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TDD, continuous deployment and the golden number

January 11, 2014

You’re a strong supported of the benefits of continuous integration… whenever anyone commits to your source repo, all your tests are run. You have close to 100% coverage (or as close as you desire to have) so if anything breaks you’re going to know about it. Once stuff is pushed and all the tests pass then you’re good to ship, right?


Do you know how many tests you have in your solution? Does everyone in your team know? If they don’t know, do they have ready access to this figure both before and after the push? This figure is important; it’s your TDD Golden Number.

All is not what it seems

Someone you work with is trying out a new Github client. Sure it’s not new in the grand scheme of things, but it’s new to YOUR TEAM. It should work fine but just like a screw from a dissasembled piece of furniture, just because it fits the hole it was remove from doesn’t mean it will fit another.

Something goes wrong with a rebase or a merge and you don’t notice. This shit should be easy and happen as a matter of course, but this time it doesn’t and changesets get lost. Not only that, but those changesets span a complete Red-Green-Refactor cycle, so you’ve lost both code and tests.

The build runs… green light. But…

UNLESS YOU KNOW YOUR GOLDEN NUMBER and have a way of verifying it against the number of tests that ran, you have no idea if this green light is a true indicator of success. All you know is that all the tests in source control pass.

Risk management

Granted, the chances of a scenario where commits get lost during a merge are slim, but if any loss is possible then the chances are that you’ll lose tests as well as code because they’re probably in the same commit. This leads us to:

POINT THE FIRST: Make sure you commit your tests separately from the code that makes them pass.

Some may argue that you can take this one step further and commit each step of Red-Green-Factor separately and this works too so long as you don’t push until you have a green light. This is a good starting point for minimizing the chance of loss.

POINT THE SECOND: Test your golden number

You’ll need to be careful how you deal with this one from a process and team management point of view, but why not VERIFY YOUR GOLDEN NUMBER. Write a test that checks that the number of tests matches what it was at the time of the commit.

Wait a minute…

There’s a good reason why you might not think to do this; what if the number of tests lost is equal to the number of tests added anew by the commit?


The chances of our worst case scenario playing out now with so many distinct steps is orders of magnitude lower than in our previous case. For disaster to go un-noticed, you have to lose the tests AND the the accompanying golden number test AND the code that was in a separate commit to a separate repository.

All in all, a good way to think about the golden number is like this:

Seriously though

Even with the best intentions and code coverage, there’s always a chance that something may go wrong and you won’t know about it. When employed together, these three points will help you efficiently mitigate this risk.



From → TDD

  1. Do you mean TDD? I would have thought much of the above is true of BDD tests, but TDD tests are of questionable value for finding regression errors.

    • roysvork permalink

      Yes you may have a point there : ) I should update the post accordingly.

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