Tips and Tricks

Ensuring Code Quality: Why Every C++ Developer Needs Unit Tests

Modern programming languages evolve and are continuously refined even further with each new update. During these incremental stages of development, components such as compilers, IDEs, libraries, their units, their components, and tools undergo changes.

Furthermore, there are also rapid changes in operating systems and hardware systems. This means that if you are developing applications professionally, you must test your units or components at the beginning of your main application development to make sure it is compatible with the newly released versions. 

C++ is a very powerful and modern programming language but to keep up with ever changing industry demands, standard language practices and conventions constantly change. Thus, C++ applications need be to be regularly maintained by software developers and engineers.

All these require rapid unit testing to ensure that company and tech requirements are met using better memory management and improved runtime performance of the main application. Let’s learn more about unit testing and how it’s used to maintain source code.

Why do developers need to test C++ Code?

Developers need to test C++ code for various crucial reasons. First and foremost, testing is a fundamental means of detecting and addressing bugs, errors, and issues within the codebase. By running tests, developers can catch problems early in the development process, saving time and resources. Additionally, testing ensures that the software behaves as expected and meets its requirements and specifications. 

It also plays a pivotal role in regression prevention, safeguarding existing functionality as code evolves. Moreover, tests serve as documentation, providing examples of code usage and clarifying its intended behavior, making it easier for developers to understand and work with the code. Testing encourages good coding practices, promoting modularity and maintainability. It facilitates collaboration by allowing multiple developers to work on a project with confidence. 

But more importantly, performance is another aspect that can be tested and memory and CPU usage are really important in C and C++ programming—it’s one of its main strengths. Ensuring the safety of your product and minimizing memory usage is crucial for achieving reliability and usefulness, as it also impacts the performance of your application during runtime. Increased CPU usage can lead to slower operations, making your app lag behind those of your competitors. This will result in higher energy consumption and higher battery usage in mobile applications that are not liked by users. 

However, this performance comes at a cost. C++ is considered to be a little harder than other programming languages because you need to have a solid grasp of how to manage and use memory. Furthermore, C++ can be extended with headers of libraries, units, and components giving it even more complexity. Consequently, diagnosing problems and tracking issues in C++-based applications require more skill and know-how. Launching a version of an application without testing can lead to unwanted outcomes such as the dreaded blue/black windows screen. Failure to properly test code can also lead to random performance drops, higher CPU usage, and unoptimized energy consumption.

For example, using multi-threading development skills on the CPU, GPU, and memory operations is important in programming, but it can give rise to problems in synchronization of multi-threaded operations and accessing data for reading and writing. Thus, multi-threading functions/methods or classes/libraries should be rigorously tested before general availability. In C++, testing multithreaded and parallel-programming application codes requires more professional skills than testing traditional C++ code.

Nowadays most of these problems can be monitored by tools baked into operating systems, which means it is easier to detect issues on runtime. Thus, there should be minimal reasons to publish and use untested applications. C++ developers should test their codes and other codes embedded into the main code.

What is unit testing and why do I need to use it?

Unit testing is a technique for developing and  experimenting with software applications that focuses on individual units or components of a main software application. This process seeks to validate whether each unit or component meets the project requirements.

Generally, unit testing is applied in the early stages of the development process before any of the code is released as an alpha or beta release. Every unit or component needs to be updated based on the requirements  of the operating systems or with the coding  standards and conventions of a language.

Generally, tests do not require technical developer skills, but in some tests, there may be more precise work that can lead to better informative results.  These tests involve computational, multi-tasking applications such as AI applications or other computational engineering applications. These applications are mostly based on C/C++ codes or  are using languages that are related to C++ modules or libs, such as Python, Delphi, etc.

Unit testing is also applied to test different versions of units or components of a software system. Sometimes new versions of units may not fit your requirements or may cause problems during the runtime of your applications. Here are some of the problems:

  • lower performance issues
  • higher memory or CPU usage issues
  • graphical issues
  • crash issues (rare)
  • Random freezes on runtime. 

If there are problems in your main applications, it may be hard to define which unit or component causing this kind of issue. This is why unit testing is important in the early stages of development. Thus, the developer or the dev team determines whether these tested units and/or components are suitable for use or not.

Here are few bad excuses example for not doing unit tests and some tips on how to possibly address them:

Testing our software is too difficult!

  •  try to redesign or refactor
  • try to decouple
  • try TDD which helps ensure a cleaner design

We can’t test now. We are too pressed for time.

  • Technical debt accrues and bugs are more time consuming in the long run
  • prioritize, but make sure you test the most relevant partsHere are few bad excuses example for not doing unit tests and some tips on how to possibly address them.

Unit testing may be applied manually for some specific unit or components or they can be automated for general purposes to test some parts of units. These tests are applied on run-time when the code is changed to ensure that the new code does not break existing functionality.

Unit tests are generally small codes that have a unit or component and are applied to validate possible units of code. This code may be using a function or a method of a class or library. These are tested in isolation from the main software system. Thus, developers may test these units to identify possible problems and they may find a way to fix these problems in the early stage of the development process. This improves the overall quality of the main software application and reduces bugs, and issues in the main software, and reduces the time required for later testing.

Executing basic unit testing

How can I do better unit testing and code maintenance in C++?

When you do unit tests there are many C++ features to help maintain your code. Here are some features included in the Visual Assist C++ productivity plugin that can be used in application development, when testing a unit, or using a unit in the main application:

Visual Assist is one of the definitive plugins that conceptualized and shaped most of the current features you see now in Visual Studio. And to this day it continues to develop user-centric design for maximum productivity and usability.

 

 

 

 

 

 

About author

Dr. Yilmaz Yoru has 35+ years of coding with more than 30+ programming languages, mostly C++ on Windows, Android, Mac-OS, iOS, Linux, and some other operating systems. He graduated and received his MSc and PhD degrees from the Department of Mechanical Engineering of Eskisehir Osmangazi University. He is the founder and CEO of ESENJA LLC Company. His interests are Programming, Thermodynamics, Fluid Mechanics, Artificial Intelligence, 2D & 3D Designs, and high-end innovations.
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