TestContext Equivalence in XUnit2, or How Do I Write Output in XUnit2?

So far, in discussing the migration of MSTest to XUnit2, I have only touched on the basics. First, I covered using the XUnitConverter to make the transition a little easier, then I provided an overview of how the basic MSTest concepts tests, test initialization, and test cleanup were supported. In this post I want to look at the confusing dumping group that is TestContext. My goal with these posts is to provide useful search results for those looking for information on XUnit, especially when migrating from MSTest. For a moment though, let me rant about TestContext.

I am sure that there are people out there who totally get all the values and functions TestContext provides; however, other than writing log messages, I have found the TestContext properties wildly confusing and unhelpful. I somehow doubt I am alone. Not only that, but the inconsistent ways a method gets access to the TestContext dependent on whether it is an instance method or a static method makes things confusing1.

TestContext Properties

TestContext Properties

TestContext Methods
TestContext Methods

Looking at the documentation from MSDN (shown above), it should be clear to anyone that TestContext is trying to do a lot of different things. There are methods in there for outputting things to the test trace messages, adding results files, and running timers, and properties for getting all sorts of information from directories for results, to the name of the test, to things related to data driven tests. Overall, it is convoluted and confused; do you know the difference between ResultsDirectory, TestResultsDirectory, and TestRunResultsDirectory? Even after working with MSTest for nearly 10 years, I could not begin to tell you. In my opinion, TestContext does too much and is almost always unintuitive to use, so how does XUnit tackle these things?

Well, first of all, XUnit does not even begin to replace the timer stuff because, well, there are plenty of timer options available in the .NET framework, so just use one of them.

Second, XUnit manipulates the current directory when running tests, so the location retrieved from Environment.CurrentDirectory will be where the tests are running and where test data will live. We will focus on data-driven testing in another post, but suffice to say that you do not need to decipher pages of documentation or debug tests to understand where to find your test data or where to output your test results (if you have something to output, of course).

Finally, if you want to write to the test output, XUnit provides an interface that you can inject into your constructor for doing just that and only that; ITestOutputHelper.

ITestOutputHelper

Since the XUnit documentation is very helpful on how to use this interface, I won't go into great detail here. However, for those looking to replace TestContext.WriteLine, this is what you need to do.

The test runner observes from the signature of the class constructor that it requires the ITestOutputHelper interface and injects it, making it available throughout the test execution, including during the Dispose method, if present.

Next time, we will take a look at how XUnit tackles sharing initialization across multiple tests. In the meantime, if you are finding these posts useful or have any questions, please leave a comment.


  1. a property called TestContext with public getter and setter for instance methods; or passed as a parameter for static methods 

TestMethod, TestInitialize, and TestCleanup in XUnit2

In the last post, I briefly described how to automatically migrate your MSTest tests to XUnit by using the XUnitConverter utility. Of course, nothing is ever that simple; MSTest has some concepts that XUnit expresses very differently1 like how to share code between tests whether that is setup, fixtures, cleanup, or data. Some of these concepts are implemented differently enough that automating the migration from one to the other would be very difficult if not impossible. However, some of it really is that simple. Before we look at the difficult examples, I thought it would be useful to illustrate how some of the simple concepts map from MSTest to XUnit using an example2.

So, let's look at an MSTest example (contrived, of course):

Clearly, I cheated by not actually making the tests do anything, but the content of the test methods is mostly irrelevant; you set some stuff up, you do something, and you assert a result–it's all the same regardless of the test framework. However, this is a simple example of a test class written for the MSTest framework. There are attributes to tell the framework that the class is a test class, which methods inside of it are test methods, and which methods should be called before and after each test. In this case, our test initialization creates a stream, which is then disposed of in the cleanup method; each test method would get sandwiched in the middle.

After converting to XUnit with the converter tool, the same class will look something like this:

There are a few things that happened.

  1. The class no longer has an attribute. XUnit knows the class is a test class because it contains tests3.
  2. The tests are decorated with a [Fact] attribute, which is equivalent to [TestMethod].
  3. The [TestInitialize] and [TestCleanup] attributes are gone. Instead, the class constructor is used for test initialization and the Dispose method along with deriving from IDisposable indicates that there is test cleanup code.

Overall, I love how the XUnit syntax works with C# syntax and .NET idioms in declaring tests. Not only does this reduce the ceremony around defining tests by reducing the various decorators, but it also allows for cleaner coding practices. For example, we can now correctly mark our memory stream member variable as readonly.

By relying on C# syntax and standard interfaces in this way, the lifecycle of a test is clearer too; XUnit will construct and dispose the class for each test in the class, making it easy to see how each test will run. This idiomatic way of declaring tests allows for separation of concerns, keeping test classes light and focused. This will be illustrated when we later look at other concepts in MSTest like [ClassInitialize] and [ClassCleanup], TestContext, and [DeploymentItem], and how XUnit tackles the problems these concepts solved.


  1. and for good reasons, IMHO 

  2. XUnit documentation has a handy table but I don't think it's as illustrative as it could be 

  3. why MSTest did not make assumptions like this, I do not know 

Migrating from MSTest to XUnit 2

We recently migrated most of our testing from the MSTest framework1 to XUnit 2 (from here on in, I will be referring to this as just XUnit). This was not a change taken lightly since it touched a lot of files, but we were motivated by a number of XUnit features, including reduced need to attribute test classes, easier data-driven tests, and parallel test execution.

Sadly, if you try this you may discover as we did that the XUnit documentation is equal parts super helpful and woefully lacking, depending on what you are trying to do. After hearing yet another colleague lament how hard it was to find information on some feature or other of XUnit, I thought it might be a good idea to document some of the things I have learned and hopefully, introduce yet another helpful XUnit resource to the Internet2.

For those not familiar with XUnit, the basics are pretty easy. In fact the existing XUnit documentation includes a handy table mapping concepts in other test frameworks to their XUnit equivalents. You can check that table out for details, but basically, through the use of attributes, constructors, IDisposable, and other interfaces, XUnit uses what I would describe as a more natural approach than other frameworks to concepts like tests, test initialization and cleanup, and test fixtures. Of course, this means that migrating from one framework to XUnit involves a bunch of file editing, but fear not for there is help.

XUnitConverter

The bulk of the migration was made a lot easier by using the XUnitConverter, a tool available in the dotnet/codeformatter GitHub repository. Although it does not take care of everything (beware if you have multiple test classes per file) and, depending on your preferred code format, can mess your formatting up a bit, but it does make the migration a lot easier.

The XUnitConverter runs against a csproj file. You can use PowerShell to recurse your solution and process all your projects like this:

Once the converter has done its thing, it is easy to identify further changes by using the compiler (things don't like to build if something did not work right). Although most things get converted with ease— [TestMethod] becomes [Fact], [TestInitialize]  becomes a constructor, complex tests will need a little more assistance to fully migrate. For example, XUnit uses interfaces and fixture classes to replace the kind of shared initialization and cleanup that MSTest provides via the [ClassInitialize] and [ClassCleanup]. We will start tackling these issues next time.


  1. Version 1 of MSTest, not the new and improved MSTest version 2 

  2. I would like to document my anecdotal information before I even consider tackling something a little more structured like contributing to the official documentation