Unit Testing with Erlang’s Common Test Framework

November 26, 2008 at 10:57 am (erlang) (, , , , )

One of the first things people look for when getting started with Erlang is a unit testing framework, and EUnit tends to be the framework of choice. But I always had trouble getting EUnit to play nice with my code since it does parse transforms, which screws up the handling of include files and record definitions. And because Erlang has pattern matching, there’s really no reason for assert macros. So I looked around for alternatives and found that a testing framework called common_test has been included since Erlang/OTP-R12B. common_test (and test_server), are much more heavy duty than EUnit, but don’t let that scare you away. Once you’ve set everything up, writing and running unit tests is quite painless.

Directory Setup

I’m going to assume an OTP compliant directory setup, specifically:

  1. a top level directory we’ll call project/
  2. a lib/ directory containing your applications at project/lib/
  3. application directories inside lib/, such as project/lib/app1/
  4. code files are in app1/src/ and beam files are in app1/ebin/

So we end up with a directory structure like this:


Test Suites

Inside the app1/ directory, create a directory called test/. This is where your test suites will go. Generally, you’ll have 1 test suite per code module, so if you have app1/src/module1.erl, then you’ll create app1/test/module1_SUITE.erl for all your module1 unit tests. Each test suite should look something like this: (unfortunately, wordpress doesn’t do syntax highlighting for erlang, so it looks kinda crappy)


% easier than exporting by name

% required for common_test to work

%% common test callbacks %%

% Specify a list of all unit test functions
all() -> [test1, test2].

% required, but can just return Config. this is a suite level setup function.
init_per_suite(Config) ->
    % do custom per suite setup here

% required, but can just return Config. this is a suite level tear down function.
end_per_suite(Config) ->
    % do custom per suite cleanup here

% optional, can do function level setup for all functions,
% or for individual functions by matching on TestCase.
init_per_testcase(TestCase, Config) ->
    % do custom test case setup here

% optional, can do function level tear down for all functions,
% or for individual functions by matching on TestCase.
end_per_testcase(TestCase, Config) ->
    % do custom test case cleanup here

%% test cases %%

test1(Config) ->
    % write standard erlang code to test whatever you want
    % use pattern matching to specify expected return values

test2(Config) -> ok.

Test Specification

Now the we have a test suite at project/app1/test/module1_SUITE.erl, we can make a test specification so common_test knows where to find the test suites, and which suites to run. Something I found out that hard way is that common_test requires absolute paths in its test specifications. So instead of creating a file called test.spec, we’ll create a file called test.spec.in, and use make to generate the test.spec file with absolute paths.


{logdir, "@PATH@/log"}.
{alias, app1, "@PATH@/lib/app1"}.
{suites, app1, [module1_SUITE]}.


    erl -pa lib/*/ebin -make

test.spec: test.spec.in
    cat test.spec.in | sed -e "s,@PATH@,$(PWD)," > $(PWD)/test.spec

test: test.spec src
    run_test -pa $(PWD)/lib/*/ebin -spec test.spec

Running the Tests

As you can see above, I also use the Makefile for running the tests with the command make test. For this command to work, run_test must be installed in your PATH. To do so, you need to run /usr/lib/erlang/lib/common_test-VERSION/install.sh (where VERSION is whatever version number you currently have). See the common_test installation instructions for more information. I’m also assuming you have an Emakefile for compiling the code in lib/app1/src/ with the make src command.

Final Thoughts

So there you have it, an example test suite, a test specification, and a Makefile for running the tests. The final file and directory structure should look something like this:


Now all you need to do is write your unit tests in the form of test suites and add those suites to test.spec.in. There’s a lot more you can get out of common_test, such as code coverage analysis, HTML logging, and large scale testing. I’ll be covering some of those topics in the future, but for now I’ll end with some parting thoughts from the Common Test User’s Guide:

It’s not possible to prove that a program is correct by testing. On the contrary, it has been formally proven that it is impossible to prove programs in general by testing.

There are many kinds of test suites. Some concentrate on calling every function or command… Some other do the same, but uses all kinds of illegal parameters.

Aim for finding bugs. Write whatever test that has the highest probability of finding a bug, now or in the future. Concentrate more on the critical parts. Bugs in critical subsystems are a lot more expensive than others.

Aim for functionality testing rather than implementation details. Implementation details change quite often, and the test suites should be long lived.

Aim for testing everything once, no less, no more


1 Comment

  1. Richard Carlsson said,

    If you have any example of how the EUnit parse transform somehow interferes with your code, please mail it to me. That should not happen.

    As for macros vs pattern matching: yes, you don’t have to use them (not even in EUnit), but the assertion macros give you much more detailed error information than a plain old badmatch does. They add convenience while avoiding run-time dependencies on the EUnit library code. (Furthermore, Common Test also uses macros, in particular for marking line numbers, and that is worse: it updates the process dictionary with an entry for the latest marked line, hence disturbing the process under test.)


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