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Learn TDD in React Native

Test-Driven Development (TDD) is an approach to automated software testing that involves writing a failing test before writing the production code to make it pass. TDD helps you develop a robust test suite to catch bugs, as well as guiding you to more modular, flexible code.

To see how TDD works in React Native, let's walk through a simple real-world example of building a feature. We'll be using React Native 0.70, the Jest test runner, and several testing libraries: React Native Testing Library and Jest Native for component tests and Detox for end-to-end tests.

This tutorial assumes you have some familiarity with React Native and with automated testing concepts.

If you like, you can follow along in the Git repo that shows the process step-by-step. You can also watch a live stream recording of this tutorial with slightly different tooling.

The feature we'll build is a simple list of messages.

Setup

It takes a little work to get our testing setup in place, but it'll be worth it!

Create a new React Native app:

$ npx react-native init ReactNativeTDD --version 0.70.0

Let's run it to confirm it works:

$ cd ReactNativeTDD
$ yarn ios

After a few minutes you should see the welcome screen of the app in the iOS Simulator.

Now we'll add React Native Testing Library (RNTL) and Jest Native to enable component testing:

$ yarn add --dev @testing-library/react-native@11.0.0 \
@testing-library/jest-native@4.0.11

RNTL doesn't require any additional setup, but Jest Native does. In package.json, add the following:

 "jest": {
- "preset": "react-native"
+ "preset": "react-native",
+ "setupFilesAfterEnv": ["./jest-setup-after-env.js"]
}

Then create a file jest-setup-after-env.js at the root of your project with the following contents:

import '@testing-library/jest-native/extend-expect';

Next, to get Detox working, let's first install the global Detox CLI tool:

$ xcode-select --install
$ brew tap wix/brew
$ brew install applesimutils
$ npm install -g detox-cli@19.0.0

Next, we need to add Detox to our project, as well as updating the version of Jest:

$ yarn add --dev detox@19.12.1 \
jest@27.5.1 \
babel-jest@27.5.1

Then initialize Detox in the project, specifying Jest as the test runner:

$ detox init -r jest

This creates several files, including .detoxrc.json.

After this, we need to add some extra config to .detoxrc.json. Add the following:

 {
"testRunner": "jest",
"runnerConfig": "e2e/config.json",
"skipLegacyWorkersInjection": true,
"apps": {
"ios": {
"type": "ios.simulator",
- "binaryPath": "SPECIFY_PATH_TO_YOUR_APP_BINARY"
+ "binaryPath": "ios/build/Build/Products/Debug-iphonesimulator/ReactNativeTDD.app",
+ "build": "xcodebuild -workspace ios/ReactNativeTDD.xcworkspace -scheme ReactNativeTDD -configuration Debug -sdk iphonesimulator -derivedDataPath ios/build"
},
"android": {
"type": "android.apk",
"binaryPath": "SPECIFY_PATH_TO_YOUR_APP_BINARY"
}
},
...
}

Now, let's run it and see that the initial test fails. If React Native and the iOS Simulator are not still running, start them:

$ yarn ios

Then, build the Detox version of the binary:

$ detox build -c ios

The build will take a little while, but you should only have to do it once for this tutorial. When it finishes, run the tests:

$ detox test -c ios

You should see the React Native app launched in a simulator, then you should see output including something like the following:

Example: should have welcome screen
Example: should have welcome screen [FAIL]
Example: should show hello screen after tap
Example: should show hello screen after tap [FAIL]
Example: should show world screen after tap
Example: should show world screen after tap [FAIL]

FAIL e2e/firstTest.e2e.js (90.608s)
Example
✕ should have welcome screen (936ms)
✕ should show hello screen after tap (867ms)
✕ should show world screen after tap (865ms)

If your editor has ESLint integration, your Detox tests will show a lot of errors unless you configure ESlint to recognize Detox. To do so, add the Detox plugin:

$ yarn add --dev eslint-plugin-detox@1.0.0

Then add the detox plugin and environment to .eslintrc.js:

 module.exports = {
root: true,
extends: '@react-native-community',
+ plugins: ['detox'],
+ overrides: [
+ {
+ files: ['*.e2e.js'],
+ env: {
+ 'detox/detox': true,
+ jest: true,
+ 'jest/globals': true,
+ },
+ },
+ ],
};

As our last setup step, let's clear out some of the default code to get a clean starting point. Delete e2e/firstTest.e2e.js and __tests__, and replace the contents of App.js with this app skeleton:

import React from 'react';
import {SafeAreaView, StatusBar} from 'react-native';

export default function App() {
return (
<SafeAreaView>
<StatusBar barStyle="dark-content" />
</SafeAreaView>
);
}

This provides a status bar and keeps the content in the phone's safe area, but other than that the app is empty.

The Feature Test

When practicing outside-in TDD, our first step is to create an end-to-end test describing the feature we want users to be able to do. For our simple messaging app, the first feature we want is to be able to enter a message, send it, and see it in the list.

Create a file e2e/creating_a_message.e2e.js and enter the following contents:

describe('Creating a message', () => {
beforeAll(async () => {
await device.launchApp();
});

beforeEach(async () => {
await device.reloadReactNative();
});

it('should add the message to the list', async () => {
await element(by.id('messageText')).typeText('New message');
await element(by.id('sendButton')).tap();

await expect(element(by.id('messageText'))).toHaveText('');
await expect(element(by.label('New message'))).toBeVisible();
});
});

The code describes the steps a user would take interacting with our app:

  • Entering the text "New message" into the text field
  • Tapping a send button
  • Confirming that the message text field is cleared out
  • Confirming that the "New message" we entered appears somewhere on screen

After we've created our test, the next step in TDD is to run the test and watch it fail. This test will fail (be "red") at first because we haven't yet implemented the functionality.

Run detox test -c ios. You should see the following error:

 FAIL  e2e/creating_a_message.e2e.js (7.65 s)
Creating a message
✕ should add the message to the list (1115 ms)

● Creating a message › should add the message to the list

DetoxRuntimeError: Test Failed: No elements found for “MATCHER(identifier == “messageText”)

HINT: To print view hierarchy on failed actions/matches, use log-level verbose or higher.

9 |
10 | it('should add the message to the list', async () => {
> 11 | await element(by.id('messageText')).typeText('New message');
| ^

The important part of the output is No elements found for “MATCHER(identifier == “messageText”)”. The test tried to find an element with testID "messageText" but couldn't. This makes sense, as we haven't created that element yet.

Write The Code You Wish You Had

The next step of TDD is to write only enough production code to fix the current error or test failure. In our case, all we need to do is add a message text field.

A common principle in TDD is to write the code you wish you had. We could just add a TextInput element to the App directly. But say we want to keep our App simple and wrap everything related to the input in a custom component. We might call that component NewMessageForm. We wish we had it, so let's go ahead and add it to App.js:

 import {SafeAreaView, StatusBar} from 'react-native';
+import NewMessageForm from './src/NewMessageForm';

export default function App() {
return (
<SafeAreaView>
<StatusBar barStyle="dark-content" />
+ <NewMessageForm />
</SafeAreaView>
);
}

Next, let's create a src folder, then a NewMessageForm.js inside it with the following contents. It's tempting to fully build out this component. But we want to wait until the test guides us in what to build. Let's just make it an empty but functioning component:

export default function NewMessageForm() {
return null;
}

Now rerun the tests with detox test -c ios. We're still getting the same error, because we haven't actually added a text input. But we're a step closer because we've written the code we wish we had: a component to wrap it. Now we can add the TextInput directly. We give it a testID of "messageText": that's the ID that the Detox test uses to find the component.

+import React from 'react';
+import {
+ TextInput,
+} from 'react-native';

export default function NewMessageForm() {
- return null;
+ return (
+ <TextInput
+ testID="messageText"
+ />
+ );
}

Rerun the tests. The error has changed! The new error is:

DetoxRuntimeError: Test Failed: No elements found for “MATCHER(identifier == “sendButton”)

HINT: To print view hierarchy on failed actions/matches, use log-level verbose or higher.

10 | it('should add the message to the list', async () => {
11 | await element(by.id('messageText')).typeText('New message');
> 12 | await element(by.id('sendButton')).tap();
| ^

Now there's a different element we can't find: an element with testID="sendButton".

We want the send button to be part of our NewMessageForm, so fixing this error is easy. We just add a Pressable to our component. Since we're now returning two JSX elements instead of one, we wrap them in a React fragment:

 import React, { Component } from 'react';
import {
+ Pressable,
+ Text,
TextInput,
} from 'react-native';
...
return (
+ <>
<TextInput
testID="messageText"
/>
+ <Pressable
+ testID="sendButton"
+ >
+ <Text>Send</Text>
+ </Pressable>
+ </>
);

Implementing Component Behavior

Rerun the tests. Now we get a new kind of test failure:

    DetoxRuntimeError: Test Failed: Failed expectation: TOHAVETEXT(text == “”) WITH MATCHER(identifier == “messageText”)

HINT: To print view hierarchy on failed actions/matches, use log-level verbose or higher.

12 | await element(by.id('sendButton')).tap();
13 |
> 14 | await expect(element(by.id('messageText'))).toHaveText('');
| ^

The important parts are:

  • TOHAVETEXT(text == “”) - The element should not have any text in it.
  • MATCHER(identifier == “messageText”) - The element that should be empty is the message text box.

We've made it to our first assertion, which is that the message text box should be empty -- but it isn't. We haven't yet added the behavior to our app to clear out the message text box.

Instead of adding the behavior directly, let's step down from the "outside" level of end-to-end tests to an "inside" component test. This allows us to more precisely specify the behavior of each piece. Also, since end-to-end tests are slow, component tests prevent us from having to write an end-to-end test for every rare edge case.

Inside the src folder, create a NewMessageForm.spec.js file. Add the following contents:

import React from 'react';
import {fireEvent, render, screen} from '@testing-library/react-native';
import NewMessageForm from './NewMessageForm';

describe('NewMessageForm', () => {
describe('clicking send', () => {
const messageText = 'Hello world';

beforeEach(() => {
render(<NewMessageForm />);

fireEvent.changeText(screen.getByTestId('messageText'), messageText);
fireEvent.press(screen.getByTestId('sendButton'));
});

it('clears the message field', () => {
expect(screen.getByTestId('messageText')).toHaveProp('value', '');
});
});
});

This component test uses RNTL. It has a different API from Detox's, but we're doing something very similar to what the end-to-end test is doing. We've taken the scenario that caused the end-to-end error and reproduced it at the component level: when a user enters text and taps the send button, the text field should be cleared. Note that we have only specified enough of a component test to reproduce the current end-to-end error.

Run yarn test to see the component test fail:

● NewMessageForm › clicking send › clears the message field

expect(element).toHaveProp("value", "") // element.getAttribute("value") === ""

Expected the element to have prop:
value=""
Received:
null

RNTL is finding the value prop of the TextInput to be null; this is because we aren't passing in a value at all. To fix this, let's make the TextInput's text available in the parent component's state:

-import React from 'react';
+import React, {useState} from 'react';
...
export default function NewMessageForm() {
+ const [inputText, setInputText] = useState('');
+
return (
<>
<TextInput
testID="messageText"
+ value={inputText}
+ onChangeText={setInputText}
/>

Now when we rerun yarn test we get a different error:

Expected the element to have prop:
value=""
Received:
value="Hello world"

Now the field is successfully taking in the typed value; it just isn't clearing it out when "Send" is tapped. Let's fix that:

 export default function NewMessageForm() {
const [inputText, setInputText] = useState('');

+ function handleSend() {
+ setInputText('');
+ }
+
return (
...
<Pressable
testID="sendButton"
+ onPress={handleSend}
>

Rerun the component test. This gets us past the assertion failure.

Once a component test passes, step back up to the outer end-to-end test to see what the next error is. Rerun detox test -c ios. Now our final assertion fails: it can't find a UI element that has label('New message').

Now, finally, the test will drive us to implement the real meat of our feature: storing the message entered and displaying it.

The NewMessageForm won't be responsible for displaying this message, though: we'll create a separate MessageList component that also exists in the parent App component. The way we have NewMessageForm send data to the parent component is by taking in a function prop and calling it.

To add this event handler behavior to NewMessageForm, we want to step back down to the component test. In this case, the component test won't be asserting exactly the same thing as the end-to-end test. The end-to-end test is looking for the "New message" content on the screen, but the component test will only be asserting the behavior that the NewMessageForm component is responsible for: that it calls the function prop.

   describe('clicking send', () => {
const messageText = 'Hello world';
+
+ let sendHandler;

beforeEach(() => {
+ sendHandler = jest.fn().mockName('sendHandler');

- render(<NewMessageForm />));
+ render(<NewMessageForm onSend={sendHandler} />);

fireEvent.changeText(screen.getByTestId('messageText'), messageText);
fireEvent.press(screen.getByTestId('sendButton'));
});

it('clears the message field', () => {
expect(screen.getByTestId('messageText')).toHaveProp('value', '');
});
+
+ it('calls the send handler', () => {
+ expect(sendHandler).toHaveBeenCalledWith(messageText);
+ });
});
});

Notice that we make one assertion per test in component tests. Having separate test cases for each behavior of the component makes it easy to understand what it does, and easy to see what went wrong if one of the assertions fails. The beforeEach block will run through the same steps for each of the two test cases below.

You may recall that this isn't what we did in the end-to-end test, though. Although you make one assertion per test in component tests, you generally make multiple assertions per test in end-to-end tests. Why? End-to-end tests are slower, so the overhead of the repeating the steps would significantly slow down our suite as it grows. In fact, larger end-to-end tests tend to turn into "feature tours:" you perform some actions, do some assertions, perform some more actions, do more assertions, etc.

Run the component test again. You'll see the "clears the text field" test pass, and the new 'emits the "send" event' test fail with the error:

● NewMessageForm › clicking send › calls the send handler

expect(jest.fn()).toHaveBeenCalledWith(...expected)

Expected: "Hello world"

Number of calls: 0

So the sendHandler isn't being called correctly. Let's fix that:

-export default function NewMessageForm() {
+export default function NewMessageForm({onSend}) {
const [inputText, setInputText] = useState('');
...
function handleSend() {
+ onSend(inputText);
setInputText('');
}

Before overwriting the inputText state with an empty string, we retrieve an onSend function passed in as a prop, and call it with the previous value of inputText.

Rerun the component tests and they will pass. Next, rerun the end-to-end tests. We get the same assertion failure, but if you look in the simulator, you'll see that we actually get a runtime error!

onSend is not a function. (In 'onSend(inputText)', 'onSend' is undefined…)

Our NewMessageForm is calling onSend, but we haven't yet passed a valid function into our component in our production code. Let's do so now. Again, we don't want to fully implement that event handler, only add only enough code to get past the current error. Add the following to App.js:

 export default function App() {
+ function handleSend() {}
+
return (
<SafeAreaView>
<StatusBar barStyle="dark-content" />
- <NewMessageForm />
+ <NewMessageForm onSend={handleSend} />
</SafeAreaView>
);

Rerun the end-to-end tests. We no longer get the onSend error--now we're back to the same assertion failure, because we're still not displaying the message. But we're a step closer!

Next, we need to save the message in state in the App component. Let's add it to an array:

-import React from 'react';
+import React, {useState} from 'react';
import {
SafeAreaView,
StatusBar,
} from 'react-native';
...
export default function App() {
+ const [messages, setMessages] = useState([]);
+
+ function handleSend(newMessage) {
+ setMessages([newMessage, ...messages]);
+ }
- function handleSend() {}

Next, to display the messages, let's create another custom component to keep our App component nice and simple. We'll call it MessageList. We'll write the code we wish we had in App.js:

 import NewMessageForm from './src/NewMessageForm';
+import MessageList from './src/MessageList';
...
<SafeAreaView>
<StatusBar barStyle="dark-content" />
<NewMessageForm onSend={handleSend} />
+ <MessageList messages={messages} />
</SafeAreaView>

Next, we'll create src/MessageList.js and add an empty implementation:

export default function MessageList() {
return null;
}

Rerun the tests, and, as we expect, we still aren't displaying the message. But now that we have a MessageList component, we're ready to finally implement that and make the test pass:

+import React from 'react';
+import {
+ FlatList,
+ Text,
+} from 'react-native';

-export default function MessageList() {
- return null;
+export default function MessageList({messages}) {
+ return (
+ <FlatList
+ data={messages}
+ keyExtractor={item => item}
+ renderItem={({item}) => <Text>{item}</Text>}
+ />
+ );
}

Rerun the tests and they pass. We've let the tests drive our first feature!

Let's take a look in the simulator. Run the app with yarn ios. Well, it works, but it's not the prettiest thing in the world. But now we can add styling.

Why TDD?

What have we gained by using Test-Driven Development?

  • Confidence it works. Unit or component tests are great to specify the functionality of functions or classes, but the app can still crash or do the wrong thing when they’re connected together. An end-to-end test confirms that all the pieces connect in the right way.
  • 100% test coverage. By only writing the minimal code necessary to pass each error, this ensures we don’t have any code that isn’t covered by a test. This avoids the situation where a change we make breaks untested code.
  • Minimal code. We’ve built the minimal features that pass our test. This has helped us avoid to speculate on features the code might need in the future, that increase our maintenance cost without adding any benefit.
  • Ability to refactor. Because we have 100% test coverage, we can make changes to our code to improve its design to handle future requirements. Our code doesn't develop cruft that makes it complex to work within.
  • Ability to ship quickly. We aren't spending time building code our users don't need. When some old code is slowing us down, we can refactor it to make it quicker to work with. And our tests reduce the amount of manual testing we need to do before a release.

One of React Native's biggest offerings is a quicker development cycle, between instant reload in the simulator and over-the-air app updates. But if your code is hard to understand and breaks easily, you won't be able to get the benefit of this speed. This is why TDD with end-to-end tests is a great fit for React Native: it allows you to realize the promise of faster development.

More Resources

To learn more about TDD, I recommend:

Questions or feedback?

Come chat with us in the #learn-tdd-in channel on CodingItWrong's Server for React and Testing.