Unit Testing in R: The Bare Minimum

August 17, 2010
By

[This article was first published on John Myles White: Die Sudelbücher » Statistics, and kindly contributed to R-bloggers]. (You can report issue about the content on this page here)
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Introduction

This week I decided to start unit testing my R code, so I taught myself the bare minimum about the RUnit and testthat packages to be able to use them. Here’s what I found necessary to get started writing tests with both packages.

RUnit Basic Example

I’m going to assume that you’ve got a bunch of functions in sample.R that you want to test. For example, sample.R might contain a definition of the naïve factorial function:

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factorial <- function(n)
{
  if (n == 0)
  {
    return(1)
  }
  else
  {
    return(n * factorial(n - 1))
  }
}

To test your functions, create a directory called tests that will store all of your test cases. In tests, create a file called 1.R that will contain your first set of tests. Each set of tests will go in a function inside of 1.R, named according to the convention test.*. For example, you might have this:

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test.examples <- function()
{
  checkEquals(6, factorial(3))
  checkEqualsNumeric(6, factorial(3))
  checkIdentical(6, factorial(3))
  checkTrue(2 + 2 == 4, 'Arithmetic works')
  checkException(log('a'), 'Unable to take the log() of a string')
}
 
test.deactivation <- function()
{
  DEACTIVATED('Deactivating this test function')
}

To run this set of tests, we need to create a file called run_tests.R that will act as a test suite and invoke all of the tests in your tests directory:

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library('RUnit')
 
source('sample.R')
 
test.suite <- defineTestSuite("example",
                              dirs = file.path("tests"),
                              testFileRegexp = '^\\d+\\.R')
 
test.result <- runTestSuite(test.suite)
 
printTextProtocol(test.result)

Here you inform the defineTestSuite() function that you’re creating a test suite called “example” and that the test files are located in a directory called “tests” where all of the files match the regular expression ‘^\\d+\\.R’. Then you run the suite explicitly and print out the results in a text format.

That’s it. With those ideas, you can write your own test suite for your R code.

Using the check*() Functions

In general, with RUnit, you use a function named something like check* to test the following conditions:

  • checkEquals: Are two objects equal, including named attributes?
  • checkEqualsNumeric: Are two numeric values equal?
  • checkIdentical: Are two objects exactly the same?
  • checkTrue: Does an expression evaluate to TRUE?
  • checkException: Does an expression raise an error?

In addition to these functions, there’s also a DEACTIVATED() function that lets you turn off a test function during its execution if you need to do that.

testthat Basic Example

As above, I’m going to assume that you’ve got a bunch of functions in sample.R that you want to test. And, as before, to test your functions, you should create a directory called tests that will store all of your test cases. In tests, create a file called 1.R that will contain your first set of tests. We’ll use expect_that() for all of our tests, as in the example below:

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expect_that(1 ^ 1, equals(1))
expect_that(2 ^ 2, equals(4))
 
expect_that(2 + 2 == 4, is_true())
expect_that(2 == 1, is_false())
 
expect_that(1, is_a('numeric'))
 
expect_that(print('Hello World!'), prints_text('Hello World!'))
 
expect_that(log('a'), throws_error())
 
expect_that(factorial(16), takes_less_than(1))

To run this set of tests, we need to create a file called run_tests.R that will act as a test suite and invoke all of the tests in your tests directory:

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library('testthat')
 
source('sample.R')
 
test_dir('tests', reporter = 'Summary')

To get output, you have to inform test_dir() to use the SummaryReporter, which provides more than enough information for my purposes. See the testthat docs for other reporters you could use.

Using expect_that()

In general, you can ask expect_that() to test the following conditions:

  • is_true: Does the expression evaluate to TRUE?
  • is_false: Does the expression evaluate to FALSE?
  • is_a: Did the object inherit from a specified class?
  • equals: Is the expression equal within numerical tolerance to your expected value?
  • is_equivalent_to: Is the object equal up to attributes to your expected value?
  • is_identical_to: Is the object exactly equal to your expected value?
  • matches: Does a string match the specified regular expression?
  • prints_text: Does the text that’s printed match the specified regular expression?
  • throws_error: Does the expression raise an error?
  • takes_less_than: Does the expression take less than a specified number of seconds to run?

More testthat Tricks

There are some other tricks that testthat can do as well. It can automatically rerun tests on a directory of code whenever the code is edited using a function called auto_test() and it can set up contexts to separate tests using a function context(). I haven’t really explored either, so I can’t comment more on them.

Which to Use?

While I don’t think the arguments on behalf of either RUnit or testthat are unquestionable, I’m inclined to think that testthat has a brighter future, especially since it’s written by ggplot2′s author, Hadley Wickham.

To leave a comment for the author, please follow the link and comment on their blog: John Myles White: Die Sudelbücher » Statistics.

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