Fast Test, Slow Test

Audience level:
March 9th 11:30 a.m. – 12:10 p.m.


Most unit tests aren't and their authors suffer for it. What is a unit test, really? How can writing them prevent classic testing problems? If you do write them, what trade-offs are you implicitly making?


Your unit test suite takes three minutes to run 500 tests. On a modern CPU, that's just shy of a billion instructions per test. Can something that takes a billion CPU instructions really be called a "unit"? What is that suite really testing?

Many (and probably most) unit testing failures are related to size. Most common are the suite that takes half an hour to run (so no one runs it), the suite whose runtime scales like lines_of_code^2 (so, again, no one runs it), and the suite that requires huge maintenance for small changes (leading to the "testing is slow" myth).

This talk is about the "unit" in "unit test": what does it really mean, why do we care, and how does it prevent the three crippling problems above? And, of course, if we do shift our focus toward unit tests, what trade-offs are we really making?