We mostly write test cases that are specifically tied to a single application. This shouldn’t come as any big surprise given that we’ve never expected test cases to have any value outside our immediate team. But if we want to complete the picture of reusable test cases that I painted in my last post we need to write test cases that can be applied to any number of different apps.

Instead of writing a test case for an application, we could move down a level and write them for features instead. There are any number of web applications, for example, that implement a shopping cart so test cases written for such a feature should be applicable to all such apps. The same can be said of many common features like connecting to a network, making SQL queries to a database, username and password authentication, and so forth. Feature-level test cases are far more reusable and transferable than application-specific test cases.

The more focused we make the scope of the test cases we write, the more general they become. Features are more focused than applications, functions and objects are more focused than features, controls and data types are more focused than functions and so forth. At a low enough level, we have what I like to call “atomic” test cases. A test atom is a test case that exists at the lowest possible level of abstraction. Perhaps you’d write a set of test cases that simply submits alphanumeric input into a text box control. It does one thing only and doesn’t try to be anything more. You may then replicate this test atom and modify it for different purposes. For example, if the alphanumeric string in question is intended to be a username, then a new test atom that encoded the structure of valid usernames would be refined from an existing atom. Over time thousands (and hopefully orders of magnitude more) of such test atoms would be collected.

Test atoms can be combined into test molecules. Two alphanumeric string atoms might be combined into a test molecule that tests a username and password dialog box. I can see cases where many independent test authors would build such molecules and then over time the best such molecule would win out and yet the alternatives would still be available. With the proper incentives, test case authors would build any number of molecules that could then be leased or purchased for reuse by application vendors that implement similar functionality.

At some point, enough test atoms and molecules would exist that the need to write new, custom tests would be minimal. I think that Wikipedia, a site with user supplied, policed and maintained content, would be what the industry would need to store all these tests. Perhaps such a community Testipedia can be constructed or companies can build their own internal Testipedias for sensitive applications. But a library of environment-carrying (see my last post) test atoms and molecules would have incredible value.  

A valuable extension of this idea is to write atoms and molecules in such a way that they will understand whether or not they apply to an application. Imagine highlighting and then dragging a series of ten thousands tests onto an application and having the tests themselves figure out whether they apply to the application and then running themselves over and over within different environments and configurations.

Ah, but now I am just dreaming.