8 July 2013

Testing time-dependent code

Often people do something like that
public List<Notification> findNotificationsToSend() {

    List<Notification> notifications = repository.findDailyNotifications();
    int today = Calendar.getInstance().get(DAY_OF_WEEK);
    if (today == SUNDAY) 
    return notifications;
and then you can be sure they don't use TDD. Because there is absolutely no way you can create such a bad code when you have tests. But what can we do about the calendar? Same as always. Have you noticed that when there is a call to a database or other external system, people immediately say: 'extract and mock'? But when there is a call to jvm's infrastructure they have no idea what to do. And the answer is simple: 'extract and mock'. Does it mean people just repeat previously seen schemes without thinking?
We can start refactoring with:
public class TimeProvider {

    public int dayOfWeek() {
        return Calendar.getInstance().get(DAY_OF_WEEK);
That's a good start. Now it's easy to test the findNotificationsToSend but TimeProvider can still contain some complicated time calculations which are not testable. And it will grow with calendar-dependent methods. How to clean it up?
  • Switch to joda time. It has much better api that protects TimeProvider from uncontrolled growing.
  • TimeProvider should contain only often used, calendar-like, parameterless methods dependent on current time. And nothing else. 'isSunday' and 'beginningOfQuarter' are fine but 'shouldIncludeWeeklyNotification' is not.
  • Completely separate jvm's infrastructure access from time calculations. In this case I usually choose inheritance over composition because TimeProvider won't ever grow in any additional dependencies. After all, even business guys don't change the definition of Sunday.
The following code usually works for me.
abstract class TimeProvider {

    protected abstract long currentMillis();

    public final DateTime now() {
        return new DateTime(currentMillis());

    public final boolean isSunday() {...} //if often used

    // other common business methods. all final.

public final class RealTimeProvider extends TimeProvider {

    protected long currentMillis() {
        return System.currentTimeMillis();

public class TestTimeProvider extends TimeProvider {

    private long currentMillis; 

    public TestTimeProvider() {
        this("2013-05-17"); // preset time; handy for tests

    public TestTimeProvider(String currentTime) {

    public void setTime(String currentTime) {
        currentMillis = parseTime(currentTime);

    protected long currentMillis() {
        return currentMillis;

    private static long parseTime(String time) {...}
Of course, we use TestTimeProvider in unit and spring-context tests. Often it's more handy than mocks. If needed, add similar support for timezone.
Now we can test findNotificationsToSend, control time during integration tests and test isSunday method:
public class TimeProviderTest {

    TestTimeProvider timeProvider = new TestTimeProvider();

                 "2013-04-14,  true",
                 "2013-04-15,  false"
    public void should_detect_sunday(String date, boolean shouldBeSunday) {

        boolean isSunday = timeProvider.isSunday();

One place where time provider alone is not enough is integration testing, when we start the whole server to imitate production environment and connect to it over http. But that's a story for another post.

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