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Posted 24 Nov 2013


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Unit testing with Mock objects (Rhino Mocks)

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25 Nov 2013CPOL10 min read
A basic introduction about how to write unit tests using mock objects (Rhino Mocks).


This article is an easy introduction about how to use mock objects in unit tests and what are the main building blocks for an effective test that uses Mocks.

In this article I'm also explaining the main differences between Mock Objects and Stub objects, often confused when discussing about tests.

There are many frameworks that can be used to create mock objects when tests are written: some are commercials, some are free. The one I'm using in this tutorial is Rhino Mocks, an open source framework relatively old, but still absolutely effective for most of the unit tests you can write nowadays with C# and .NET.


 To go through this article you have to be familiar with unit testing and you need to know the basic concepts about mocking. However if you want to know more (and more deeply) about the Mock World behind this short introduction, I would strongly recommend to read the outstanding article about Mocks & Stubs from Martin Fowler and the Rhino Mocks documentation.

Using the code

The code used as an example should be very easy to understand. I wrote a small application to use as a didactical tool. I hope this will work in this article.

The solution attached contains two projects: one is LiviosPizzeria and one is LiviosPizzeria.Test. The first is the project under test and the second contains the unit tests related to it.
In the main project LiviosPizzeria you can find the main class, which we want to test. The class is named PizzaMaker and offers a single method MakePizza() which will be tested.

This is basically a method that pretends to prepare a Pizza, getting ingredients from somewhere and cooking it. The cooked Pizza will be then returned....yum! Delicious!

Below you can see the body of this method:

public Pizza MakePizza()
    Pizza cookedPizza = null;

    ReadyForMakePizza = false;

    var ingredients = _ingredientsProvider.GetIngredients();
    var rawPizza = _rawPizzaBuilder.CreatePizza(ingredients);

    _oven.Temperature = 300;
    cookedPizza = _oven.CookPizza(rawPizza);
    _oven.Temperature = 150;

    ReadyForMakePizza = true;
    return cookedPizza;

In the rest of the article we'll go step by step through the creation of some unit test for this method, using Rhino Mocks and trying to apply all the best practices suggested when working with mock objects.

Unit test #1: check the state of PizzaMaker

Main point: with this test, we are testing the state of the PizzaMaker class. We check that the state of this class is what we expect at the end of some operations.

In our example class, PizzaMaker expose a property, called ReadyForAnotherPizza.
Every time we cook a pizza using our PizzaMaker, the status of this property is set to false. When the pizza is ready, the property is set back to true.

We are going to test that when we call the method MakePizza, at the end of this call the property ReadyForAnotherPizza is set to true, as expected.

This is the test:

public void WhenMakePizzaEndsThenPizzaMakerIsReadyForAnotherPizza()
    // ARRANGE
    var stubIngredientsProvider = 
    var stubRawPizzaBUilder = MockRepository.GenerateStub<irawpizzabuilder>();
    var stubOven = MockRepository.GenerateStub<ioven>();

    // ACT
    var sut = new PizzaMaker(stubIngredientsProvider, stubRawPizzaBUilder, stubOven);
    var pizza = sut.MakePizza();

    // ASSERT

Our first mock object: the GenerateStub method

This first test shows the most important call in any mocking framework: the creation of a basic mock object.
In Rhino Mocks this call is GenerateStub and we use it to generate all the objects that are interacting with our system under test (the sut variable, in our code).

The approach to this test is the basic approach for any test that uses mock objects:

  • We instantiate a class that we want to test
  • This class has various dependencies that could be injected (for instance) from the constructor.
  • We use the Mock Framework to emulate these dependencies and test against the interaction of our class with them.

Now, if you look at the constructor of our PizzaMaker object, you can see that it has some dependencies from other objects:

public PizzaMaker(IIngredientsProvider ingredientsProvider, 
        IRawPizzaBuilder rawPizzaBuilder, IOven oven)
    _ingredientsProvider = ingredientsProvider;
    _rawPizzaBuilder = rawPizzaBuilder;
    _oven = oven;
    ReadyForMakePizza = true;

We mock these dependencies using the GenerateStub call and we pass the fake objects we just created, into the PizzaMaker. These objects we created can be "driven" in many different way but for now, in this test, they are just needed to allow our code to compile. At this time, all these mock objects, when invoked will return null. However this is not important for the specific test we are writing, so there is no need to overload our test with more configurations than needed.

The true test, in fact, is all around checking the state of our class. In this test we don't care (and we don't want to care) about the interaction with other objects. These problems are not part of our test that must to be kept simple and focused on a single assertion.

Use a single assertion for each test as much as you can.

This is one of the good rules in Unit Testing. Sometime is easy to write quickly four or five assertions against our system under test, to check if the properties A, B, C and (why not) also D are set as we want. You should avoid to do it because this decrease the maintainability of your test, as a test with many assertion is often not self explaining about what was tested in it and it will fail for many different reasons. When you'll be back to maintain your test, in two years or so, it will be more difficult to understand why the test is failing, especially when more assertion are "implicitly" related each other.

Unit test #2: check the interaction of PizzaMaker with other classes

Main point: with this test we are now testing a behaviour that we expect from this class. We check that the class is interacting in a specific way with the other objects.

In our PizzaMaker is very important that we cook the pizza before serving it to the customers. How can I check that I'm properly interacting with the Oven and passing it the pizza? This is exactly the scope of the method AssertWasCalled.

This feature, always present in mocking frameworks (with different names, of course), is used to verify that we interact properly with the others classes within our class.

Let's have a look at the code

public void WeNeverForgetToCookPizzaInTheOven()
    // ARRANGE
    var stubIngredientsProvider = 
    var stubRawPizzaBUilder = MockRepository.GenerateStub<irawpizzabuilder>();
    var mockOven = MockRepository.GenerateStub<ioven>();
    mockOven.Stub(oven => oven.CookPizza(Arg<irawpizza>.Is.Anything));

    // ACT
    var sut = new PizzaMaker(stubIngredientsProvider, stubRawPizzaBUilder, mockOven);
    var pizza = sut.MakePizza();

    // ASSERT
    mockOven.AssertWasCalled(oven => oven.CookPizza(Arg<irawpizza>.Is.Anything));

Stub( X => ...) and AssertWasCalled. What is this?

There are now two new "friends" in our test.

The first is:  mockOven.Stub(oven => oven.CookPizza(Arg<IRawPizza>.Is.Anything));. With this line, we start to "teach" our mock objects how to react when they are called. In this specific line we are saying to our mock Oven: "hey, be aware that someone is going to use you! It will be someone that will call your method "CookPizza" and it can call you with any argument. You just don't care about it".

Why we do this? Because now that our mock Oven is aware of this call, we can ask him is this call really happened! And then we can test that every time we prepare a pizza, something is really cooked in this Oven. In this scenario we say that we are testing a behaviour.

That's exactly what we verify with  the last line, where is the second friend:

mockOven.AssertWasCalled(oven => oven.CookPizza(Arg<IRawPizza>.Is.Anything))

If the call to the Oven doesn't happen in the PizzaMaker (maybe a developer, during a refactoring, just deleted it without noticing it), then the test will fail. The mock object will complain with us saying "hey! Wait a minute! You told me that someone should have called me but nothing happened!".

Once again, I'm not exploring in detail the syntax of this code, because it changes for each mocking framework, but I hope that the concept behind this test is in someway clear.

Unit test #3: how to check if we properly set another object

In our Pizzeria, we've got this requirement: every time we start cooking our pizza, is important that the Oven is set to a temperature of 300C degrees. At the same time, when the cooking is done, we need to cool down the temperature of the Oven to 150C. This can be done setting the property Temperature in the Oven. How to test that PizzaMaker is correctly doing this?

Again, this is a test where we are going to verify a behaviour. However in this scenario, when working with Rhino Mocks, you need to use a new method, a different approach: the     MockRepository.GenerateMock(...).

The reason for this is that, while in the previous test we verified if we were invoking a method (and AssertWasCalled is perfect for this), now we want to check that a property has been set as expected.

To check if a property has been set in a stub object, we can't use a Stub. With Stubs we can't verify property settings. This is the time, with Rhino Mocks, where we are forced to use the GenerateMock call.

public void PizzaMakerSetOvenToTheProperTemperature()
    // ARRANGE
    IIngredientsProvider stubIngredientsProvider = MockRepository.GenerateStub<iingredientsprovider>();
    IRawPizzaBuilder stubRawPizzaBUilder = MockRepository.GenerateStub<irawpizzabuilder>();

    // this won't work. We can't verify this call. 
    // If you comment out the property settings in the method under test, this test won't fail
    //IOven mockOven = MockRepository.GenerateStub<ioven>();
    //mockOven.Temperature = 300;
    //mockOven.Temperature = 150;

    //this is the proper way to check settings on property
    IOven mockOven = MockRepository.GenerateMock<ioven>();
    mockOven.Expect(oven => oven.Temperature = 300);
    mockOven.Expect(oven => oven.Temperature = 150);
    // ACT
    var sut = new PizzaMaker(stubIngredientsProvider, stubRawPizzaBUilder, mockOven);
    var pizza = sut.MakePizza();

    // ASSERT

Please, note the lines I commented in the test above, marked in the block "this won't work":

// this won't work. We can't verify this call. If you comment out
// the property settings in the method under test, this test won't fail
//IOven mockOven = MockRepository.GenerateStub();
//mockOven.Temperature = 300;
//mockOven.Temperature = 150;

 I left this part in the code, close to the good one, to show you the differences side by side. With the "wrong" syntax you can set a value which will be returned from the property "Temperature" in the "IOven" object, but this is completely different than check if someone else set this property with an expected value.

In the first case we are telling to the Oven "please, every time someone asks you the value of Temperature, return the value 300C". In the second case we are asking to the mock Oven "please, verify if someone set the property Temperature in the Oven at 300C".

Unit test #4: a wrong usage of StrictMock, and why it is Discouraged

There is a special kind of Mock objects, which are called "StrictMock", that could be very useful...but only in very few scenarios.

The main aspect of this kind of objects is that the VerifyAllExpectation on them will fail whenever there is a call made on the mock object which has not been explicitly set before.

In other words, when we declare and use a StrictMock object, writing the expectations on it in our unit test, we are implicitly stating that every call on this StrictMock object which has not been set is an error and the "VerifyExpectation" will fail if some unexpected call happens.

Let's see if I can clarify this with an example. Here is a unit test that uses a StrictMock, the #4 in our project.

public void WhyTheStrictMockIsGenerallyBad()
    var stubIngredientsProvider = MockRepository.GenerateStub<iingredientsprovider>();
    var stubRawPizzaBuilder = MockRepository.GenerateStub<irawpizzabuilder>();

    var mockOven = MockRepository.GenerateStrictMock<ioven>(); //DISCOURAGED
    mockOven.Expect(oven => oven.Temperature = 300);
    mockOven.Expect(oven => oven.CookPizza(Arg<irawpizza>.Is.Anything));
    mockOven.Expect(oven => oven.Temperature = 150);
    // ACT
    var sut = new PizzaMaker(stubIngredientsProvider, stubRawPizzaBuilder, mockOven);

    // ASSERT

This test want to check that we are properly setting the temperature in the Oven before using it, and then we are calling the method CookPizza.  I think that tests like this are less maintainable, because we put too many assertions in the same test (verify temperature and verify CookPizza) and even related to different behaviors. However, we could also tolerate it for now, as when we are in a rush we all do terrible things in our codebase...   

The important thing to notice, using the StrictMock in this test, is that, from now, we subscribed a kind of mortgage with this test and we'll be very close to it for ever! From now on any "change" we'll make in PizzaMaker regarding the interaction with the Oven (also just adding a new call) will result in this test failing also if our "behaviour under test" hasn't been changed.

Again, an example will help: what happen if at some point a new version of my Oven offers a new method called "AutoClean()" that can be called at the end of the cooking? We will add the new call in our PizzaMaker to implement this exciting feature! Wow, an Oven that clean itself, that's cool! Let's add it immediately:

public Pizza MakePizza()
    Pizza cookedPizza = null;

    ReadyForMakePizza = false;

    var ingredients = _ingredientsProvider.GetIngredients();
    var rawPizza = _rawPizzaBuilder.CreatePizza(ingredients);

    _oven.Temperature = 300;
    cookedPizza = _oven.CookPizza(rawPizza);

    ReadyForMakePizza = true;
    return cookedPizza;

And viola! New feature is in. We run our unit test suite...and what happens? We know what will happen: our test #4 will fail, because we didn't include this call in the "expected" calls for the IOven object, but actually nothing is wrong in our test! The behaviour under test (check if we set the temperature, check if we cook the pizza) has been changed?

Now try to imagine if you extensively use this StrictMock in your whole codebase. Every time you add something in your code, something will be broken. Always. With the usage of StrictMocks in these scenarios we are only making our test suite less maintainable!

This is the reason why the usage of this StrictMocks has always to be considered very carefully.


  • 2013-11-24: First version.
  • 2013-11-25: Fixed some formatting issues.


This article, along with any associated source code and files, is licensed under The Code Project Open License (CPOL)


About the Author

Livio Francescucci
Architect EF Education First
Switzerland Switzerland
I'm a software engineer, passionate about software development since I was 8yrs old.
I (almost) always worked with Microsoft technologies: from C++, VB and classic ASP, in the early 2thousands I moved to .NET Technologies...
My best expertise is about C# development on Web & Windows platforms, software architectures and design / testing patterns.

Comments and Discussions

PraiseGreat Example Pin
rich.v27-Dec-19 5:57
Memberrich.v27-Dec-19 5:57 
QuestionWhenMakePizzaEndsThenPizzaMakerIsReadyForAnotherPizza() Makes pizza WITH NO Ingredients Pin
ChristianProgrammer27-Nov-19 6:26
professionalChristianProgrammer27-Nov-19 6:26 
PraiseNice Article Pin
Viral Surani2-Sep-19 2:00
MemberViral Surani2-Sep-19 2:00 
GeneralMy vote of 1 Pin
Member 1191667127-Oct-15 18:18
MemberMember 1191667127-Oct-15 18:18 
GeneralThanks Pin
Taco Ditiecher29-Sep-15 19:05
MemberTaco Ditiecher29-Sep-15 19:05 
GeneralGreat Pin
Jakub Jecha15-Apr-15 22:10
MemberJakub Jecha15-Apr-15 22:10 
QuestionGreat Article Pin
shaijujanardhanan3-Dec-14 19:47
Membershaijujanardhanan3-Dec-14 19:47 
AnswerRe: Great Article Pin
Livio Francescucci8-Dec-14 1:26
MemberLivio Francescucci8-Dec-14 1:26 
Questiongood work Pin
Rahul AnilKumar Mehta5-Jun-14 0:25
MemberRahul AnilKumar Mehta5-Jun-14 0:25 
AnswerRe: good work Pin
Livio Francescucci9-Jun-14 5:04
MemberLivio Francescucci9-Jun-14 5:04 
Questiondo not understand use of AssertWasCalled with Is.Anything Pin
NorbertKl1723-May-14 1:54
MemberNorbertKl1723-May-14 1:54 
first time I use Rhino Mocks, your article was very helpfull.
My question: In the second test (WeNeverForgetToCookPizzaInTheOven) you want to test, if there was indeed a pizza in the oven. I didn't get the "Is.Anything" in AssertWasCalled, so I tried passing null to the oven and the test passed.
Then I removed the line:
mockOven.Stub(oven => oven.CookPizza(Arg<irawpizza>.Is.Anything));
Test still passed
I replaced Is.Anything with Is.NotNull. Now the test with _oven.CookPizza(null) failed.
So that would be a better Test?
Now I tried to change Is.Anything to Is.TypeOf<irawpizza>(), but that did not compile.
Can you help?

modified 23-May-14 8:15am.

AnswerRe: do not understand use of AssertWasCalled with Is.Anything Pin
Livio Francescucci23-May-14 2:25
MemberLivio Francescucci23-May-14 2:25 
GeneralVery good article Pin
Sekum_vestas17-Dec-13 8:21
professionalSekum_vestas17-Dec-13 8:21 
GeneralRe: Very good article Pin
Livio Francescucci17-Dec-13 21:58
MemberLivio Francescucci17-Dec-13 21:58 
GeneralA wrong usage of StrictMock Pin
John Brett24-Nov-13 23:40
MemberJohn Brett24-Nov-13 23:40 
GeneralRe: A wrong usage of StrictMock Pin
Livio Francescucci25-Nov-13 6:29
MemberLivio Francescucci25-Nov-13 6:29 

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