Testing in go-github

I haven’t really talked about it much, but at the beginning of 2013 I moved from the Google+ API team to work in Google’s Open Source office, with the task of figuring out how to manage Googlers releasing open source projects on GitHub. I had already been working on this for close to year in my 20% time, but it was becoming clear that this was going to require full-time focus.

One thing I realized very early on was that the standard tools that GitHub provides for managing organizations and repositories were not really going to work for a company of Google’s size. For example, we have a lot of internal infrastructure, both technical and policy/legal, that we need to integrate with. Fortunately, just about everything GitHub exposes on github.com is also available in their API, so we were able to build tools to bridge our internal infrastructure to GitHub.

While it’s unlikely that we’ll open source the entire application we’re building, mainly because it will be tied very tightly to our internal systems and wouldn’t be of much use to others, I have been developing the Go client library for GitHub in the open at google/go-github. And though I’m still relatively new to Go myself, I wanted to write a few posts on things I think we did well with the library, some challenges we’ve faced, and some of the rationale behind certain design decisions in hopes that it might be of use to others.

Testing HTTP client code

There are several different ways you can test http client code in Go (or any language for that matter). The most naive way would be to call the live API directly. Now if your intent is to actually test the API itself, this might make sense. For example, we have one set of tests for the Google+ API that call the live endpoints with varying sets of credentials and request parameters to make sure the API is responding at all, and to ensure that certain business logic is being applied appropriately.

However, if your goal is to just test the client library, don’t call the live API. Doing so puts undue stress on the API, dramatically increases the time it takes to run your full test suite (which means you probably won’t run them as often), and introduces your tests to all kinds of false failures. Are your tests failing because you just introduced a bug in your code, because of network problems, because you’re over your hourly request quota, or because the service is down from another DoS attack? And what if the specific data you were testing for was inadvertently changed or removed? Now your tests are failing for reasons having nothing to do with your client code.

While there are ways to mitigate some of these risks, for your basic unit tests of a client library, you absolutely do not want to call a live API. Besides, the actual behavior of the API is generally outside the purview of a client library. Most often, the kinds of things you want to test in your client include:

  • Are requests being constructed properly? This includes checking all parts of the request: the HTTP method, any custom HTTP headers, the URL, and the request body.
  • Are success responses being handled properly? This may include handling custom response headers as well as parsing the response body.
  • Are error responses being handled properly? What are the different ways the API indicates an error, and what are the different kinds of errors that can occur? Is your client doing the right thing in these cases?

You will of course want to test any other business logic that your library is responsible for, but when it comes to talking to the API, this is generally all you need to test. Are your requests being constructed properly, and are varying responses being handled properly?

Using Go’s httptest package

Within Go, there are a couple of ways you can perform the above tests. One approach is to create a custom http.RoundTripper implementation that inspects the request and returns a known response. In this case, no actual HTTP request is ever sent anywhere; the RoundTripper intercepts it and just checks for expected values.

The approach I took however, was to use Go’s net/http/httptest package to run a real HTTP server listening on localhost that effectively mocks the GitHub API. I found that this resulted in slightly clearer code in most cases, and additionally allowed for testing custom transports like our UnauthenticatedRateLimitedTransport. And because the library already supported overriding the base URL used for API calls (originally added to support GitHub Enterprise), I could easily point a client at my test server and send real HTTP requests. As far as the client is concerned, there is absolutely no difference between running during tests and running in production; the requests are simply being sent to a different URL. The setup code for my tests looks like this:

var (
    mux *http.ServeMux
    client *Client
    server *httptest.Server

func setup() {
    // test server
    mux = http.NewServeMux()
    server = httptest.NewServer(mux)

    // github client configured to use test server
    client = NewClient(nil)
    client.BaseURL, _ = url.Parse(server.URL)

This simply starts up a new test server, builds a github.Client, and points that client at the test server. My individual tests look something like this:

func TestUsersService_Get_specifiedUser(t *testing.T) {
    defer teardown()

        func(w http.ResponseWriter, r *http.Request) {
            testMethod(t, r, "GET")
            fmt.Fprint(w, `{"id":1}`)

    user, _, err := client.Users.Get("u")
    if err != nil {
        t.Errorf("Users.Get returned error: %v", err)

    want := &User{ID: Int(1)}
    if !reflect.DeepEqual(user, want) {
        t.Errorf("Users.Get returned %+v, want %+v",
            user, want)

The interesting bit here is the mux.HandleFunc() call. This sets up an HTTP handler on an expected path, tests various request values, and then returns an expected response. If the client library constructs the request URL improperly, there won’t be an HTTP handler for the path and the test server will return a 404. If the request is sent with the wrong HTTP method, the testMethod() call will fail. Other helper methods check for expected URL parameters, custom HTTP headers, and the request body. This covers all of the components of the request that we would want to test.

Additionally, we want to test that responses are handled properly. In the example above, we’re returning a successful response with a very minimal JSON representation of a GitHub User object. The main thing we are checking for here is that the JSON is properly unmarshalled into a github.User and that no errors are returned. In other tests, we intentionally return various HTTP error codes from the handler and test that they are handled properly.

A new server for every test

To ensure that each test is hermetic, we spin up a new test server every time. This is particularly important when testing clients for REST APIs, since many methods will make requests with only very subtle differences. For example, the get, update, and delete methods for a resource will likely use identical URLs, but differ only in the HTTP method used (and possibly different request bodies). To ensure tests don’t interfere with each other and give incorrect results, start with a fresh server for each test. As of this writing, the tests for the go-github library start up and shutdown 177 HTTP servers, and the entire test suite still runs in around 100 milliseconds on my Macbook Pro. Performance is not an issue.

You could probably cut down on some of the boilerplate code in each test by using table driven tests, but I honestly found the above approach to be more readable. For what it’s worth, we do use table driven tests in other parts of the library.

Areas for improvement

As you can see in the example above, our test response body includes a very minimal representation of the resource (only the “id” field). The library doesn’t enforce the presence of any fields, so this allows us to write very succinct test cases. However, it also means that we aren’t testing that all struct fields are being marshalled and unmarshalled properly. There have already been a couple cases where there was a typo in the json: tag on a struct field, so the field was being missed. This can be addressed by having at least one test for each resource that includes all fields. And in most cases, you really only need to do it in one test, otherwise your just making things needlessly verbose with no additional benefit.

Most of the Go projects I come across tend to be focused on implementing various types of servers, but far less is being written for HTTP clients. So if you have any tips to share for testing HTTP clients in Go, I’d love to hear about it.

Comments and responses

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