Testing Legacy Apps - Episode 1

Written by Chris Hartjes / Original link on Jun. 19, 2020

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Testing Legacy Apps - Episode 1

I have an application that has been in use by the people who participate in my longest-running hobby for more than a decade. It has no tests. I have no excuses other than laziness. Time to change that.

In this continuing series of blog posts I am going to show you how to start from having no tests and ending up with a test suite that covers the behaviour of your application that matters the most. Along the way I am going to teach you what I feel is a repeatable framework for approaching testing existing code.

I also want to emphasize that my approach doesn't depend on the framework you are using. Most PHP web application frameworks include helpers to make testing easier, and this is a good thing! But there is probably more PHP code out there either built without a web application framework or one without helpers for testing that we need to learn some new techniques for writing tests.

For this whole series there are some constraints we are going to be dealing with:

With those three conditions in place, let's pick something and get started.

What Is The Application's Domain

The application we are writing tests for is for handling transactions and managing rosters for a tabletop baseball simulation league. The most popular game of this genre is Strat-O-Matic Baseball and the league I am in uses a game we created ourselves.

I'm sorry if some of the terms I end up using are ones you don't understand as some domain knowledge is required to figure out tests.

I created a web application to manage all the roster stuff more than a decade ago, and slapped it together quickly because we needed something. Over the years it's been tweaked but I have been lazy and justified not having any tests for it because "I understand the domain well enough to manually test it". Shockingly, I still manage to break things.

As with any long journey, it begins with a step. I'm going to pick something that I constantly break and wrap some tests around it.

What is our first testing scenario?

As part of this whole series, I also want to emphasize that I will be focussing on not testing the code but coming up with tests for how the application is supposed to behave. To figure this out, I need to identify what parts of the application need to work all the time.

Those are the high level tests that need to be written. There are also some tests at a lower level that need to happen to satisfy the conditions above. I keep finding ways to break some functionality that deals with indicating whether or not a player had a "card" in the game (basically, did we print a card for that player for a specific year). Why does it keep breaking? Because I did not create one centralized location that is the source of truth for a player.

I've written tests for this functionality before as examples for my books and presentations but I feel like it is time to take a different approach and build something easier to work with.

When I am creating testing scenarios I like to use the language that people who practice Behavior-Driven Development tend to use. So here is a great testing scenario to start with:

Given I am a Player When I have no card for the current season Then indicate my uncarded status And indicate the season I was uncarded for

Now, when I look at the code I have already I am doing this...but I don't like it. I have created the idea of a Roster and created a 'model' for it and I just deleted some tests I had for it. Instead, I think I want to drill a little deeper into this problem and come up with a better fix.

A Roster is a collection consisting of one or more objects. They are "batters", "pitchers", and "draft picks". Right now I am not making that distinction. Here's the code that I wrote that looks at a player's "uncarded status" and figures out what additional information needs to be displayed next to the player's name:

    public function getBattersByIblTeam($ibl_team): array
        $sql = "SELECT * FROM rosters r WHERE r.ibl_team = ? AND r.item_type = 2 ORDER BY r.tig_name";
        $stmt = $this->pdo->prepare($sql);
        $results = $stmt->fetchAll(PDO::FETCH_ASSOC);

        if (!$results) {
            return [];

        $roster = [];

        foreach ($results as $row) {
            $displayName = trim($row['tig_name']);

            if ($row['uncarded'] === $this->previous_season || $row['uncarded'] === $this->current_season) {
                $displayName .= ' [UC' . $row['uncarded'] . ']';

            $row['display_name'] = $displayName;
            $roster[] = $row;

        return $roster;

This is not bad code by any means -- it works. From a testing perspective there are all sorts of problems with it due t


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