Spies

Spies are a type of test doubles, but they differ from stubs or mocks in that, that the spies record any interaction between the spy and the System Under Test (SUT), and allow us to make assertions against those interactions after the fact.

Creating a spy means we don’t have to set up expectations for every method call the double might receive during the test, some of which may not be relevant to the current test. A spy allows us to make assertions about the calls we care about for this test only, reducing the chances of over-specification and making our tests more clear.

Spies also allow us to follow the more familiar Arrange-Act-Assert or Given-When-Then style within our tests. With mocks, we have to follow a less familiar style, something a long the lines of Arrange-Expect-Act-Assert, where we have to tell our mocks what to expect before we act on the sut, then assert that those expectations where met:

// arrange
$mock = \Mockery::mock('MyDependency');
$sut = new MyClass($mock);

// expect
$mock->shouldReceive('foo')
    ->once()
    ->with('bar');

// act
$sut->callFoo();

// assert
\Mockery::close();

Spies allow us to skip the expect part and move the assertion to after we have acted on the SUT, usually making our tests more readable:

// arrange
$mock = \Mockery::spy('MyDependency');
$sut = new MyClass($mock);

// act
$sut->callFoo();

// assert
$mock->shouldHaveReceived()
    ->foo()
    ->with('bar');

On the other hand, spies are far less restrictive than mocks, meaning tests are usually less precise, as they let us get away with more. This is usually a good thing, they should only be as precise as they need to be, but while spies make our tests more intent-revealing, they do tend to reveal less about the design of the SUT. If we’re having to setup lots of expectations for a mock, in lots of different tests, our tests are trying to tell us something - the SUT is doing too much and probably should be refactored. We don’t get this with spies, they simply ignore the calls that aren’t relevant to them.

Another downside to using spies is debugging. When a mock receives a call that it wasn’t expecting, it immediately throws an exception (failing fast), giving us a nice stack trace or possibly even invoking our debugger. With spies, we’re simply asserting calls were made after the fact, so if the wrong calls were made, we don’t have quite the same just in time context we have with the mocks.

Finally, if we need to define a return value for our test double, we can’t do that with a spy, only with a mock object.

Note

This documentation page is an adaption of the blog post titled “Mockery Spies”, published by Dave Marshall on his blog. Dave is the original author of spies in Mockery.