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1.3 Database Regression Testing

To safely change existing software, either to refactor it or to add new functionality, you need to be able to verify that you have not broken anything after you have made the change. In other words, you need to be able to run a full regression test on your system. If you discover that you have broken something, you must either fix it or roll back your changes. Within the development community, it has become increasingly common for programmers to develop a full unit test suite in parallel with their domain code, and in fact agilists prefer to write their test code before they write their "real" code. Just like you test your application source code, shouldn’t you also test your database? Important business logic is implemented within your database in the form of stored procedures, data validation rules, and referential integrity (RI) rules, business logic that clearly should be tested thoroughly.

Test-First Development (TFD), also known as Test-First Programming, is an evolutionary approach to development; you must first write a test that fails before you write new functional code. As depicted by the UML activity diagram of Figure 1.4, the steps of TFD are as follows:

  1. Quickly add a test, basically just enough code so that your tests now fail.
  2. Run your tests—often the complete test suite, although for the sake of speed you may decide to run only a subset—to ensure that the new test does in fact fail.
  3. Update your functional code so that it passes the new test.
  4. Run your tests again. If the tests fail, return to Step 3; otherwise, start over again.
Figure 1.4

Figure 1.4 A test-first approach to development.

The primary advantages of TFD are that it forces you to think through new functionality before you implement it (you’re effectively doing detailed design), it ensures that you have testing code available to validate your work, and it gives you the courage to know that you can evolve your system because you know that you can detect whether you have "broken" anything as the result of the change. Just like having a full regression test suite for your application source code enables code refactoring, having a full regression test suite for your database enables database refactoring (Meszaros 2006).

Test-Driven Development (TDD) (Astels 2003; Beck 2003) is the combination of TFD and refactoring. You first write your code taking a TFD approach; then after it is working, you ensure that your design remains of high quality by refactoring it as needed. As you refactor, you must rerun your regression tests to verify that you have not broken anything.

An important implication is that you will likely need several unit testing tools, at least one for your database and one for each programming language used in external programs. The XUnit family of tools (for example, JUnit for Java, VBUnit for Visual Basic, NUnit for .NET, and OUnit for Oracle) luckily are free and fairly consistent with one another.

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