Friday, 21 October 2011

Integration tests with DBUnit

Database driven JUnit tests
As part of our migration to a solid, general testing framework we are now using DbUnit for database integration tests of our database service layer with JUnit (on top of liquibase for the DDL).

Creating a DbUnit test file
As it can be painful to maintain a relational test dataset with many tables, I've decided to dump a small, existing Postgres database into the DbUnit XML structure, namely FlatXML. It turned out to be less simple as I had hoped for.

First I've created a simple exporter script in Java that dumps the entire DB into XML. Simple.

The first problem I've stumbled across was a column named "order" which caused a SQL exception. It turns out DbUnit needs to be configured for specific databases, so I've ended up using three configurations to both dump and read the files.
  1. Use Postgres specific types
  2. Double quote column and table names
  3. Enable case sensitive table & column names (now that we use quoted names, Postgres becomes case sensitive)
After that, reading in the DbUnit test file started out fine, but reached a weird NullPointerException that left me puzzled. After trying various settings I finally found a log warning that some columns might not be detected properly by DbUnit, as it only inspects the first XML record by default which can contain many null columns which subsequently then will be ignored. Luckily since version 4.3.7 of dbunit you can tell the builder that reads in the test files to scan all records first in memory, a feature know as column sensing. That got me a long way, but ultimately I've hit a much harder issue. Relational integrity.

The classic way to avoid integrity checks during inserts (including DbUnit) is simply to temporarily disable all foreign key constraints. On some databases this is simple. For example in MySQL you can simply execute SET FOREIGN_KEY_CHECKS=0 in your db connection. In H2 there is an equivalent of SET REFERENTIAL_INTEGRITY FALSE. Unfortunately there is nothing like that in PostgreSQL. You will have to disable all constraints individually and then painfully recreate them. In our case these were nearly a hundred constraints and I didn't want to go down that route.

The latest DBunit comes with a nice DatabaseSequenceFilter to automatically sort the tables being dumped in an order that respects the constraints. That worked very well for all constraints across tables, but of course failed to sort the individual records in tables which contain a self reference, for example the taxonomy table which has an adjacency list via parent_fk. Luckily I had only one table like this and that included already some nested sets indices (lft,rgt) that allowed me to sort the records in a parent first order. For this I had to issue a custom SQL query though, so I ended up dumping the entire database with all tables using the filter and in addition to export only one table with a custom sql that I then had to manually copy into the complete xml dump file. Voila, finally a working DbUnit test file!

DatabaseDrivenTest for MyBatis Services
In order to load the test data into a test DB for every JUnit test we decided to use a JUnit Rule definition that is executed before each test. The class responsible for most of the magic is DatabaseDrivenTestRule which is parameterized for the specific MyBatis Service to be tested. It is generic and can be used with any database system. The subclass DatabaseDrivenChecklistBankTestRule<T> then adds the database specific configurations and can be used as a Rule within the individual tests.

A simple & clean integration test example does look like this now:
public class ReferenceServiceMyBatisTest {

  public DatabaseDrivenChecklistBankTest ddt = new DatabaseDrivenChecklistBankTest(ReferenceService.class, "squirrels-full.xml");

  public void testGet() {
    Reference ref = ddt.getService().get(37);
    assertEquals("Wilson, D. E. ; Reeder, D. M. Mammal Species of the World", ref.getCitation());
    assertEquals(100000025, ref.getUsageKey());

Isn't that gorgeous? We only need to pass the dbunit test file and the service class to be tested to the JUnit Rule and then only need to bother with testing the service results! No additional setting up or tearing down is needed.


  1. We have moved the code to github since then and also changed it a bit to not use dbunit anymore. It now is a bit simpler using straight JDBC, but the idea remains the same:

  2. I am relinking the post to the first code released in github in 2014: