Wrestle Legacy C and C++ into a Test Harness – Linker Errors

Getting started with TDD in C and C++ is challenging. On top of that, you have your whole product’s code base to start adding tests to. You don’t have time to stop all development and add tests to your code, so you need a pragmatic approach. As you drag your legacy code, kicking and screaming into a test harness, take your time and solve one problem at a time. It is the fast way.

This article is about getting past a boat-load of C and C++ linker errors. I’ve got a method and a tool to help get through that challenging step. You can find the tool, gen-xfakes, here on my GitHub account.

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In the beginning, there was no code…

…and it was good.

Why is it that code starts out nice and deteriorates over time?

What happened happened to make the code badness grow? Probably something joyous like the first order for a new product or adding people to the team. Or maybe something sad like losing a key employee.

I see a lot of legacy C code. How does a function get to be 1000 lines long? How did that file get to be 40 KLOC or 100 KLOC? A friend showed me a 27 page C function in some telecom code. Amazingly enough, it worked! How does code get that way?

One Copy/Paste at a time!

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Linker Substitution in C – Limitations and Workarounds

Let’s say you have code that in some test cases you want the real code and other test cases you want a test double. In C, using link-time binding, you only get to have a single function with a specific name.

I’d suggest that most the time this comes up you want to directly test some module (or function) and you want a substitute when testing code that depends on the module’s interface.

What options do you have?

  • Create multiple test runners, where one test runner would use the real function and the other test runner would use the test double.
  • Function pointer substitution.
  • #include the .c file in a namespace in the test file.
  • Linker wrapping.
  • Weak linking.

Multiple test runners

This might be a decent solution. Though it can lead to needing many test runners.

Function pointer substitution

Changing a direct function call to an indirect function call is a small change, and the compiler and linker will make sure you get it right. There are a couple examples in my book, in chapter nine. Here’s one of them.

// RandomMinute.h -- original
int RandomMinute_Get(void);
// RandomMinute.c -- original

int RandomMinute_Get(void)
{
    return bound - rand() % (bound * 2 + 1);
}
// RandomMinute.h - revised
extern int (*RandomMinute_Get)(void);
// RandomMinute.c - revised

static int __randomMinute_Get(void)
{
    return bound - rand() % (bound * 2 + 1);
}

int (*RandomMinute_Get)(void) = __randomMinute_Get;

That refactor is pretty easy, but you must make sure all users of RandomMinute_Get() include the header file. If you happen to be lazy about calling functions without having them advertised in a header file, the caller will think this is a direct function call. Bad things will happen.

In the test group file, write FakeRandomMinute_Get().

//Test file for SomethingThatUses_RandomMinute_Get

extern "C"
{
    static randomMinuteValue;
    static randomMinuteIncrement;
    static void FakeRandomMinute_Init(int first, int increment)
    {
        randomMinuteValue = first;
        randomMinuteIncrement = increment;
    }

    static int FakeRandomMinute_Get(void)
    {
        int value = randomMinuteValue;
        randomMinuteValue += randomMinuteIncrement;
        return value
    }
}

in setup() override RandomMinute_Get() with FakeRandomMinute_Get().

//Test file for SomethingThatUses_RandomMinute_Get - Continued

TEST_GROUP(SomethingThatUses_RandomMinute_Get)
{
    void setup()
    {
        //other setup
        FakeRandomMinute_Init(-30, 3);
        UT_PTR_SET(RandomMinute_Get, FakeRandomMinute_Get);
    }
}
    void teardown()
    {
    }
}

UT_PTR_SET overrides the function pointer and then restores its original value after teardown(). Your code under test now has predcitable random minutes.

In another test group, the production RamdomMinute_Get() function can be tested without overriding the function pointer.

// RandomMinuteTest.cpp

TEST_GROUP(RandomMinute) {}

TEST(RandomMinute, GetIsInRange)
{
    for (int i = 0; i < 100; i++)
    {
        minute = RandomMinute_Get();
        AssertMinuteIsInRange();
    }
}

But maybe you don’t want to use a function pointer. You might prefer this next solution.

#include the .c file in a C++ namespace

In this solution, the test-double’s function name in FakeRandomMinute.c is the same as the function being faked, business as usual for link-time substitution.

// FakeRandomMinute.h
#include "RandomMinute.h"
void FakeRandomMinute_Init(int first, int increment);
// FakeRandomMinute.c
#include "FakeRandomMinute.h"

void FakeRandomMinute_Init(int first, int increment)
{
    randomMinuteValue = first;
    randomMinuteIncrement = increment;
}

int RandomMinute_Get(void)
{
    int value = randomMinuteValue;
    randomMinuteValue += randomMinuteIncrement;
    return value
}

To test the production implementation, the the RandomMinute.c file can be #included in the test file. In addition, the #include needs to be wrapped in a C++ namespace to keep the name out of the global namespace.

// in your test file

namespace Test
{
    #include "RandomMinute.c"
}

In the test cases, make calls to Test::RandomMinute_Get().

TEST(RandomMinute, GetIsInRange)
{
    for (int i = 0; i < 100; i++)
    {
        minute = Test::RandomMinute_Get();
        AssertMinuteIsInRange();
    }
}

Linker Wrapping

The linker tricks are not generally available except from gcc. I’ve experimented with wrapping in gcc., but could not find it in visual studio or IAR (at the time I looked).

In gcc, wrap RamdomMinute_Get() with these command line options:

gcc -Wl,--wrap=RamdomMinute_Get ...

The linker will redirect calls to RamdomMinute_Get() to __wrap_RamdomMinute_Get(). You can get at there production implementation by calling __real_RamdomMinute_Get(). You need to provide __wrap_RamdomMinute_Get() to hold your fake implimentation and to keep the linker happy.

int __wrap_RamdomMinute_Get()
{
    // some fake implementation
}

Maybe some test cases want the real RamdomMinute_Get(), you could make the wrapped function default to the real with function.

static int (*customRamdomMinute_Get)() = 0;
int __wrap_RamdomMinute_Get()
{
    if (customRamdomMinute_Get)
            return customRamdomMinute_Get();
    return __real_RamdomMinute_Get();
}

I chose to use a function pointer for test specific behavior. This lets you have a generic fake implemention that is customized close to your test case.

There are some limitations so you may want to look at this Stack Overflow article for linker wrapping

Weak Linking

I’d say stay away from weak linking as it means adding non-standard stuff to your producion C code.

Finally

You can mix and match these techniques. Let me know how this works for you or if you know some other solutions to this problem.

Cause and Effect – Foundation of TDD

Virtually every line of code is written in response to some failure. It often is a test failure, but might be a compilation failure, or a web page that does not exist.

Through my 16 years of practicing TDD, I have come to discover that establishing cause and effect is critical to getting every line of code right. I’ve done most my TDD in embedded C and C++.

Over the last couple years, with the help of a couple friends, I built my ruby on rails website. I did not know ruby (or rails obviously). I know it a little bit now. I used to follow the several step procedures to bring up a new feature on my website. I would do the 3–6 steps outlined, and my new page would not come up. I’d spend considerable time trying to find the mistake and eventually get the thing to work. It would have involved several changes. The next day I would likely run into another problem because one of the changes was not really needed and I broke something else. In hindsight, I made changes without establishing cause and effect. My new feature started working often due to offsetting defects.

I started treating each step in the procedure as a test. For example If I tried to bring up a web page, that did not exist, what error would I get? I would look for a way to make one of the changes in the several step procedure and get a different error message. Getting new errors was not, but was it the right error? I learned to get the right error that moved my code in the right direction. I establish cause and effect. Cause and effect?! I am programming as an engineer. What is the problem? Can I impact that problem positively, and move my code in the right direction. Sometimes this cause and effect involves TDD tests, other times it is wiring code that once I get it right, I leave it alone

I just found this definition of engineering “skillful or artful contrivance; maneuvering.” I’d say that is the ideal I strive for in building software and a business. Yes, TDD effects how I run my business. TDD is built on cause and effect. Engineering! I doubt I would appreciate the cause and effect approach to programming (and life) if it were not for TDD.

TDD Guided by ZOMBIES

Have you had a hard time figuring out where to start with Test-Driven Development. What if ZOMBIES could help you build code that does exactly what you think it is supposed to do? What if ZOMBIES at the same time help you to build a test harness that can help you keep your code clean and behaving properly for a long and useful life? What if ZOMBIES could help!

I’m not talking about those zombies! ZOMBIES is an acronym.
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Preventing Brittle Tests (and Production Code)

Have you written unit tests only later to find they slow you down because your changes cause a lot of test breakage? You think, these tests are not living up to the promises I heard. So you toss the tests and go back to business as usual.

Hey, not so fast. Maybe its not test in general, but your tests or your code. The first project I used TDD on in 1999/2000 we ran into this problem. Some were ready to give up. But I wanted the tests to work and looked for what was wrong. In our excitement we kept copying, pasteing and tweaking the test cases. They were an ugly (in hindsite) mass of duplication. Small changes made for ripple effects through the tests. But I could see, it was our fault.

Someone on Quora asked me “How do you make unit tests less brittle”. Here is a more complete answer based on having written my own bad tests and seen many learners of TDD and unit testing go the wrong direction with their designs and tests.
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Faking it, FFF and Variadic Macro Madness

I spend the day updating the Fake Function Framework, Mike Long’s (@meekrosoft) creation. With my client last week, one of the engineers had some problems with Visual Studio (don’t we all) and the Fake Function Framework (a.k.a FFF). I promised to integrate the changes into the FFF. The FFF is created with a ruby script, but you don’t have to care about that unless you have functions to fake that have more than 10 parameters. But anyway, I spent the day updating and reviewing the ruby script that generates the FFF.

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Seeking the Light – A question from a recent TDD training attendee

Here is a good question, and my reply, from a recent attendee of my Test-Driven Development for Embedded C training.

Hi James,

As I work more with TDD, one of the concepts I am still struggling to grasp is how to test “leaf” components that touch real hardware. For example, I am trying to write a UART driver. How do I test that using TDD? It seems like to develop/write the tests, I will need to write a fake UART driver that doesn’t touch any hardware. Let’s say I do that. Now I have a really nice TDD test suite for UART drivers. However, I still need to write a real UART driver…and I can’t even run the TDD tests I created for it on the hardware. What value am I getting from taking the TDD approach here?

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