnit.Net because that’s what the majority of code at my work uses for testing.

* It would be nice to be able to run parallel tests using our shared IHost, but that can often be problematic because of shared state, so I generally bypass test parallelization in integrated tests. The subject of parallelizing integration tests is worthy of a later blog post of some thoughts I haven’t quite elucidated yet.

8 thoughts on “Integration Testing: IHost Lifecycle with xUnit.Net

  1. Thanks for the post. I want to ask a question about WebApplicationFactory. Why You are not using it in integration tests? We have many integration test in our company without need for techniques you are showing. Is there something wrong with WebApplicationFactory and that is why you prefer other way?

    1. I just haven’t ever needed it yet, that’s all. Alba has a bit of logic to find and set the content path if necessary. I haven’t had to work on any kind of server side rendered app where I’d need that.

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