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Mike Nygard has a nice article up on, where it talks about the limits of unit testing and functional testing, among other things:

“The trouble is that problems emerge in the white spaces between units. It exists in the connections—and gaps—between the boxes on the diagram, between the units that get tested. This is hardly news. The entire practice of functional testing exists precisely because an assembly of well-functioning units is not necessarily well-functioning as a whole.

Functional testing falls short, however, when you want to build software to survive the real world. Functional testing can only tell you what happens when all parts of the system are behaving within specification. True, you can coerce a system or subsystem into returning an error response, but that error will still be within the protocol! If you’re calling a method on a remote EJB that either returns “true” or “false” or it throws an exception, that’s all it will do. No amount of functional testing will make that method return “purple”. Nor will any functional test case force that method to hang forever, or return one byte per second.

One of my recurring themes in Release It is that every call to another system, without exception, will someday try to kill your application. It usually comes from behavior outside the specification. When that happens, you must be able to peel back the layers of abstraction, tear apart the constructed fictions of “concurrent users”, “sessions”, and even “connections”, and get at what’s really happening.”