[Fixed]-Setting up proper testing for Django for TDD


As I see it, there are several parts to the problem.

One thing you need are good unit tests. The primary characteristic of unit tests is that they are very fast, so that they can test the combinatorial possibilities of function inputs and branch coverage. To get their speed, and to maintain isolation between tests, even if they are running in parallel, unit tests should not touch the database or network or file system. Such tests are hard to write in Django projects, because the Django ORM makes it so convenient to scatter database access calls throughout your product code. Hence any tests of Django code will inevitably hit the database. Ideally, you should approach this by limiting the database access in your product code to a thin data access layer built on top of the django ORM, which exposes methods pertinent to your application. Another approach is for your tests to mock out the ORM calls. In the worst case, you will give up on this: Your unit tests become integration tests: They actually hit the database, cross multiple layers of your architecture, and take minutes to run, which discourages developers from running them frequently enough.

The implication of this is that writing integration tests is easy – the canonical style of Django tests covers this perfectly.

The final, and hardest part of the problem, is running your acceptance tests. The defining characteristic of acceptance tests is that they invoke your application end-to-end, as a user does in production, to prove that your application actually works. Canonical dhango tests using the django testrunner fall short of this. They do not issue actually HTTP requests (instead, they examine the url config to figure out what middleware and view would get called to handle a particular request, and then they call it, in process.) This means that such tests are not testing your webserver config, nor any javascript, or rendering in the browser, etc. To test this, you need something like selenium.

Additionally, we have many server-side processes, such as cron jobs, which use code from our Django project. Acceptance tests which involve these processes should invoke the jobs just like cron does, as a new process.

Both these scenarios have some problems. Firstly, you can’t simply run such tests under the Django test runner. If you try to do so, then you will find that the test data you have written during the test setup (either using the django fixtures mechanism, or by simply calling “MyModel().save()” in a test) are in a transaction which your product code, running in a different process, is not party to. So your tests have to commit the changes they make before the product code can see them. This interferes with the clean-up between tests that Django’s testrunner helpfully does, so you have to switch it into a different mode, which does explicit deletes rather than rolling back. Sadly, this is much slower. At last night’s London Django user group, a couple of Django core developers assured me that this scenario also has other complications (which I confess I don’t know what they are), which it is best to avoid by not running acceptance tests within the Django test runner at all, but creating them as a completely stand-alone set of tests.

If you do this, then your immediate problem is that you have lost the benefits the Django test runnner provides: Namely it creates a test database, and cleans it between each test. You will have to create some equivalent mechanism for yourself. You will need your product code to run against a test database if it is being invoked as part of a test. You need to be absolutely certain that if product code is run as part of a test, even on a production box, then it can NEVER accidentally touch the production database, so this mechanism has to be absolutely failsafe. Forgetting to set an environment variable in a test setup, for example, should not cause a blooper in this regard.

This is all before even considering the complications that arise from deployment, having parts of your project in different repos, dependent on each other, creating pip-installable packages, etc.

All in all, I’d love to hear from someone who feels they have found a good solution to this problem. It is far from a trivial issue as some commenters imply.


Harry Percival is creating a Django / TDD / Selenium tutorial (and accompanying workshop, if you live in London.) His book reads like a hands-on tutorial, and goes into great detail on the subject:



In my experience, fine-grained unit tests for web apps are not worth it, the setup/teardown is too expensive and the tests are too fragile. The only exception is isolated components, especially those with clear inputs & outputs and complicated algorithms. Do unit-test those to the smallest details.

I had the best testing experience using a semi-functional testing tool called testbrowser, which simulates browser actions in Python. For integration with Django, install the h*m*phony app (disclaimer: I am the author of the app).

Testbrowser may be a little too coarse for test-driven development, but it’s the best testing tool of the ones I have used so far. Most importantly, it scales up fairly well, whereas unit tests and browser-based functional test tools tend to become very brittle as your app grows in size.

As for a CI tool, go with Buildbot or Jenkins.


I use a combination of Django’s excellent extension of the python unittest framework for testing api’s / models / helper functions, and selenium for in browser testing. Selenium has great instructions for how to set it up and write tests in python.

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