On the ground at CppCon 2014

I’ve just returned from the week-long CppCon 2014 in Bellevue, Washington. Here’s what I experienced.

I’ve absorbed a great deal from a variety of C++ developer conferences – CppNow, Going Native, C++ And Beyond – but always virtually, via video and webcast. This was an opportunity to jump into the thick of things and participate in person. With community heavyweights like Herb Sutter and Scott Meyers in attendance I knew the content would be stimulating and informative. (Honestly, the speaker list featured nearly every name in the “C++ royalty” that you could imagine. I smiled to myself seeing Bjarne Stroustrup standing in the registration line like he was just another attendee.) So when the conference’s early-bird admission opened in March, I eagerly sent in my hard-earned dollars and blocked off the week of September eighth on my calendar.

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Unit test your private methods for great justice

The continuing dissent and confusion about unit testing of private class methods surprises me.

The access specifier is much like your choice of software license: it exists to limit consumers’ actions, not to limit yours. A method’s access specifier is completely irrelevant to testing, and only describes what you want the consumer to use; any code that takes inputs and produces outputs, private or not, should be tested.

The opponents of private-method testing tend to argue in quasi-religious terms: that private methods are mere hidden implementation details; that users of the class will only care about the public API; that testing of private methods breaks encapsulation. A typical unhelpful “solution”: private methods should be put into a different class and made public there.

To argue against granular testing of private methods is to mean well while being thoroughly unhelpful. The purpose of testing is more than just to guarantee the viability of your public interface – it is also to examine the inner machinery and support routines of your class to ensure that they themselves function correctly for a spectrum of inputs and edge cases. The private implementation will contain non-trivial complexities that are more readily and precisely tested directly than via the public API.
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