Skip to main content
  1. Take it in Bytes/
  2. Tech/OpenShift/
  3. General Engineering/

Python Testing Frameworks: History, Comparison, and Usage

·10 mins· 0
Technical Introduction Guide Python Testing Framework Software Development unittest pytest doctest TDD Python Software Development
Table of Contents

Introduction #

Hello, folks! It’s your “meatiest” tech enthusiast, Nick Miethe, back again on You’ve probably gathered that I spend most of my professional time these days working around OpenShift; but you may not be aware that my 1st professional passion was Python! And there’s something crucial about Python programming (or any programming, really) that can’t be understated – testing. Hence, our subject today: Python Testing Frameworks.

Testing Overview #

You might be wondering, why all the fuss about testing? In the realm of software development, ensuring the quality and reliability of your code is paramount and testing is our first line of defense against the chaos of unpredictable results and code incompatibility. It watches over our code, ensuring that every component functions as expected, and alerts us when things start to go awry. Yet, all too often, testing is the 1st thing developers skip in a time crunch. I know I’ve been guilty of it at least a once or twice in the past!

Source Example Py test frameworks

Post Synopsis #

This is where testing frameworks come into play. Python, being a dynamic and versatile language, has several robust testing frameworks, such as unittest, pytest, and doctest, that aid developers in writing clean, efficient, and bug-free code. This post will delve into the history of testing in Python 3, highlight the most popular testing frameworks, present example test cases for each, and provide a comprehensive comparison of their features. My hope is that by understanding the testing landscape for Python, you will be more likely to include it in your next project!

Throughout the post, I’ll be using my hands-on experience to guide you through the sometimes daunting world of Python testing. So, whether you’re a newbie coder, an experienced Pythonista, or someone simply curious about the behind-the-scenes of programming, this post should have something for you.

History of Testing in Python 3 #

Testing has been a part of Python since its early days. With the advent of Python 3, testing became even more integral to the language. In the initial versions of Python 3, the built-in unittest module, influenced by Java’s JUnit, was the primary tool for developers to write and run tests. It provided a rich set of assertions and a test discovery mechanism which was a leap forward for testing in Python. Over time, other frameworks like pytest and doctest have emerged, offering additional capabilities and styles of testing.

Popular Python 3 Testing Frameworks #

In this section, we’ll review our 3 Python Testing Frameworks: . As part of the overview for each framework, I’ve provided both a simple and detailed example. For the detailed example, we will be writing test cases for this Python 3 code snippet, inspired from my GH Surveyor, of a function that populates a dict with information from url requests:

def fetchRepoData(self, repo_path: str, repo_info: requests.Response):
    repo_json = repo_info.json()
    if repo_info.status_code == 200:['repo_path'] = repo_path['description'] = repo_json['description']['html_url'] = repo_json['html_url']['pushed_at'] = repo_json['pushed_at']['stargazers_count'] = repo_json['stargazers_count']['forks_count'] = repo_json['forks_count']

pytest #

Overview #

pytest is a robust and feature-rich testing framework in Python that’s used to write simple, as well as complex, functional test cases. It supports the creation of small, simple tests, but scales to support complex functional testing for applications and libraries.

How it Works and Technologies Used #

At its core, pytest uses Python’s built-in assert statements, simplifying the syntax needed for writing tests. To run tests, you simply invoke pytest from the command line, and it will automatically discover and run tests in any files named test_*.py or * in your project.

pytest is built with a plugin architecture, and many of its features are actually implemented as plugins. This means that it’s highly extensible, and you can add custom behavior by writing your own plugins. There are also many existing plugins available for things like parallel test execution, test coverage reporting, integration with other testing frameworks, and more.

Differentiating Factors #

One of the main differentiating factors of pytest is its powerful fixture system. Fixtures are a way to provide test data and test resources, and they can be modular and reusable across tests. They can also use dependency injection, where a test function’s needed resources are specified as arguments, and pytest takes care of providing them.

pytest also has strong support for more complex test structures, such as parameterized tests and setup/teardown at various levels of scope (function, class, module, or entire test session). Its use of plain assert statements also makes test failures easy to read and debug, because it can show exactly what values caused the assert to fail.

Simple Example #

An example pytest test case might look like this:

def test_sum():
    assert sum([1, 2, 3]) == 6, "Should be 6"

Our Example #

import pytest
import requests
from mymodule import MyObject  # assuming the fetchRepoData method is in MyObject in

def test_fetchRepoData():
    repo_path = "some/repo/path"
    mock_response = requests.Response()
    mock_response.status_code = 200
    mock_response._content = b'{"description": "desc", "html_url": "url", "pushed_at": "push_time", "stargazers_count": 10, "forks_count": 5}'

    my_obj = MyObject()
    my_obj.fetchRepoData(repo_path, mock_response)

    assert['repo_path'] == repo_path
    assert['description'] == "desc"
    assert['html_url'] == "url"
    assert['pushed_at'] == "push_time"
    assert['stargazers_count'] == 10
    assert['forks_count'] == 5

unittest #

Overview #

unittest is a testing framework that comes bundled with Python out of the box. It was inspired by the xUnit architecture that’s found in many other languages, which means that it’s based on object-oriented principles and requires tests to be bundled into test cases that are then managed by test suites.

How it Works and Technologies Used #

unittest uses a specific structure for tests. Tests are methods in subclasses of unittest.TestCase, and you use a variety of special assertion methods in the TestCase class, like assertEqual(a, b), assertTrue(x), assertFalse(x), and others.

Tests can be grouped into test suites, and the framework includes tools for automatically discovering tests as well. You can run tests using a command line interface, or from within your own scripts.

Differentiating Factors #

The main differentiating factor of unittest is its strict structure and use of object-oriented principles. This can be a benefit or a drawback, depending on your needs. The structure can help keep tests organized and can be familiar to people coming from other languages with xUnit-style test frameworks.

Simple Example #

Here’s an example of a simple unittest test case:

import unittest

class TestSum(unittest.TestCase):
    def test_sum(self):
        self.assertEqual(sum([1, 2, 3]), 6, "Should be 6")

if __name__ == '__main__':

Our Example #

import unittest
import requests
from unittest.mock import Mock
from mymodule import MyObject  # assuming the fetchRepoData method is in MyObject in

class TestMyObject(unittest.TestCase):
    def test_fetchRepoData(self):
        repo_path = "some/repo/path"
        mock_response = requests.Response()
        mock_response.status_code = 200
        mock_response._content = b'{"description": "desc", "html_url": "url", "pushed_at": "push_time", "stargazers_count": 10, "forks_count": 5}'

        my_obj = MyObject()
        my_obj.fetchRepoData(repo_path, mock_response)

        self.assertEqual(['repo_path'], repo_path)
        self.assertEqual(['description'], "desc")
        self.assertEqual(['html_url'], "url")
        self.assertEqual(['pushed_at'], "push_time")
        self.assertEqual(['stargazers_count'], 10)
        self.assertEqual(['forks_count'], 5)

if __name__ == '__main__':

doctest #

Overview #

doctest is a unique testing framework in Python that turns interactive sessions into test cases. It’s part of the standard library and is less powerful than pytest or unittest, but it can be very convenient for simple cases and for including tests directly in your documentation.

How it Works and Technologies Used #

doctest works by looking at the interactive examples in your docstrings. These examples should look like they’ve been typed directly into the Python interpreter. doctest will then run those statements and compare the output to the expected output you’ve included in the docstring.

You can run doctest tests through the command line interface, or you can integrate them into your unittest or pytest tests.

Differentiating Factors #

The main differentiating factor of doctest is its simplicity and integration with docstrings. This makes it a great tool for testing examples in documentation, or for very simple tests. However, it’s less suitable for more complex tests or for tests that need setup or teardown code.

Each of these testing frameworks has its own strengths and weaknesses, and the best one to use can depend on your specific use case. pytest is generally the most powerful and flexible, unittest provides a familiar structure for people with experience in other languages, and doctest is great for testing documentation and for simple tests.

Simple Example #

A doctest test case could be as follows:

def sum(a, b):
    >>> sum(1, 2)
    return a + b

Our Example #

Since doctest works with docstrings, it’s less applicable to this function which involves HTTP requests. doctest is better suited for simpler, pure functions. However, for the sake of this example, here’s how you might use doctest to test a simpler function:

class MyObject:
    def add_two_numbers(self, a, b):
        Adds two numbers together.

        >>> obj = MyObject()
        >>> obj.add_two_numbers(2, 3)
        return a + b

You can then run doctest on this file with:

python -m doctest

If the test passes, doctest will output nothing. If it fails, it will output a message about the failed test.

Comparing and Contrasting Python Testing Frameworks #

That was quite a bit of information! Here’s a brief comparison of these three Python testing frameworks:

  • pytest:
    • Pros: Simple syntax, powerful, detailed error reports, rich ecosystem of plugins.
    • Cons: Not part of the standard library, can be overkill for very simple applications.
  • unittest:
    • Pros: Part of Python’s standard library, rich set of features, test discovery mechanism.
    • Cons: Verbose syntax, lacks some features provided by external libraries.
  • doctest:
    • Pros: Tied closely with documentation, simple syntax, part of the standard library.
    • Cons: Not suitable for complex testing scenarios, does not support setup and teardown code.

Additional Python Testing Tools #

  • Coverage: A tool for measuring code coverage of Python programs. It monitors your program and notes which parts of the code have been executed.
  • Mock: A library for testing in Python. It allows you to replace parts of your system under test and make assertions about how they have been used.
  • Hypothesis: A powerful, flexible, and easy-to-use library for property-based testing.

Additionally, I highly recommend utilizing an IDE for Python development, whether you’re testing or not! IDEs like VSCode and IDLE provide a dramatically improved development environment for everything from writing a simple web scrapper to creating the next Netflix! And when it comes to testing, IDEs provide several tools to make your life so much easier. If you’re interested, perhaps we will cover this further in a future post!

Conclusion #

Testing is a vital aspect of any serious programming project, and Python provides an array of tools for efficient and effective testing. Understanding the features, strengths, and limitations of each framework can help you choose the right one for your project. Moreover, enhancing your testing with additional tools like coverage, mock, and hypothesis, as well as a properly configured IDE, can provide a more comprehensive testing environment for your Python applications.

If you are particularly interested in the idea of Testing and would like to improve your processes to include more tests, look into the below link book Test Driven Development. While an aging book, having been written in 2002, it still holds transformative concepts that every developer and architect ought to understand.

Until next time, that ends this stream of Meaty Bytes!

References #

  1. Test Driven Development: By Example by Kent Beck - authoritative book on the concept of Test Driven Development
  2. Right Python Framework Selection for Automation Testing - Review of other popular Python Testing Frameworks
  3. Python’s unittest documentation
  4. pytest documentation
  5. doctest documentation
  6. Coverage documentation
  7. Mock documentation
  8. Hypothesis documentation