Confident React App – Part 3

A Star Is Born. Photo: Clay Enos/Warner Bros.

This is the third post on the series about Confident React App where I show how I build up confidence in the source code of my React apps. Here’s the beginning of the story.

In this post, we’ll finally start coding some React components but following some vital rules that will help us make reliable code.

Coding confidently with BDD + TDD

Research has shown that Test Driven Development is one of the most effective measures for increasing the perceived quality of the developed software: from ~40% to ~80% increase. They also measured the increase in effort/cost for applying it.

We can’t skip such an effective technique, right? But how do we do it? Well, there’s the TDD bible to study and also
“The Three Laws of TDD” to follow:

  1. You are not allowed to write any production code unless it is to make a failing unit test pass.
  2. You are not allowed to write any more of a unit test than is sufficient to fail; and compilation failures are failures.
  3. You are not allowed to write any more production code than is sufficient to pass the one failing unit test.

That’s much easier said than done. After months of practice, it still takes me a while to get into the TDD flow so I need to be very aware to not break the rules. Because of the accrued learning curve and effort, it’s easy to make mistakes and misuse it which causes some resentment. The most common issue I observe is test code that is too coupled with implementation details, especially in React apps.

I suspect that this happens because of the mindset the developer is in when doing tests first: you get framed on testing everything! However, 100% test coverage is counterproductive since not every part of your code is equally worth the test hassle and it’s also an illusion.

The Behavior Driven Development approach is my favorite because it sets the best mindset: it builds on top of TDD focusing on business/user goals and drive towards shared understanding through conversations. In other words, it’s a high-level spec that fosters communication. When we read the test cases out loud, it feels like normal speech so it fits snugly into our minds. Good software is software that fits in our heads, which is easier and faster to create good mental models about it.

Our acceptance criteria are already written in BDD style, so the devs – we – have a perfect guide to start with.

Starting from the bottom

For this particular case, I think starting from the bottom/leave components will be easier since it’s basically the list-group component from Bootstrap. We won’t need to implement all the described features – but make sure to get familiar with it.

We quickly realize that list-group is composed of multiple list-group-item‘s. A list of items! So the leaf component should be <ListGroupItem>. Since the two are closely related, let’s keep their implementation in the same file.

So we create the two files and fire up the tests:

mkdir src/components
touch src/components/listGroup.js
touch src/components/listGroup.spec.js

Don’t forget to add // @flow.

I’ve picked Airbnb’s Enzyme test renderer because it has the necessary functionality for writing the kind of tests I prefer the most. Notably, Enzyme’s got a few pitfalls to be avoided. I’ll explain why I still use shallow soon enough.

To add the tools we need:

yarn add -D enzyme enzyme-adapter-react-16 jest-enzyme && yarn flow-typed install [email protected]

And add the new file src/setupTests.js:

// @flow
import { configure } from 'enzyme';
import Adapter from 'enzyme-adapter-react-16';
import 'jest-enzyme';

configure({ adapter: new Adapter() });

A Component’s purpose

We start by describing what we’re testing: the new <ListGroupItem /> component. Its sole purpose is to return valid JSX, compliant with the component contract. The HTML + CSS defined by our external dependency, Bootstrap, is the contract that our React component must fulfill. It should be fairly simple to test because our component is just a pure function.

For now, Enzyme’s shallow is the right tool for the job.

// @flow
import React from 'react';
import { shallow } from 'enzyme';
import ListGroupItem from './ListGroup';

describe('<ListGroupItem />', () => {
  it('renders according to specification', () => {
    shallow(<ListGroupItem />)

When we run the test watcher…

yarn test

… we get our first expected red of the cycle! This is obvious since there is no implementation yet. Keeping in mind the first rule of TDD, we implement our component to make this test pass:

// @flow
import React from 'react';

function ListGroupItem () {
  return null

export ListGroupItem;

Now we’re in the first expected green! Doesn’t that feel good? Let’s restart the cycle and get into red again by testing something more useful. The next step is to validate the generated structure. Red:

it('renders according to specification', () => {
    shallow(<ListGroupItem />)

The test code above takes advantage of the cool matchers from jest-enzyme to make our code more readable. To make it green, the implementation must return the proper markup:

function ListGroupItem () {
  return <li className='list-group-item' />

The specification determines that every list item can have a string or an anchor as children. Let’s start with the string and assume it’s required. Red:

describe('<ListGroupItem />', () => {
  it('renders according to specification', () => {
    const wrapper = shallow(<ListGroupItem>item 1</ListGroupItem>);

    expect(wrapper).toHaveText('item 1');

The implementation is more interesting now: in order to guarantee that the component is used correctly, we have to validate the given props. Flow comes in handy for this task. Green:

type ListGroupItemProps = {
  children: string,

function ListGroupItem (props: ListGroupItemProps) {
  return <li className="list-group-item">{props.children}</li>;

Note that the Jest watcher does not run Flow on file changes so type errors won’t break the tests. You can use flow-watch so Flow runs in every file change. Or, if you’re using an IDE, adding a Flow extension will come in handy.

This is enough features for this component for now. Let’s move on to the next component.

Red, Green, Red, Green, …

<ListGroup> is the parent component that has many <ListGroupItem>s. Just to save some time, here’s the whole component red tests:

describe('<ListGroup />', () => {
  it('renders according to specification', () => {
    const wrapper = shallow(
        <ListGroupItem>item 1</ListGroupItem>
        <ListGroupItem>item 2</ListGroupItem>


Now we have to put both components working together and since an empty list item didn’t make sense, a list group without list items doesn’t either. Green:

type ListGroupProps = {
  children: React.ChildrenArray<React.Element<typeof ListGroupItem>>

export function ListGroup (props: ListGroupProps) {
  return <ul className='list-group'>{props.children}</ul>

In the shallows, shallows…

shallow rendering is a powerful tool and having its documentation close by is quite handy. Never using it is a missed opportunity. Facebook has some more insights about it. Here are some reasons why I believe it’s the right tool for the component tests above:

  1. The components are just pure functions, no interactions with real DOM or higher-order components.
  2. Unit tests should be fast and shallow is faster than mount and render.
  3. Unit tests should be isolated. For <ListGroupItem> it’s easy because it’s completely independent but <ListGroup> depends on <ListGroupItem> as defined by the children argument type. Using mount/render would break the isolation of the component test because it renders the children.

Facebook’s react-dom/test-utils and react-test-renderer are testing libraries used by Enzyme. Which means that all the render stack from our test environment is mocked. The final result can be fully validated only when the code runs in a web browser. We’ll add another tool for validating components on the browser in another post.

Phew! What a ride. Thanks for reading all the way here. I really appreciate it. The series is not over though: the feature is far from done and the “leave components” are not completed yet.

Stay tuned for the next post in the series.

P.S.: All together now! In the shallow, shallow…

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