Using Sinon’s Spy and Stub in Mantra (Unit Testing)

With the release of Meteor 1.3, unit testing has never been easier in Meteor. Our team recently decided to adopt Arunoda’s Mantra spec for developing Meteor applications. It is an application architecture which allows for a more modular approach with clear separation of concerns with the client and the server side. It has been a rough month for us since the spec is new and there are limited learning resources available. There were also a lot of things to learn since adopting the Mantra spec meant that we have to learn React for the presentation logic, instead of sticking with Blaze.
Unit testing is something that can be easily accomplished with the Mantra spec. Since it is modular and it clearly separates the presentation logic from the business logic through containers, components and actions, everything can be unit tested. Meteor 1.3 also introduced native NPM support, which means that using familiar tools such as Mocha, Chai and Sinon can be imported in a straightforward manner. This is going to be my first blog post and so I am only going to explain Sinon’s spy and stub methods as they were used in Arunoda’s mantra-sample-blog application.

Spies

People who are new to unit testing tools in JavaScript (with me included) were initially confused about the difference between Sinon’s spy and stub. It turns out that a spy is a basic function that you can use in Sinon, and that stubs and mocks were built on top of it.

According to the Sinon.JS documentation, a spy is

a function that records arguments, return value, the value of this and exception thrown (if any) for all its calls. A test spy can be an anonymous function or it can wrap an existing function  

What this means is that a spy can be used as a replacement for an anonymous callback function or you can wrap an existing function into it so that you can spy on its behavior. For example, if you have a function that accepts another function as an argument to be called back later after a certain condition, you can instead pass Sinon’s spy() function as the callback. You can then assert or use Chai’s expect() to see if that function was called by using spy()’s calledOnce(). Additionally, you can check if the correct arguments were passed to it by using its calledWith(). You can check the different spy functions that are available here.

Now let’s look at how spies are used in the Mantra sample blog application. We are going to use the tests that were written for the posts action. Let’s check this code snippet out:

In the test block above, we are testing if our action will correctly invoke a Meteor Method in the server through Meteor.call(). The first three lines are creating local objects for Meteor, LocalState and FlowRouter to be used exclusively in this test case. In the Mantra spec, these are exported as the application context inside client/configs/context.js.

Actions in Mantra receive this application context as the first parameter. We are creating local objects in lieu of the real app context and by doing so, we can trick the action into thinking that it is receiving its first expected argument (which is the app context).

Next, we spy on how these objects are used inside the action that we are testing. See how the Meteor object that we have passed contains a call property, which is a Sinon’s spy() function? When the action gets invoked on Line 6, it will go ahead and invoke Meteor.call() inside it. The Meteor object that it will receive is something that we have just created for spying purposes, so we have access to the arguments that were passed into it when it was invoked (Lines 7 — 12). We used the arguments that we have obtained through spying to verify that our function is invoking Meteor.call() with the correct arguments.

This is what the create action looks like, for reference:

Stubs

Now that we are done with spies, and have a basic understanding on how they work, let’s work with stubs. Stubs are just like spies, and in fact they have the entire spy() API inside them, but they can do more than just observe a function’s behavior. According to the Sinon API, stubs are:

functions (spies) with pre-programmed behavior. They support the full test spy API in addition to methods which can be used to alter the stub’s behavior.  

and they should be used when you want to:

Control a method’s behavior from a test to force the code down a specific path. Examples include forcing a method to throw an error in order to test error handling.  

or

When you want to prevent a specific method from being called directly (possibly because it triggers undesired behavior, such as a XMLHttpRequest or similar).  

Okay, so where spies can observe and spy on how a function is going to be called, the number of times it’s going to be called and the arguments that were sent with it, stubs can do all these, plus you can also programmatically control its behavior.

Let’s check how it is used on the post action test inside the sample blog application:

This particular test will check if our action will set an error message if something goes wrong after the Meteor Method call. Just like what we did with the spy example, we are setting local objects to be used as the context for our action function.

In Mantra, the LocalState is a Meteor reactive-dict data structure (a reactive dictionary) which is mainly used to handle the client side state of the app, although it is mostly used to store temporary error messages. We are creating a LocalState object here to mimic the app context’s LocalState. We are setting its set property as a spy function, so we can later see if our action will set the appropriate error message by checking the arguments that were passed into it.

Notice that this time, we are using a stub() instead of a spy() for our local Meteor object. The reason for this is that we are no longer just observing how it is going to be called, but we are also forcing it to respond in a specific way.

We are checking our action’s behavior once the call to a remote Meteor method returns an error and if that error will be stored in the LocalState accordingly. In order to do that, we need to reproduce that behavior, or make the call() function in our local Meteor object return an error. That is something that a spy() will not be able to do since it can only observe. For this scenario, we will use the stub’s callsArgWith()* function to set our desired behavior (Line 6).

We will give callsArgWith() two arguments: 4 and the err object that we have defined in Line 5. This function will make our stub invoke the argument at index 4, passing the err as an argument to whatever function is at that position. If you are going to look at our create action above, Meteor.call() is invoked with five arguments, the last or the one in the fourth index is a callback function:

Meteor.call(‘posts.create’, id, title, content, (err) => {  
  if (err) { 
    return LocalState.set(‘SAVING_ERROR’, err.message); 
  } 
});

We have to remember that this Meteor.call() that is being invoked here is the local object that we have created and passed explicitly into our create action for testing purposes. As such, this is the stub in action, and it doesn’t know that the last argument when it is invoked is going to be a callback function, so we have to use the callsArgWith() with the err object. Inside this callback, the create action will then store the error message in the LocalState object that we have passed in. Since the set() function of that LocalState object is a spy, we can conclude our test by checking if the arguments that were passed to this spy function matches the error message that we are expecting (Line 9).

This wraps up our discussion of how Sinon’s Spy and Stubs methods are being used in Mantra Unit Testing. As a recap, a spy just observes a certain function, or can take the place of a anonymous callback function so we can observe its behavior. A stub does more than that, by allowing us to pre-program a function’s behavior. If I have provided any wrong information, please feel free to correct me in the comments. :)

*The callsArg and yields family of methods have been removed as of Sinon 1.8. They were replaced with the onCall API.

Author

John Crisostomo

Software Engineer, currently interested in React, React Native and GraphQL