Glass-box Testing

Black-box testing is a good place to start when writing test cases, but ultimately it is not enough. In particular, it's not possible to determine how much coverage of the implementation a black-box test suite actually achieves—we actually need to know the implementation source code. Testing based on that code is known as glass box or white box testing. Glass-box testing can improve on black-box by testing execution paths through the implementation code: the series of expressions that is conditionally evaluated based on if-expressions, match-expressions, and function applications. Test cases that collectively exercise all paths are said to be path-complete. At a minimum, path-completeness requires that for every line of code, and even for every expression in the program, there should be a test case that causes it to be executed. Any unexecuted code could contain a bug if has never been tested.

For true path completeness we must consider all possible execution paths from start to finish of each function, and try to exercise every distinct path. In general this is infeasible, because there are too many paths. A good approach is to think of the set of paths as the space that we are trying to explore, and to identify boundary cases within this space that are worth testing.

For example, consider the following implementation of a function that finds the maximum of its three arguments:

let max3 x y z = 
  if x>y then 
    if x>z then x else z 
    if y>z then y else z

Black-box testing might lead us to invent many tests, but looking at the implementation reveals that there are only four paths through the code—the paths that return x, z, y, or z (again). We could test each of those paths with representative inputs such as: 3,2,1; 3,2,4; 1,2,1; 1,2,3.

When doing glass box testing, we should include test cases for each branch of each (nested) if expression, and each branch of each (nested) pattern match. If there are recursive functions, we should include test cases for the base cases as well as each recursive call. Also, we should include test cases to trigger each place where an exception might be raised.

Of course, path complete testing does not guarantee an absence of errors. We still need to test against the specification, i.e., do black-box testing. For example, here is a broken implementation of max3:

let max3 x y z =

The test max 2 1 1 is path complete, but doesn't reveal the error.

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