Using XCTAssertThrowsError in your Swift tests

There’s a new kid on the XCTest block, and its name is XCTAssertThrowsError.

I haven’t been able to find much on its usage aside from its original discussion on the swift-evolution mailing list and a Stack Overflow question, so here’s a little bit of a discussion on how I’m using it in a new project of mine.

Swift introduced some pretty neat error handling in 2.0, and Natasha the Robot provided a nice guide on how to throw an error in your code.

So, as a contrived example, let’s say you have a class called AccountManager that manages a set of Account objects:

enum ListError: ErrorType {
    case AccountAlreadyExistsInList
    case AccountDoesNotExistInList
}

class AccountManager {
    var accountList = Set<Account>()    // Account conforms to Hashable, Equatable. I promise.

    func add(_ account: Account) throws {
        if (accountList.contains(account)) {
            throw ListError.AccountAlreadyExistsInList
        }
        else {
            accountList.insert(account)
        }
    }

    func remove(_ account: Account) throws {
        if (accountList.contains(account)) {
            accountList.remove(account)
        }
        else {
            throw ListError.AccountDoesNotExistInList
        }
    }
}

(Note that in Swift 3, ErrorType has been renamed to ErrorProtocol.)

A couple of things to know about the Set type:

  • No duplicates can be added, a Set is silent when you try to add an element that it already contains.
  • Unless you’re checking its return type, Set is also silent when you try to remove an element that it doesn’t contain1.

While this protects the integrity of the Set, it could be a bit frustrating for consumers of the AccountManager class, because there’s no way to surface what’s going on when we try to add a duplicate or remove a non-existent element. So, we throw!

Specifically, what we’re doing in the AccountManager class is checking to see if the Account argument we’re passing to the add(account:) and remove(account:) functions already exists in the accountList Set, and handling the result appropriately:

  1. If we’re trying to remove an Account from the accountList and it exists, go ahead and do so. If it doesn’t, throw ListError.AccountDoesNotExistInList.
  2. If we’re trying to add an Account to the accountList and it exists, throw ListError.AccountAlreadyExistsInList. If it doesn’t, go ahead and add it.

And of course, in our unit tests, we want to check that these errors are thrown properly. Enter XCTAssertThrowsError!

// Test that adding a duplicate account to an accountList throws an error.
func testAdd_AddingDuplicateAccount_ThrowsAccountAlreadyExistsInList() {
    let accounts = AccountManager()
    let firstAccount = Account(descriptiveName: "Account 1", accountNumber: "12345AZ")
    let secondAccount = Account(descriptiveName: "Account 1", accountNumber: "12345AZ")

    accounts.add(firstAccount)

    XCTAssertThrowsError(try accounts.add(secondAccount))
}

// Test that removing an account from an empty accountList throws an error.
func testRemove_RemovingAccountFromEmptyList_ThrowsAccountDoesNotExistInList() {
    let accounts = AccountManager()
    let firstAccount = Account(descriptiveName: "Account 1", accountNumber: "12345AZ")

    XCTAssertThrowsError(try accounts.remove(firstAccount))
}

Run the tests and they’ll pass, because the tested expression throws an error. Cool!

This is a good start, but we’re only testing that an error is thrown. That’s not good enough, of course, because any error thrown will make this test pass, but we’re looking for a specific error. Let’s take a closer look at the declaration for XCTAssertThrowsError:

func XCTAssertThrowsError<T>(_ expression: @autoclosure () throws -> T,
                                _ message: @autoclosure () -> String = default,
                                     file: StaticString = #file,
                                     line: UInt = #line,
                             errorHandler: (error: ErrorProtocol) -> Void = default)

I’ve split the signature up so that there’s just one argument per line. The description for each argument is available in the documentation, so I won’t repeat them here, but the important thing to note is that XCTAssertThrowsError is actually a generic on T. This means that in the expression argument, we can add a closure that checks to see if, in fact, an error of type T is being thrown.

So let’s add those checks to our two tests:

// Test that adding a duplicate account to an accountList throws an AccountAlreadyExistsInList error.
    func testAdd_AddingDuplicateAccount_ThrowsAccountAlreadyExistsInList() {
    let accounts = AccountManager()
    let firstAccount = Account(descriptiveName: "Account 1", accountNumber: "12345AZ")
    let secondAccount = Account(descriptiveName: "Account 1", accountNumber: "12345AZ")

    accounts.add(firstAccount)

    XCTAssertThrowsError(try accounts.add(secondAccount)) { (error) -> Void in
        XCTAssertEqual(error as? ListError, ListError.AccountAlreadyExistsInList)
    }
}

// Test that removing an account from an empty accountList throws an AccountDoesNotExistInList error.
func testRemove_RemovingAccountFromEmptyList_ThrowsAccountDoesNotExistInList() {
    let accounts = AccountManager()
    let firstAccount = Account(descriptiveName: "Account 1", accountNumber: "12345AZ")

    XCTAssertThrowsError(try accounts.remove(firstAccount)) { (error) -> Void in
        XCTAssertEqual(error as? ListError, ListError.AccountDoesNotExistInList)
    }
}

Now we’re sure that we’re testing that the right error is being thrown in our tests: in the closure, we call another assertion, XCTAssertEqual, to check that the error being thrown is the type of ListError that we expect.

What does this mean? We no longer have to create weirdo functions that return a tuple <U, V>, where U is the result and V is an error that you can check for.

You can add other arguments to your assertion, like a message or the specific file and line number if the test fails, but for now this should be enough to get you started checking your error throwing.

  1. Of course, you should be checking the return type, and you’d see that you got back nil, but like I said: this is a contrived example.