Igor Sobreira

Testing infinite loops

Yesterday I was working on a script that should run forever, or at least until the user stops it. The library behind it was already tested except for this little function:

def collect(directory):
    sequential = Sequential(directory)
    live = Live(directory)

    while 1:

this is the entry point of my library. I have an executable that just parses a directory name from command line and call this function. It's purpose it to collect all files from a directory, filter based on some rules, and publish the file names in a queue which will be consumed by another script. It runs forever because newly created files are detected and collected too.

Anyway, what it does doesn't really matter, the problem is: how to test this function since it's supposed to run forever?

I don't mind to have just unit tests for this function because I already have more integration-like tests for the classes it uses. The first solution I thought was something like this:

def collect(directory):
    sequential = Sequential(directory)
    live = Live(directory)

    while should_continue():  # new function to mock on tests: UGLY!

def should_continue():
    return True

this way I could mock should_continue() in my test and make it return False to abort the loop when I want. That works but it's ugly! I don't like to add dependency injections only for tests.

I asked on #python on irc and marienz gave a neat idea: raise an exception. I could mock live.process() and sequential.process() and raise an exception, this way I know they were called as I expected and also it will also abort the loop!

import pytest
import mock

# this is the library under test
import collectors

# replace original classed with mock objects
def test_collect_should_loop_forever_processing_both_collectors(
        collectors_Live, collectors_Sequential):

    # build mock instances. process() method will raise error
    # when called for the 2nd time. The code for `ErrorAfter`
    # is bellow
    seq = mock.Mock(['process'])
    seq.process.side_effect = ErrorAfter(2)
    live = mock.Mock(['process'])
    live.process.side_effect = ErrorAfter(2)

    # ensure mocked classes builds my mocked instances
    collectors_Sequential.return_value = seq
    collectors_Live.return_value = live

    # `ErrorAfter` will raise `CallableExhausted`
    with pytest.raises(CallableExhausted):

    # make sure our classed are instantiated with directory

This test uses py.test and mock. I hope the comments explains enough. The idea is simple: make process() raise an Exception to abort the loop. The ErrorAfter class is a small helper, it builds a callable object that will raise a specific exception after n calls. I created a custom exception here to make sure my test fails if any other exception is raised. See the code bellow.

class ErrorAfter(object):
    Callable that will raise `CallableExhausted`
    exception after `limit` calls

    def __init__(self, limit):
        self.limit = limit
        self.calls = 0

    def __call__(self):
        self.calls += 1
        if self.calls > self.limit:
            raise CallableExhausted

class CallableExhausted(Exception):


Try to avoid as much as possible to create dependency injections specifically for your tests. In dynamic languages like Python it's very easy to replace a specific component with a mock object without adding extra complexity to your code just to allow unit testing.

This was the first time I had to test a infinite loop, it's possible and easy!

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My name is Igor Sobreira and is my website. I'm a software developer working at Real Geeks. I currently live in Hawaii doing the two things that I like most: windsurfing and writing software.

See more about me and get in touch.