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Comparing Node.js unit testing frameworks

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Comparing Node.js unit testing frameworks

Editor’s note: This comparison of Node.js unit testing frameworks was last updated on 26 February 2021 to include the most recent survey data and remove outdated information.

In this Node.js unit testing guide, we’ll provide some reasons why you should unit test your Node.js apps, discuss what makes a good testing framework, and compare some of the most popular Node.js unit testing frameworks available today.

Here’s what we’ll cover:

What is Node.js?

Released in 2009, Node has steadily gained popularity over the years. Today, it’s a premier tool for creating APIs. According to Stack Overflow’s “2020 Developer Survey” more than half of respondents said they use Node.js today, making it the most widely-used “other” framework for the second consecutive year.

Most Popular Other Frameworks, Libraries, and Tools, According to Stack Overflow's '2020 Developer Survey'

According to SimilarTech there are more than 97,000 unique domains using Node.js today. Stackshare lists Uber, Twitter, Netflix, Medium, Slack, Reddit, and eBay as companies that use Node.js.

What is unit testing in Node.js?

Unit testing is a software testing method where individual pieces of code (usually the smallest piece of code that can be logically isolated in a system) are tested in isolation. Unit tests should be isolated so that there are no external dependencies.

Let’s look at some advantages associated with unit testing.

  • It makes it easier to identify bugs in code earlier. Appropriate test cases should be written for every piece of code to ensure that it meets specifications and provides the desired output. Any changes that result in failing tests will indicate that an error or bug has been introduced. Additionally, unit testing makes it easier to narrow down the offending piece of code
  • Unit tests act as self-documentation. A new team member can gain a better understanding of the codebase by going through unit tests
  • The debugging process is made a lot easier. This is because when the test fails, the focus will be on the latest changes made
  • Refactoring code is made easier since changes can be verified using tests to ensure that the unit being tested still behaves in the desired manner
  • Costs that would be incurred fixing bugs or due to system outages occasioned by bugs are reduced

Testing frameworks provide a set of reusable components or modules such as test runners and utilities for running automated tests. The testing framework is responsible for:

  1. Describing the format used to convey test expectations
  2. Creating a way of accessing the application or code to be tested
  3. Executing the tests
  4. Reporting test results

They are particularly useful when tests are an integral part of your continuous integration process. Frameworks are built for a specific type of testing; unit, integration, functional or combinations of these.

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What makes a good Node.js testing framework?

Testing frameworks are a dime a dozen. To pick something that works for your use case, you need to evaluate each framework based on your needs and characteristics.

Below are six key characteristics of a strong JavaScript testing framework.

  1. Ease of setup: Getting up and running with your tests should take a minimal amount of effort
  2. Well-supported: There is plenty of excellent documentation and communities to get help
  3. Wide array of feature sets: The framework has things such as matchers, spies, mocking in-built
  4. Speed: For tests that are CPU-bound, choosing the right framework can save you a lot of time during test runs
  5. Ease of reporting: Coverage reports should be easy to generate using built-in reporting and external reporting libraries should be easy to integrate
  6. Ease of integration: A good testing library should be easy to integrate into your continuous integration process

What are the best Node.js unit testing frameworks?

According to “The State of JavaScript 2020,” the most popular JavaScript testing frameworks and libraries in 2020 were Testing Library, Jest, Cypress, Playwright, and Storybook. Rounding out the top 10 are Puppeteer, Mocha, Jasmine, AVA, and WebdriverIO.

Popular Node.js Testing Frameworks, According to the 'State of JavaScript 2020'

In this guide, we’ll compare four of these Node.js unit testing frameworks:

Mocha

Mocha has been around for quite a while. It was initially released in November 2011. However, unlike other frameworks like Jest and Jasmine, it relies on third-party assertions, mocking, and spying tools(Spies are objects that keep track of their interaction with other objects or pieces of code. They keep a record of things such as the number of calls, arguments passed to specific functions and return values which can be used to make assertions.) e.g Sinon and Chai. It is very extensible and has a lot of plugins, extensions, and libraries designed to run on top of it.

Pros

  • Highly extensible with support for various assertion and mocking libraries
  • Easy asynchronous testing
  • Adding support for generators to test suites is relatively easy. Using the co-mocha package, all you have to do is require it in your tests and you’re ready to use generators
  • Supported by some CI servers and plugins for others

Cons

  • The use of extra libraries can introduce configuration complexity and increases maintenance work
  • No auto-mocking

Sample Mocha test:

const { expect } = require('chai');
    describe('Sum numbers', () => {
      it('should add two numbers correctly', () => {
        const sum = 1 + 2;
        const expectedResult = 3;
        expect(sum).to.equal(expectedResult);
      });
    });

Jest

Jest is a JavaScript testing framework developed and regularly maintained by Facebook. Its popularity has grown steadily since 2016, when only 6 percent of respondents to that year’s “State of JS” survey said they had used Jest before and would use it again. This figure climbed to a quarter of respondents in 2017 before reaching 40 percent in 2018. As of the most recent edition, a whopping 61 percent of JavaScript developers had tried Jest and plan to use it again.

Pros

  • Comprehensive documentation includes detailed instructions to help you set up testing, write various types of tests, and use its many features, as well as great examples
  • Easy set-up with flexible and easy configuration and less boilerplate code than other frameworks
  • Parallel test running enabled
  • Optimal performance — tests are parallelized by running them in their own processes to maximize performance
  • Useful features such as snapshots, coverage, and test watching

Cons

  • Displays multiple error messages for the same error
  • It can require more dependencies during initial setup (e.g., Babel)

Sample Jest test:

describe("Sum numbers", () => {
  test("it should sum two numbers correctly", () => {
    const sum = 1 + 2;
    const expectedResult = 3;
    expect(sum).toEqual(expectedResult);
  })
});

Jasmine

Developed by Pivotal Labs and released in 2010, Jasmine has been around for a lot longer than Jest. It aims to run on any JavaScript-enabled platform and is highly flexible and compatible with a variety of other testing frameworks and libraries, including Sinon and Chai. Due to its longevity, it has developed a significant community and enjoys ample support with loads of libraries, blog articles, and tutorials.

Pros

  • Simple to set up — Jasmine has a CLI tool that creates a spec folder and a JSON configuration file, so with one command you’re ready to start testing your code
  • Thoroughly tested, documented, and supported by numerous tutorials on how to use it
  • Behavior-driven development focused with descriptive syntax
  • Supported by many CI servers with plugins available for those that don’t have out-of-the box support

Cons

  • Unfriendly error logs
  • Test files must have a specific suffix (e.g., spec.js)
  • Assertion library is not as rich as Chai

Sample Jasmine test:

describe("Sum numbers", function() {
  it("should sum two numbers correctly", function() {
    var sum = 1 + 2;
    var expectedResult = 3;
    expect(sum).toEqual(expectedResult);
  });
});

AVA

Minimalism is the focus of AVA. It has a simple API while still supporting advanced features. It achieves its blazing speed by running tests in parallel as separate Node.js processes. Unlike other testing frameworks such as Jest and Jasmine, it does not create test globals.

Pros

  • Ease of use; to install and setup AVA, all you have to do is run npm init ava
  • Parallel test running
  • Native ES6/ES7 support
  • Built-in support for async functions
  • If a promise is returned, you don’t need to end the test yourself; it will end when the promise resolves

Cons

  • AVA is relatively new. The community is still growing and there isn’t a lot of documentation or tutorials like other testing frameworks
  • AVA has a lot of open issues

Sample Ava test:

import test from 'ava';
test('Sum numbers', t => {
  const sum = 1 + 2;
  const expectedResult = 3;
  t.equal(sum, expectedResult);
});

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Choosing the best Node.js testing framework

The table below shows a comparison of the features across four Node.js unit testing frameworks: Mocha, Jest, Jasmine, and AVA.

Framework Jasmine Ava Jest Mocha
Open-source YES YES YES YES
In-built coverage reporting NO NO YES NO
Parallel test running NO YES YES NO
Snapshots NO YES YES NO
In-built spies YES NO YES NO
In-built mocking YES NO YES NO
In-built assertions YES YES YES NO
ES2017 support NO YES YES NO

The best framework can vary based on your needs, project size, and other factors. What works now might not work in the future. It’s important to take both your current and future needs into consideration when choosing the right framework.

If you want to hit the ground running, you can’t go wrong with Jest. It’s an extremely fast framework, easy to set up, and has a lot of built-in features to help you with your Node.js unit testing.

If you’re looking for simplicity, AVA is your best bet. It’s minimal and streamlined but capable of handling various types of Node.js unit tests. It is also fairly fast.

Mocha is the best choice for someone that wants flexible configurations as well as a choice of libraries to use together with it.

There are very many Node.js unit testing frameworks and libraries available. In this guide, we focused on four of the most popular Node.js unit testing frameworks. Remember, the best choice for you will depend on your project’s unique goals and requirements.

Jeremy Kithome Software developer. #MUFC to infinity and beyond! Fortune favors the bold. From tomato farmer to API farmer.

One Reply to “Comparing Node.js unit testing frameworks”

  1. Jasmine has supported async spec functions and waiting on returned promises for two years now. Not sure why lack of support is in the negatives section.

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