Unit testing user-written commands in Stata


In the course of putting together code for a large project, I wrote a number of project-specific commands to reduce the number of repeated blocks of code. I wanted to perform unit tests to confirm they worked as expected, but was unable to find an existing process for doing so.

These helper functions and the process I ended up with are loosely based on R’s testthat package / process. The idea is basically the same:

  1. For every command, create a file called test-*.do where * is the name of the function: e.g., test-my_command.do. Store all these files in a single directory.
  2. Within each test-*.do file, use the twin helper commands, test_command and test_assert to first run your command and then test the results with assert-like expressions.
  3. Batch process all test-*.do scripts using run_tests in a primary test script. Results from passed and failed tests will be printed in a nice fashion in the results window. If the stopiferror option is used, errors will halt the test script and the problem can be investigated.

More information about these commands and an outline of an example process are below. These commands are not part of a proper ado file, but rather should just be run or included at the top of the testing script. Someone more adept with writing Stata programs can definitely improve on them.

Helper functions

The following helper functions are found in test_commands.do. Simply include the script to use them.

test_command

Use test_command just before your user-written command. It is a simple wrapper that displays a message before running your command as if you had typed it directly.

USAGE

. test_command < command to test >

EXAMPLE

// EXAMPLE: to test "my_command x y, gen(z)"
. test_command my_command x y, gen(z)

VALIDATING: my_command x y, gen(z)

test_assert

After running your command, use test_assert to see that your command worked as expected.

USAGE

test_assert " < testing message string > " < assertion to test >

The first argument is a string that should be an informative message about your test. The second argument should be an expression like you would use with Stata’s assert command. In fact, test_assert is just a wrapper for the assert command that displays cleaner output and by default captures error codes rather than halting.

EXAMPLE

// EXAMPLE: expect that new variable z is x + y
. test_assert "New variable z equals x plus y" z = x + y 

> PASS: New variable z equals x plus y

If the test fails, the font color will change to that of error codes (red by default). The return message simply repeats the assertion expression you used, which should be helpful in tracking down the bug.

run_tests

Run all tests by calling run_tests from a separate do file. If you add the stopiferror option, then Stata will halt if a test fails. Otherwise, the font color and output will change as noted above, but Stata will not stop.

USAGE

run_tests, testfiledirectory(path/to/test-*.do) [ stopiferror ]

Example process

See the scripts in the example directory for an example testing process. The user-written command converts a school system-specific term code into a four-digit year. Two versions of the code are included: one that is correct and one that has a bug (indicated with _bug at the end of the file name). Normally, the buggy version of the command would be overwritten by the patched version, but both are included so you can see how run_tests handles both passing and failing tests.

To run:

// change into example directy
cd ./examples

// run
do tests

Templates

The template directory has two template files:

  1. test-example.do
  2. tests.do

These can be used to build command-specific test files and the main processing script, respectively.