Writing tests for Twisted code using Trial

Trial basics

Trial is Twisted’s testing framework. It provides a library for writing test cases and utility functions for working with the Twisted environment in your tests, and a command-line utility for running your tests. Trial is built on the Python standard library’s unittest module.

To run all the Twisted tests, do:

$ trial twisted

Refer to the Trial man page for other command-line options.

Trial directories

You might notice a new _trial_temp folder in the current working directory after Trial completes the tests. This folder is the working directory for the Trial process. It can be used by unit tests and allows them to write whatever data they like to disk, and not worry about polluting the current working directory.

Folders named _trial_temp-<counter> are created if two instances of Trial are run in parallel from the same directory, so as to avoid giving two different test-runs the same temporary directory.

The twisted.python.lockfile utility is used to lock the _trial_temp directories. On Linux, this results in symlinks to pids. On Windows, directories are created with a single file with a pid as the contents. These lock files will be cleaned up if Trial exits normally and otherwise they will be left behind. They should be cleaned up the next time Trial tries to use the directory they lock, but it’s also safe to delete them manually if desired.

Twisted-specific quirks: reactor, Deferreds, callLater

The standard Python unittest framework, from which Trial is derived, is ideal for testing code with a fairly linear flow of control. Twisted is an asynchronous networking framework which provides a clean, sensible way to establish functions that are run in response to events (like timers and incoming data), which creates a highly non-linear flow of control. Trial has a few extensions which help to test this kind of code. This section provides some hints on how to use these extensions and how to best structure your tests.

Leave the Reactor as you found it

Trial runs the entire test suite (over four thousand tests) in a single process, with a single reactor. Therefore it is important that your test leave the reactor in the same state as it found it. Leftover timers may expire during somebody else’s unsuspecting test. Leftover connection attempts may complete (and fail) during a later test. These lead to intermittent failures that wander from test to test and are very time-consuming to track down.

If your test leaves event sources in the reactor, Trial will fail the test. The tearDown method is a good place to put cleanup code: it is always run regardless of whether your test passes or fails (like a finally clause in a try-except-finally construct). Exceptions in tearDown are flagged as errors and flunk the test. TestCase.addCleanup is another useful tool for cleaning up. With it, you can register callables to clean up resources as the test allocates them. Generally, code should be written so that only resources allocated in the tests need to be cleaned up in the tests. Resources which are allocated internally by the implementation should be cleaned up by the implementation.

If your code uses Deferreds or depends on the reactor running, you can return a Deferred from your test method, setUp, or tearDown and Trial will do the right thing. That is, it will run the reactor for you until the Deferred has triggered and its callbacks have been run. Don’t use reactor.run() , reactor.stop() , reactor.crash() or reactor.iterate() in your tests.

Calls to reactor.callLater create IDelayedCall s. These need to be run or cancelled during a test, otherwise they will outlive the test. This would be bad, because they could interfere with a later test, causing confusing failures in unrelated tests! For this reason, Trial checks the reactor to make sure there are no leftover IDelayedCall s in the reactor after a test, and will fail the test if there are. The cleanest and simplest way to make sure this all works is to return a Deferred from your test.

Similarly, sockets created during a test should be closed by the end of the test. This applies to both listening ports and client connections. So, calls to reactor.listenTCP (and listenUNIX , and so on) return IListeningPort s, and these should be cleaned up before a test ends by calling their stopListening method. Calls to reactor.connectTCP return IConnector s, which should be cleaned up by calling their disconnect method. Trial will warn about unclosed sockets.

The golden rule is: If your tests call a function which returns a Deferred, your test should return a Deferred.

Using Timers to Detect Failing Tests

It is common for tests to establish some kind of fail-safe timeout that will terminate the test in case something unexpected has happened and none of the normal test-failure paths are followed. This timeout puts an upper bound on the time that a test can consume, and prevents the entire test suite from stalling because of a single test. This is especially important for the Twisted test suite, because it is run automatically by the buildbot whenever changes are committed to the Subversion repository.

The way to do this in Trial is to set the .timeout attribute on your unit test method. Set the attribute to the number of seconds you wish to elapse before the test raises a timeout error. Trial has a default timeout which will be applied even if the timeout attribute is not set. The Trial default timeout is usually sufficient and should be overridden only in unusual cases.

Interacting with warnings in tests

Trial includes specific support for interacting with Python’s warnings module. This support allows warning-emitting code to be written test-driven, just as any other code would be. It also improves the way in which warnings reporting when a test suite is running.

TestCase.flushWarnings allows tests to be written which make assertions about what warnings have been emitted during a particular test method. In order to test a warning with flushWarnings , write a test which first invokes the code which will emit a warning and then calls flushWarnings and makes assertions about the result. For example:

class SomeWarningsTests(TestCase):
    def test_warning(self):
        warnings.warn("foo is bad")
        self.assertEqual(len(self.flushWarnings()), 1)

Warnings emitted in tests which are not flushed will be included by the default reporter in its output after the result of the test. If Python’s warnings filter system (see the-W command option to Python ) is configured to treat a warning as an error, then unflushed warnings will causes tests to fail and will be included in the summary section of the default reporter. Note that unlike usual operation, when warnings.warn is called as part of a test method, it will not raise an exception when warnings have been configured as errors. However, if called outside of a test method (for example, at module scope in a test module or a module imported by a test module) then it will raise an exception.

Parallel test

In many situations, your unit tests may run faster if they are allowed to run in parallel, such that blocking I/O calls allow other tests to continue. Trial, like unittest, supports the -j parameter. Run trial -j 3 to run 3 test runners at the same time.

This requires care in your test creation. Obviously, you need to ensure that your code is otherwise content to work in a parallel fashion while working within Twisted... and if you are using weird global variables in places, parallel tests might reveal this.

However, if you have a test that fires up a schema on an external database in the setUp function, does some operations on it in the test, and then deletes that schema in the tearDown function, your tests will behave in an unpredictable fashion as they tromp upon each other if they have their own schema. And this won’t actually indicate a real error in your code, merely a testing-specific race-condition.