cfix studio Beta 2 to add support for EXE-based unit tests

N.B. cfix studio was the code name of what has become Visual Assert

The biggest shortcoming of the current cfix studio version certainly is that it requires all tests be implemented in a DLL. Conceptually, keeping test cases separated from the remaining code certainly is a good idea — and implementing tests in a DLL is a way to accomplish this. However, there are many projects in which such separation is either not feasible or just too much effort.

The good news is that with Beta 2, this will finally change: EXEs become first class-citizens in cfix studio and it will not matter any more whether your tests are part of a DLL or EXE project — you can just put them where you think is appropriate.

Take a classic MFC/GUI application project as an example: It is pretty common for these kinds of projects that most, if not all, application logic is part of a single Visual Studio project that compiles into a single EXE. There may be some additional DLLs or LIBs, but by and large, the EXE itself is where most of the interesting things happen.

The upcoming Beta 2 release now allows you to implement all your unit tests as part of the same EXE project. This means that your tests have access to all classes, functions and resources that are part of the project — all of which you would not easily have access to if you implemented the tests in a separate DLL.

Of course, embedding unit tests into an executable raises two questions:

  1. How to strip the tests from the final release?
  2. How on earth will you be able to run these tests without having main() create windows, load files, play sounds, etc each time?

Thankfully, C/C++ has a preprocessor and Visual C++ has the “exclude from build” feature which allows you to exclude certain files whenever the project is built using a specific configuration. Using any of these two features, the first question is easily answered.

The second problem is more tricky — but thankfully, it has already been solved for you: When cfix studio runs unit tests, it is well aware of that running main() might have, let’s say interesting effects — so what it does is simple: It just makes sure that main() is never run! Not only does this ensure that the tests run silently, i.e. without windows popping up etc, it also has the benefit that all unit tests “see” the application in a pristine state: Rather than having to worry about which state main() has brought the application into, you can initialize and clean up any state you need in your Setup and Teardown functions1.

To make a long story short: You can write unit tests in EXE projects in exactly the same manner as you would in a DLL project. No special considerations needed, no project settings that need to be changed, no additional boilerplate code to write. And when you run the EXE outside cfix studio, i.e. hit F5 in Visual Studio or launch the EXE directly, you will not even notice that the EXE houses some unit tests — everything works as normal.

Sounds good? Then wait a few more days and see it in action!

1: Needless to say, all global variables are initialized, constructors are run, etc. All CRT initialization happens as normal; only main()/WinMain() is not run. And yes, it also works for apps that link statically to MFC and therefore do not have a “regular” WinMain().



About me

Johannes Passing, M.Sc., living in Berlin, Germany.

Besides his consulting work, Johannes mainly focusses on Win32, COM, and NT kernel mode development, along with Java and .Net. He also is the author of cfix, a C/C++ unit testing framework for Win32 and NT kernel mode, Visual Assert, a Visual Studio Unit Testing-AddIn, and NTrace, a dynamic function boundary tracing toolkit for Windows NT/x86 kernel/user mode code.

Contact Johannes: jpassing (at) acm org

Johannes' GPG fingerprint is BBB1 1769 B82D CD07 D90A 57E8 9FE1 D441 F7A0 1BB1.

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