Over the holiday weekend, I spent a good amount of time cleaning up my RPC::XML test suites with regards to Perl::Critic. It wasn’t quick work, either: Much of the suite was written when RPC::XML was first under development, which makes a lot of it well over 10 years old. But I had an extra day, and plenty of time to kill. So 25 files and one git commit later, my test are all clean with respect to my chosen Perl::Critic configuration. The exceptions are a couple of Modules::ProhibitExcessMainComplexity complaints, and most of them also chirp about Modules::RequireVersionVar because the policy doesn’t allow for exclusion of files like test suites.
But all through this, I was wondering: Does it really matter if your test suites are as clean as the code itself?
How often does someone else look at your test suites as closely as they look at the modules that those tests support? I’m not setting up a life-lesson here, I’m genuinely curious. I spent some time thinking about it, and I can say that the only times I’ve looked at test suites in other distributions has been when I was trying to figure out how they did something, or how a particular testing module is used. I’ve very rarely looked for examples of how to write my own tests, and I probably should. I’m pretty sure I could learn from some (most?) of them.
See, I look at Perl::Critic as at least partly geared towards the readability of code; using Perl::Critic helps me make my code more consistent in style and structure, which in turn makes it more readable. I introduced it into my day job (along with a web front-end) largely to try and encourage certain consistencies in style, uniformity even, in the name of corralling Perl coders who had no collective style. Yes, there are a lot of other benefits to critic that are there to be had. It has led me directly to bugs, or to code that could potentially fail, on numerous occasions. But for me, myself, style and structure are the order of the day. So, if few people look at your test suites, is there any reason to run them through the critic?
After a day or two of idle background-thought on it, I’ve decided that it is worth it. Even if the only person who looks at your tests is you. Because you do eventually have to look at those tests. And RPC::XML is not even remotely the oldest CPAN module, so there are distributions out there whose tests are much older than my 10+ years. And that’s plenty of time to forget WTF you were thinking when you wrote the test. The least you can do is try to make it readable for the next time you have to look at it.