Posted by: jsonmez | January 26, 2011

Back to Basics: Mock Eliminating Patterns

In my previous post I talked about unit testing without mocks.  I gave some examples of how I had done this in some of my real code from PaceMaker.

This time I want to take a look at some of the common patterns we can use to extract parts of our code into dependency-lite or dependency-less classes that we can unit test without needing mocks.

I’ll have to admit, I haven’t really be practicing this approach for a long time, so my list of patterns is probably lacking, but these are some of the ones I kept seeing as I was working through the code.

If you have some ideas for other patterns or know of some already or have better names than what I have chosen, please let me know.

Pattern 1: Pull out state

In many cases we can have complex objects that contain their own state often split across member variables.

If you find that a class has many methods that check some member variable and do one thing or another based on what value that member variable is set to, you might be able to benefit by extracting all the state changing logic into a separate class and creating events to notify the original class when the state changes.

We can then keep the new class as the single source of state for the class it came from and easily write dependency free (level 2) unit tests for the state class.

From the perspective of the class you are pulling the state out of, we might turn:

isSpecial = false;
timeToLive = 50;
timeToLove = 1
penguinsHaveAttacked = true;

public ApocalypseScenario CreateNew()
    if(isSpecial && timeToLive < timeToLove || penguinsHaveAttacked)
        return new ApocalypseScenario("Penguin Apocalypse, Code Blue");


private apocalypseStateMachine = new ApocalypseStateMachine();

public ApocalypseScenario CreateNew()
    if(apocalypseStateMachine.State == States.PENGUIN_SLAUGHTER)
        return new ApocalypseScenario("Penguin Apocalypse, Code Blue");

Obviously in this case there would be many ways the states get changed.  I haven’t included those here, but you can imagine how those would become part of the new state class.


Pattern 2: Method to class

Often I have found that I can’t find a way to extract all of the logic out of a class into one cohesive class, because of multiple interactions inside the class.

When I encounter this problem, I have found that I can usually identify a single large method that is using data from dependencies in the class to perform its logic.

These methods can usually be extracted to be their own new class.  We can pass in the data from the dependencies the method was originally using instead of using the dependencies directly.

Good candidates for this kind of pattern are methods which use multiple dependencies to get data in order to compute a single result.

When applying this pattern we may end up with a very small class, containing only 1 or 2 methods, but we are able to easily unit test this class with state and dependency free unit tests (level 1.)

Pattern 3: Pull data sources up

It is often the case that we have dependencies in a class that exist only to provide some sort of data to the actual logic in the class.

In these situations it is often possible to pull the source of the data up and out of the methods that use the data and instead pass in just the used data.

Performing this refactoring allows us to have methods in our class that do not use the dependency in the class directly, but instead have the data that dependency class provided passed in.

When we do this, it opens up the ability to write clean and simple unit tests without mocks for those methods in the class or to apply the “Method to class” pattern to extract the method into its own testable class.

As a first step to refactoring my code to make it easily unit testable, I will often scan the methods in the class to find methods that are only using data from dependencies, but not manipulating the state or sending commands to the dependencies.  As I am able to identify these methods, I can apply this pattern to remove the dependencies from the methods.

Pattern 4: Gather then use

Often we find that we cannot pull a dependency out of a method because that dependency is being manipulated inside of a loop or in the middle of some process.

In cases like these, we can often gather all the data that will be used to manipulate the dependency in some form of a collection and then reiterate through that collection to perform the manipulation on the dependency.

A good way to envision this is to think about two people mailing letters.  In one scenario we might have the first guy stuffing the envelope and the 2nd guy sealing the envelope.

We could carry on this process of 1st guy stuffs, 2nd guy seals for each letter we want to mail, but the process is dependent on both guys being present and working.

If we change it so that the first guy stuffs all the envelopes first and gives that stack of stuffed envelopes to the 2nd guy, they can do their jobs independently.

By applying the same idea to algorithms in our code, we can take a single method and break off the parts that don’t rely on dependencies to test independently or even move to their own classes.

As always, you can subscribe to this RSS feed to follow my posts on Making the Complex Simple.  Feel free to check out where I post about the topic of writing elegant code about once a week.  Also, you can follow me on twitter here.


  1. […] want to take a look at some of the common patterns we can use to extract parts of our code into… [full post] jsonmez Making the Complex Simple algorithmsbest practicesdesigntesting 0 […]

  2. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by jasonimison, Google Rss Reader. Google Rss Reader said: Back to Basics: Mock Eliminating Patterns: In my previous post I talked about unit testing… […]

  3. […] Back to Basics: Mock Eliminating Patterns – John Sonmez continues looking at unit testing and the removal of the requirement for mocking types in tests. In this post John explores reducing the dependencies of classes to help reduce the need for mocking. […]

  4. In Pattern 4 you’ve now added a dependency on the size of the pile of the letters and an implied 1 to 1 mapping between the two processes. Staying with your good example (which I hopefully won’t abstract and ruin): The 2nd guy can’t start sealing a single letter until the 1st guy has stuffed the entire pile of letters. It also makes “load balancing” be difficult. How about instead if the 1st guy (or guys) stuff each letter and drop them (as they finish each one) into a chute that automatically sends them to the 2nd guy (or guys). The 2nd guy (or guys) takes letters one at a time from the chute, seals it and places it in the next chute to be delivered (the 3rd guy). Basically a CQRS pattern, you can easily add load balancing and the 2nd guy can start working the moment the 1st guy has stuffed his first letter. Finally if your 2nd guy is under-utilised it is easy to get him to start sealing letter from other people – he doesn’t care where the letter comes from, he just seals it!

    • Hi Paul, you bring up a good point. It is a bit beyond the scope of my example though. I probably should have included some code in this case.

      Essentially the pattern I was tying to show here was something like:

      for(x = 0; x < blah; x++)
      var result = DoSomething(x);

      Can be refactored to:

      List results = new List();
      for(x = 0; x < blah; x++)

      return results;

      Essentially extracting the dependency by removing it from the original loop and storing the results of all the iterations of the loop into a structure that can be passed to a method that will use the dependency with the accumulated collection of results, so that the first loop can be unit tested easily.

      This isn't always going to be efficient or present the best choice (for some of the reasons you stated above), but it will often allow for pulling out dependencies that look like they are tightly coupled to a process because of a loop.

  5. Great post as always by the way!

    • Thanks! Appreciate the compliment!

  6. Interesting set of posts here.

    Both you and I know it doesn’t, but Pattern1 – pull out state – could be read as recommending stateless behavior objects manipulating behaviorless state objects (i.e. procedures and records).
    While the example is amusing (to my strange sense of humour), it’s could be a bit confusing. I’m assuming you’re separating out the concern of transforming the state of the world into an AppocalypseScenario from the concern of detecting the state of the world based on the environment, in order to make the transormation test simple. So how to address testing the state of the world detector? “StateMachine” is a bit confusing: it implies a state machine, but this wasn’t originally anything like a state machine – so have you done anything cool to make the detector more testable?

    On pattern 4 – Whether you’re calling the workers via a pipeline, a batch process, or a unit test should be irrelevant to the workers involved. Once they’re tested, you can orchestrate your process however you want as long as it calls all the Action it gets given in the order you want with the envelopes it needs . But then I’d instinctively reach for a mock Action to test that …. hmmm.

  7. […] found that if you focus on eliminating mocks or even just having the mindset that you will not use mocks in your code, you can produce code from […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: