Testing in Node.js by example using the SOLID principles

Table of contents

An example application

I’m going to outline an example to make the concept clearer:

You need to send a recurring email to some users (a newsletter for example), based on some business logic.

The business logic / user story could say:

"As a user

I want to receive an email every week

So that I can stay up to date with the latest news."

This is intentionally a contrived example to reduce the scope of the exercise.

Topics, Approaches and Tools

Concepts discussed below are

  • SOLID principles
    • Single Responsibility Principle
    • Open-Closed Principle
    • Dependency Inversion Principle
  • Reason for a software component to change
  • Test doubles like Spies and Stubs
  • Collaborators in tests
  • User Acceptance tests
  • Unit tests

On the technical side, I am going to use the following tools

  • sinon for easy Test Doubles
  • ava for running the tests
  • MongoDB as an example, but of course the persistence can be changed at your liking
  • no real email API service, to keep it simple

A testable implementation

Test-driven design

It’s important to come up with clear collaborators and responsibilities for your internal modules and functions.

This comes almost for free if you start your application by test-driving it using TDD.

The design emerges and your tests will scream if they need a collaborator

A failing user acceptance test

To start, let’s imagine to have a user that signed up in the past.

The user didn’t yet receive the newsletter via email.

test('sends a newsletter to users that did not yet receive it', async t => {
await UserRepository.insert({ name: 'test', email: '[email protected]', lastEmailSentAt: null })

await newsletter.run()

// what should I assert here??
// we need a collaborator for the newsletter...

As you can see I have difficulties to define what to assert / test.

Define the collaborators

To define the collaborators I try to follow the Single Responsibility Principle (from the SOLID principles family).

Meaning that a software component (class etc.) should have a single reason to change.

You can take it a step further and see it from the business point of view:

Who is the “actor” (like a person or business sector) associated to a specific software component or module?

That person is the reason for a software component to change.

Practical examples?

  • Marketing could want to change the frequency of the newsletter
  • Marketing wants to change the contents of the newsletter
  • You or DBA’s want to save the users in a different place

You could continue on here, but let’s stay practical and let the design emerge.

Unit-testing the UserRepository

Below you can see a unit-test for the repository.

It asserts that when calling the method findNotYetReceivedNewsletter, the correct number of users are returned.

It verifies that the underlying collection is queried correctly.

test('find users that did not yet receive the newsletter', async t => {
await UsersCollection.insert({ name: 'test', email: '[email protected]', lastEmailSentAt: new Date() })
await UsersCollection.insert({ name: 'test', email: '[email protected]', lastEmailSentAt: null })

sinon.spy(UsersCollection, 'find')

const users = await userRepository.findNotYetReceivedNewsletter()
t.is(users.length, 1)

t.true(UsersCollection.find.calledWith({ lastEmailSentAt: null }))

Unit-testing the EmailService

In this case, the actual sending of the emails is “stubbed” out, so no emails are actually sent.

I verify that the send method of the email module is actually called.

test('sends newsletter to user', async t => {
const user = { name: 'test', email: '[email protected]', lastEmailSentAt: null }
const emailStub = sinon.stub(email, 'send')
await emailService.sendTo(user)
t.is(emailStub.callCount, 1)

Inverting dependencies with the DIP principle

One could be inclined to put all the logic inside a function and call it a day.

It could work, but for how long? Or better: how do you effectively test it?

One approach could be to inject those dependencies and collaborators in a controlled manner.

We’re effectively inverting the dependencies by avoiding depending on details, but abstractions.


In the first UAT I think it’s apparent that we need to provide the newsletter module at least a way to retrieve the users.

Let’s try it with a UserRepository, and assert that the Users collection has been queried for users that did not receive a newsletter yet:

test('sends a newsletter to users that did not yet receive it', async t => {
await db.get('users').insert({ name: 'test', email: '[email protected]', lastEmailSentAt: null })
sinon.spy(userRepository, 'findNotYetReceivedNewsletter')

await newsletter.run(userRepository)

t.is(userRepository.findNotYetReceivedNewsletter.callCount, 1)
// we still need a collaborator for sending the newsletter...

Using .spy since I want the DB to be queried, and later assert that the function has been called.

For the email, I don’t want the real function to be called, hence using .stub.

I am passing in the collaborators in the tests, and use the real implementations in the application code.

We’re making the newsletter code open for extension, but closed for modification

async function run (userRepository, emailService) {
const users = await userRepository.findNotYetReceivedNewsletter()
for (const user of users) {
await emailService.sendTo(user)

Stubbing the email service

test('sends a newsletter to users that did not yet receive it', async t => {
await db.get('users').insert({ name: 'test', email: '[email protected]', lastEmailSentAt: null })

sinon.spy(userRepository, 'findNotYetReceivedNewsletter')
sinon.stub(emailService, 'sendTo')

await newsletter.run(userRepository, emailService)

t.is(userRepository.findNotYetReceivedNewsletter.callCount, 1)
t.is(emailService.sendTo.callCount, 1)
// implement your assertions about arguments, like "recipient", "subject", "content" of the email etc.

The emailService could interact with the Mailgun API, Sendgrid, etc. That’s up to you.

File structure

Below an outline of the file structure of the project:

├── index.js
├── index.test.js
├── lib
│   ├── db.js
│   ├── email-service.js
│   ├── email-service.test.js
│   ├── email.js
│   ├── email.test.js
│   ├── user-repository.js
│   └── user-repository.test.js
├── package-lock.json
└── package.json

The other software components are Unit tested, for further details check out the project on GitHub

Every collaborator has their own tests (except lib/db.js since it’s a simple wrapper around monk that is already well tested).

email.js is the wrapper around your API of choice to send emails and has a single exposed function .send.

You can find the full project on GitHub.