You should include your tests in coverage

Tuesday 11 August 2020

This seems to be a recurring debate: should you measure the coverage of your tests? In my opinion, definitely yes.

Just to clarify: I’m not talking about using coverage measurement with your test suite to see what parts of your product are covered. I’ll assume we’re all doing that. The question here is, do you measure how much of your tests themselves are executed? You should.

The reasons all boil down to one idea: tests are real code. Coverage measurement can tell you useful things about that code:

  • You might have tests you aren’t running. It’s easy to copy and paste a test to create a new test, but forget to change the name. Since test names are arbitrary and never used except in the definition, this is a very easy mistake to make. Coverage can tell you where those mistakes are.
  • In any large enough project, the tests directory has code that is not a test itself, but is a helper for the tests. This code can become obsolete, or can have mistakes. Helpers might have logic meant for a test to use, but somehow is not being used. Coverage can point you to these problems.

Let’s flip the question around: why not measure coverage for your tests? What’s the harm?

  • “It skews my results”: This is the main complaint. A project has a goal for coverage measurement: coverage has to be above 80%, or some other number. Measuring the tests feels like cheating, because for the most part, tests are straight-line code executed by the test runner, so it will all be close to 100%.

    Simple: change your goal. 80% was just a number your team picked out of the air anyway. If your tests are 100% covered, and you include them, your total will go up. So use (say) 90% as a goal. There is no magic number that is the “right” level of coverage.

  • “It clutters the output”: has a --skip-covered option that will leave all the 100% files out of the report, so that you can focus on the files that need work.
  • “I don’t intend to run all the tests”: Some people run only their unit tests in CI, saving integration or system tests for another time. This will require some care, but you can configure to measure only the part of the test suite you mean to run.

Whenever I discuss this idea with people, I usually get one of two responses:

  • “There are people who don’t measure their tests!?”
  • “Interesting, I had a problem this could have found for me.”

If you haven’t been measuring your tests, give it a try. I bet you will learn something interesting. There’s no downside to measuring the coverage of your tests, only benefits. Do it.


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