In my last post I wrote about how to test micro services. When I wrote about the most difficult part of the testing, the integration, I said that it would blow the size of a post to go into the necessary details. I am sorry and I want to make up for it here.

When we design and create the interaction (and thus integration) of different services with each other we rely very much on the principles of “Consumer Driven Contracts“, in short CDCs. These Contracts can be tested. While the basic idea seems simple (“let other test the things of our service they think they need”) it implies a change in the way how we think of who-tests-what. So I want to spend some time explaining the concept step by step in many pictures:

Imagine you are part of a team (the blue team) and work with another team (the purple team). The purple team’s service will ask the service of the blue team about the email address of a specific user (ID). They agreed – for the sake of the argument – to communicate in json format via a RESTfull interface. In other words: the consumer (purple team) has a contract with the provider (blue team).

Now our friends in the purple team want to make sure, that the blue team will always give them an email as an answer. The first important thing is that the purple team needs to trust the blue team in figuring out the right email address for the given user. If the purple team starts to validate the blue team’s results for the actual content you have a lack of trust. This is a different, much more severe problem. Writing CDCs does not help you to solve this.

Hence, the purple team tests that they get any answer and that it contains an email address (at all). They will not test which one.

So assuming the blue team does it all right, the purple team would then just write a test that sends any ID and gets back any email in a valid json.

Now, whenever the purple team wants to know if the contract is still valid they let the test run. But then think about when the contract would potentially break: in this picture the contract will only be broken if the blue team introduces (unintended, not communicated) changes to their service. So isn’t it a much better idea to run this specific test whenever there is a change to the service of the blue team?

And this is what we do: the purple team – the consumer – drives the the contract to make sure it holds up to the agreed functionality of the blue team’s service. In this way – having the test of the purple team in the CI-System of the blue team – the blue team can make sure to not accidentally break the contract.

A few days later, when everything works smoothly and both teams feel comfortable, the blue team does not need the purple team any more to do a release. The blue team knows that the test they received from the purple team discovers all flaws. The purple team can concentrate on something else.

This is it! This is the basic idea of the CDC. The purple team writes and maintains the test. But the blue team executes it. If the request would go the other way around (the blue team sends an email and expects back an ID), then the test would be written by the blue team and executed by the purple team.

But this is only the start. Of course, the blue team has more than only one service. And there is not just the other purple team, but many teams doing requests to the different services of the blue team. Now the blue team members have to be quite disciplined and ask the other teams for all the CDCs. This sound a bit like an overhead and quite exhausting. But here comes the big benefit: the blue team is in all its work (and more important: deployments) independent of the other teams and independent of the availability of the other teams services in test environments.

Anyone who tried to get multiple services of various teams running in different (test) environments will smile now knowing of all the pain this usually inflicts. In this picture the blue team mitigated this risk/problem.

While the blue team is doing quite well there is more to it. Being independent of other teams and their services is nice. But still you have dependencies between your own single services. You should also resolve those. Cover the connections between the services of the team with CDC tests, too. It will give you:

  • fast feedback (surprise!)
  • independent deploys
  • reduced complexity

Each of those three points on its own leads to a quicker development of features and a reduce in cycle time. As I get the combined benefit in this situation there is nothing I would argue against, so lets do it!

If all tests are in place, each service of the blue team is totally independent. It can be deployed at any time and still make sure the other services work properly.

And did you realize what this means? We do not need a big, heavy, error prone and expensive set of selenium end-to-end tests. We mitigated so many risks already and can be sure of interactions that are working.

You cannot test anything here, but certainly a lot. In any case, improving a lower layer of the testing pyramid usually implies that you can reduce something at the top. That means: less end-2-end test => less time for maintenance => more time to grow out of the role as a classic test manager.

Let’s embrace this!