Unit testing

Unit tests are small, short tests that check the behavior of a single method or class. When the code you're testing relies on other methods or classes, unit tests rely on mocking those other classes so that the test only focuses on one thing at a time.

For example, the TodoController class has two dependencies: an ITodoItemService and the UserManager. The TodoItemService, in turn, depends on the ApplicationDbContext. (The idea that you can draw a line from TodoController > TodoItemService > ApplicationDbContext is called a dependency graph).

When the application runs normally, the ASP.NET Core service container and dependency injection system injects each of those objects into the dependency graph when the TodoController or the TodoItemService is created.

When you write a unit test, on the other hand, you have to handle the dependency graph yourself. It's typical to provide test-only or "mocked" versions of those dependencies. This means you can isolate just the logic in the class or method you are testing. (This is important! If you're testing a service, you don't want to also be accidentally writing to your database.)

Create a test project

It's a best practice to create a separate project for your tests, so they are kept separate from your application code. The new test project should live in a directory that's next to (not inside) your main project's directory.

If you're currently in your project directory, cd up one level. (This root directory will also be called AspNetCoreTodo). Then use this command to scaffold a new test project:

dotnet new xunit -o AspNetCoreTodo.UnitTests

xUnit.NET is a popular test framework for .NET code that can be used to write both unit and integration tests. Like everything else, it's a set of NuGet packages that can be installed in any project. The dotnet new xunit template already includes everything you need.

Your directory structure should now look like this:



Since the test project will use the classes defined in your main project, you'll need to add a reference to the AspNetCoreTodo project:

dotnet add reference ../AspNetCoreTodo/AspNetCoreTodo.csproj

Delete the UnitTest1.cs file that's automatically created. You're ready to write your first test.

If you're using Visual Studio Code, you may need to close and reopen the Visual Studio Code window to get code completion working in the new project.

Write a service test

Take a look at the logic in the AddItemAsync() method of the TodoItemService:

public async Task<bool> AddItemAsync(
    TodoItem newItem, ApplicationUser user)
    newItem.Id = Guid.NewGuid();
    newItem.IsDone = false;
    newItem.DueAt = DateTimeOffset.Now.AddDays(3);
    newItem.UserId = user.Id;


    var saveResult = await _context.SaveChangesAsync();
    return saveResult == 1;

This method makes a number of decisions or assumptions about the new item (in other words, performs business logic on the new item) before it actually saves it to the database:

  • The UserId property should be set to the user's ID
  • New items should always be incomplete (IsDone = false)
  • The title of the new item should be copied from newItem.Title
  • New items should always be due 3 days from now

Imagine if you or someone else refactored the AddItemAsync() method and forgot about part of this business logic. The behavior of your application could change without you realizing it! You can prevent this by writing a test that double-checks that this business logic hasn't changed (even if the method's internal implementation changes).

It might seem unlikely now that you could introduce a change in business logic without realizing it, but it becomes much harder to keep track of decisions and assumptions in a large, complex project. The larger your project is, the more important it is to have automated checks that make sure nothing has changed!

To write a unit test that will verify the logic in the TodoItemService, create a new class in your test project:


using System;
using System.Threading.Tasks;
using AspNetCoreTodo.Data;
using AspNetCoreTodo.Models;
using AspNetCoreTodo.Services;
using Microsoft.EntityFrameworkCore;
using Xunit;

namespace AspNetCoreTodo.UnitTests
    public class TodoItemServiceShould
        public async Task AddNewItemAsIncompleteWithDueDate()
            // ...

There are many different ways of naming and organizing tests, all with different pros and cons. I like postfixing my test classes with Should to create a readable sentence with the test method name, but feel free to use your own style!

The [Fact] attribute comes from the xUnit.NET package, and it marks this method as a test method.

The TodoItemService requires an ApplicationDbContext, which is normally connected to your database. You won't want to use that for tests. Instead, you can use Entity Framework Core's in-memory database provider in your test code. Since the entire database exists in memory, it's wiped out every time the test is restarted. And, since it's a proper Entity Framework Core provider, the TodoItemService won't know the difference!

Use a DbContextOptionsBuilder to configure the in-memory database provider, and then make a call to AddItemAsync():

var options = new DbContextOptionsBuilder<ApplicationDbContext>()
    .UseInMemoryDatabase(databaseName: "Test_AddNewItem").Options;

// Set up a context (connection to the "DB") for writing
using (var context = new ApplicationDbContext(options))
    var service = new TodoItemService(context);

    var fakeUser = new ApplicationUser
        Id = "fake-000",
        UserName = "[email protected]"

    await service.AddItemAsync(new TodoItem
        Title = "Testing?"
    }, fakeUser);

The last line creates a new to-do item called Testing?, and tells the service to save it to the (in-memory) database.

To verify that the business logic ran correctly, write some more code below the existing using block:

// Use a separate context to read data back from the "DB"
using (var context = new ApplicationDbContext(options))
    var itemsInDatabase = await context
    Assert.Equal(1, itemsInDatabase);

    var item = await context.Items.FirstAsync();
    Assert.Equal("Testing?", item.Title);
    Assert.Equal(false, item.IsDone);

    // Item should be due 3 days from now (give or take a second)
    var difference = DateTimeOffset.Now.AddDays(3) - item.DueAt;
    Assert.True(difference < TimeSpan.FromSeconds(1));

The first assertion is a sanity check: there should never be more than one item saved to the in-memory database. Assuming that's true, the test retrieves the saved item with FirstAsync and then asserts that the properties are set to the expected values.

Both unit and integration tests typically follow the AAA (Arrange-Act-Assert) pattern: objects and data are set up first, then some action is performed, and finally the test checks (asserts) that the expected behavior occurred.

Asserting a datetime value is a little tricky, since comparing two dates for equality will fail if even the millisecond components are different. Instead, the test checks that the DueAt value is less than a second away from the expected value.

Run the test

On the terminal, run this command (make sure you're still in the AspNetCoreTodo.UnitTests directory):

dotnet test

The test command scans the current project for tests (marked with [Fact] attributes in this case), and runs all the tests it finds. You'll see output similar to:

Starting test execution, please wait...
 Discovering: AspNetCoreTodo.UnitTests
 Discovered:  AspNetCoreTodo.UnitTests
 Starting:    AspNetCoreTodo.UnitTests
 Finished:    AspNetCoreTodo.UnitTests

Total tests: 1. Passed: 1. Failed: 0. Skipped: 0.
Test Run Successful.
Test execution time: 1.9074 Seconds

You now have one test providing test coverage of the TodoItemService. As an extra challenge, try writing unit tests that ensure:

  • The MarkDoneAsync() method returns false if it's passed an ID that doesn't exist
  • The MarkDoneAsync() method returns true when it makes a valid item as complete
  • The GetIncompleteItemsAsync() method returns only the items owned by a particular user

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