Helpful tips for testing in go

Posted on Mon 04 April 2016 in Articles

This post is a summary of some of the best resources I've found for explaining how to test golang applications.

The first section of the article is a list of resources and what I learned from each one.

The second section is a high level summary of suggestions, as well as some techniques I've used to fill in gaps not directly addressed by other articles or talks.

I conclude with a few packages that may make life easier.

Article summaries

Testing techniques

See: Slides | Video

This slidedeck is a great starting point for learning about testing. It provides a broad overview pretty quickly.

Writing tests

  • Use table driven tests
    • Makes adding new test cases very easy.
    • There is even a tool to create these for you: gotests (I haven't tried this yet)
  • Use features of the *testing.T object
    • logging, skipping, parallelizing
  • Use the built in coverage tool to guide addition of new tests
    • go test -cover
  • Use httptest package.
  • Try out the race detection tools as part of your testing process. Just run tests with -race flag.
  • Use go's concurrency primitives (locks, channels, waitgroups) to make concurrent tests more robust. Avoid time.Sleep.
  • Use static analysis.
  • If you have a complex package, use the fact that go lets _test files access unexported package details to test implementation.
  • If you want to enforce testing only the interface, you can use the package name <package>_test for your test files.
    • Then they will only be able to access exported methods in the package under test.
  • Avoid mocking and faking, and write good broad interfaces instead.

Advanced Testung With Go

This slidedeck from one of the founders of Hashicorp (the maker of great tools like Vagrant, Packer, Consul, and Terraform) has mostly simple suggestions, with a few neat ideas.

Writing tests

  • Use test fixtures, taking advantage of the fact that pwd is set for you when running tests.
  • Use flags to generate output files used to compare to expected output in tests.
    • Check these into version control so that any changes can be 'human checked'
  • Write test helpers that accept a *testing.T object and fail
    • Don't bother returning errors.
  • Don't mock networking. Just use network connections directly.
  • Don't mock subprocesses. Just run them.
    • If you need to fake it, make a simpler version of the subprocess (a different cmd.Exec object) and execute that.
  • Try not to test internal api unless implementation is very complex.
    • This ensures you are testing interface and not implementation.
  • go test is awesome. Avoid frameworks that don't use it.
  • When testing time related code, use a time multiplier instead of "fake time".
  • Avoid the built in parallel tests feature. Makes tests less reproducable.
    • Instead, run multiple processes yourself if you want to test for concurrency bugs.

Writing testable code

  • Parameterize methods and objects.
    • Even things that are always the same value in practice could benefit from flexibility when testing.
  • Minimize global state. This is very hard to test.
  • Getting the scope and size of packages right takes time. Huge and very small packages are not good.

Integration testing in Go using docker

This article has some good suggestions on testing large complex applications with a lot of dependencies.

Writing tests

  • docker is great for testing things like databases, queues, connections to other complex systems, etc.
  • use flags to limit what is included in tests
    • to avoid running long test cases all the time
    • NOTE: Others recommend build tags as an alternate solution.
  • account for multiple platforms (windows, osx vs linux) using docker-machine

The package dockertest formalizes a lot of these ideas.

Go in production: Testing and validation

This article from an engineer at SoundCloud has a lot of great suggestions. Testing and validation is just 1 part.

Writing tests

  • use reflect.DeepEqual often to test for equality
  • use build tags to specify what files should be included in tests
    • this makes it easy to selectively run longer tests as part of integration testing while keeping unit tests fast
  • use flags for things like service addresses and use these in your tests
    • essentially these are package level global variables, but at least they are easy to modify

Lesser known features of go test

This post by engineers at splice (a music creation and collaboration service) outlines a lot of nice built in features of go test.

Writing tests

  • use the build in -short and -v flags and the associated testing.Short() and testing.Verbose() conditionals
    • use these to skip portions of tests
  • use the -timeout flag to fail tests that take more than a given amt of time
  • use the -run flag to run a specific test (e.g. go test -run TestTheThing)
  • the <package>_test package name for tests can be helpful in breaking import cycles
  • use the -parallel command line flag to control the parallelism of tests
  • send multiple package names to go test to build and run tests for each package in a separate process (e.g. go test p1 p2 p3)
    • this happens naturally when you run go test ./...
    • can use -p flag to control parallelism when running tests this way
  • to get tests to run with multiple processors, do either of:
    • adjust GOMAXPROCS to >1
    • use -cpu flag to specify the cpu counts you want to run with (e.g. go test -cpu 1,2 ./... will run all tests 2X, once with 1 cpu and once with 2 cpus)

Summary of recommendations

Some things were repeated over and over

  • Use table driven tests
  • Use the built in testing tool as much as possible, avoiding packages that break it
  • Avoid mocking, actually executing code or using interfaces instead

There are also a few things that I picked up that either weren't mentioned elsewhere or just have been helpful to remember.

And there are a few things I still need to figure out.

  • How to share test utilities
    • Unfortunately functions and objects in *_test.go files are not available for import by other tests
    • Right now I am adding a <package>_test_utilities.go file to packages that provides utilities I can use in other tests
    • This seems to be a common pattern, even seen in the standard library
      • The upside is we access to package internals
      • The downside is we include test-specific code as part of the public interface of our package
    • Some other questions about this
  • How to check equality for json strings
    • I wrote this utility which loads in json then compares using reflect, but I don't love it.

Useful packages


testify is the only testing-specific package I use regularly. It plays nice with the standard testing package and adds lots of assertions that make declaring tests less verbose. I don't use any of the mocking features. Even this package has dropped http testing utilities for the standard library's httptest package.


I'm just starting to use this package. It is a wrapper around a bunch of static analysis tools. If this becomes a regular part of my workflow, I'll loop back around and write about how I use it.


They're not testing specific at all, but I use viper and cobra for most of my new go projects, and those packages make working with editable global state very easy. These makes testing variable configuration very easy.

The end

I didn't address performance profiling or benchmarking, but may do so in a future post. I will also probably be adding to this post over the next couple weeks.

Still, I hope that was helpful as it was. If you think I missed something obvious, please let me know.