How this open source test framework evolves with .NET

How this open source test framework evolves with .NET

Re-evaluating and overhauling a software project's design are crucial steps to keep up as circumstances change.

A software project's design is a consequence of the time it was written. As circumstances change, it's wise to take a step back and consider whether old ideas still make for a good design. If not, you risk missing out on enhancements, simplifications, new degrees of freedom, or even a project's very survival.

This is relevant advice for .NET developers whose dependencies are subject to constant updates or are preparing for .NET 5. The Fixie project confronted this reality as we flexed to outside circumstances during the early adoption phase of .NET Core. Fixie is an open source .NET test framework similar to NUnit and xUnit with an emphasis on developer ergonomics and customization. It was developed before .NET Core and has gone through a few major design overhauls in response to platform updates.

The problem: Reliable assembly loading

A .NET test project tends to feel a lot like a library: a bunch of classes with no visible entry point. The assumption is that a test runner, like Fixie's Visual Studio Test Explorer plugin, will load your test assembly, use reflection to find all the tests within it, and invoke the tests to collect results. Unlike a regular library, test projects share some similarities with regular console applications:

  1. The test project's dependencies should be naturally loadable, as with any executable, from their own build output folder.
  2. When running multiple test projects, the loaded assemblies for test project A should be separate from the loaded assemblies for test project B.
  3. When the system under test relies on an App.config file, it should use the one local to the test project while the tests are running.

I'll call these behaviors the Big Three. The Big Three are so natural that you rarely find a need to even say them. A test project should resemble a console executable: It should be able to have dependencies, it should not conflict with the assemblies loaded for another project, and each project should respect its own dedicated config file. We take this all for granted. The sky is blue, water is wet, and the Big Three must be honored as tests run.

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