Disadvantages of Test Driven Development?


What do I lose by adopting test driven design?

List only negatives; do not list benefits written in a negative form.

2/22/2010 10:49:25 PM

Accepted Answer

Several downsides (and I'm not claiming there are no benefits - especially when writing the foundation of a project - it'd save a lot of time at the end):

  • Big time investment. For the simple case you lose about 20% of the actual implementation, but for complicated cases you lose much more.
  • Additional Complexity. For complex cases your test cases are harder to calculate, I'd suggest in cases like that to try and use automatic reference code that will run in parallel in the debug version / test run, instead of the unit test of simplest cases.
  • Design Impacts. Sometimes the design is not clear at the start and evolves as you go along - this will force you to redo your test which will generate a big time lose. I would suggest postponing unit tests in this case until you have some grasp of the design in mind.
  • Continuous Tweaking. For data structures and black box algorithms unit tests would be perfect, but for algorithms that tend to be changed, tweaked or fine tuned, this can cause a big time investment that one might claim is not justified. So use it when you think it actually fits the system and don't force the design to fit to TDD.
2/22/2010 10:45:55 PM

When you get to the point where you have a large number of tests, changing the system might require re-writing some or all of your tests, depending on which ones got invalidated by the changes. This could turn a relatively quick modification into a very time-consuming one.

Also, you might start making design decisions based more on TDD than on actually good design prinicipals. Whereas you may have had a very simple, easy solution that is impossible to test the way TDD demands, you now have a much more complex system that is actually more prone to mistakes.


I think the biggest problem for me is the HUGE loss of time it takes "getting in to it". I am still very much at the beginning of my journey with TDD (See my blog for updates my testing adventures if you are interested) and I have literally spent hours getting started.

It takes a long time to get your brain into "testing mode" and writing "testable code" is a skill in itself.

TBH, I respectfully disagree with Jason Cohen's comments on making private methods public, that's not what it is about. I have made no more public methods in my new way of working than before. It does, however involve architectural changes and allowing for you to "hot plug" modules of code to make everything else easier to test. You should not be making the internals of your code more accessible to do this. Otherwise we are back to square one with everything being public, where is the encapsulation in that?

So, (IMO) in a nutshell:

  • The amount of time taken to think (i.e. actually grok'ing testing).
  • The new knowledge required of knowing how to write testable code.
  • Understanding the architectural changes required to make code testable.
  • Increasing your skill of "TDD-Coder" while trying to improve all the other skills required for our glorious programming craft :)
  • Organising your code base to include test code without screwing your production code.

PS: If you would like links to positives, I have asked and answered several questions on it, check out my profile.


In the few years that I've been practicing Test Driven Development, I'd have to say the biggest downsides are:

Selling it to management

TDD is best done in pairs. For one, it's tough to resist the urge to just write the implementation when you KNOW how to write an if/else statement. But a pair will keep you on task because you keep him on task. Sadly, many companies/managers don't think that this is a good use of resources. Why pay for two people to write one feature, when I have two features that need to be done at the same time?

Selling it to other developers

Some people just don't have the patience for writing unit tests. Some are very proud of their work. Or, some just like seeing convoluted methods/functions bleed off the end of the screen. TDD isn't for everyone, but I really wish it were. It would make maintaining stuff so much easier for those poor souls who inherit code.

Maintaining the test code along with your production code

Ideally, your tests will only break when you make a bad code decision. That is, you thought the system worked one way, and it turns out it didn't. By breaking a test, or a (small) set of tests, this is actually good news. You know exactly how your new code will affect the system. However, if your tests are poorly written, tightly coupled or, worse yet, generated (cough VS Test), then maintaining your tests can become a choir quickly. And, after enough tests start to cause more work that the perceived value they are creating, then the tests will be the first thing to be deleted when schedules become compressed (eg. it gets to crunch time)

Writing tests so that you cover everything (100% code coverage)

Ideally, again, if you adhere to the methodology, your code will be 100% tested by default. Typically, thought, I end up with code coverage upwards of 90%. This usually happens when I have some template style architecture, and the base is tested, and I try to cut corners and not test the template customizations. Also, I have found that when I encounter a new barrier I hadn't previously encountered, I have a learning curve in testing it. I will admit to writing some lines of code the old skool way, but I really like to have that 100%. (I guess I was an over achiever in school, er skool).

However, with that I'd say that the benefits of TDD far outweigh the negatives for the simple idea that if you can achieve a good set of tests that cover your application but aren't so fragile that one change breaks them all, you will be able to keep adding new features on day 300 of your project as you did on day 1. This doesn't happen with all those who try TDD thinking it's a magic bullet to all their bug-ridden code, and so they think it can't work, period.

Personally I have found that with TDD, I write simpler code, I spend less time debating if a particular code solution will work or not, and that I have no fear to change any line of code that doesn't meet the criteria set forth by the team.

TDD is a tough discipline to master, and I've been at it for a few years, and I still learn new testing techniques all the time. It is a huge time investment up front, but, over the long term, your sustainability will be much greater than if you had no automated unit tests. Now, if only my bosses could figure this out.


On your first TDD project there are two big losses, time and personal freedom

You lose time because:

  • Creating a comprehensive, refactored, maintainable suite of unit and acceptance tests adds major time to the first iteration of the project. This may be time saved in the long run but equally it can be time you don't have to spare.
  • You need to choose and become expert in a core set of tools. A unit testing tool needs to be supplemented by some kind of mocking framework and both need to become part of your automated build system. You also want to pick and generate appropriate metrics.

You lose personal freedom because:

  • TDD is a very disciplined way of writing code that tends to rub raw against those at the top and bottom of the skills scale. Always writing production code in a certain way and subjecting your work to continual peer review may freak out your worst and best developers and even lead to loss of headcount.
  • Most Agile methods that embed TDD require that you talk to the client continually about what you propose to accomplish (in this story/day/whatever) and what the trade offs are. Once again this isn't everyone's cup of tea, both on the developers side of the fence and the clients.

Hope this helps


TDD requires you to plan out how your classes will operate before you write code to pass those tests. This is both a plus and a minus.

I find it hard to write tests in a "vacuum" --before any code has been written. In my experience I tend to trip over my tests whenever I inevitably think of something while writing my classes that I forgot while writing my initial tests. Then it's time to not only refactor my classes, but ALSO my tests. Repeat this three or four times and it can get frustrating.

I prefer to write a draft of my classes first then write (and maintain) a battery of unit tests. After I have a draft, TDD works fine for me. For example, if a bug is reported, I will write a test to exploit that bug and then fix the code so the test passes.