8 Fallacies of Testing Microservices Systems

1. End-to-end testing is the only way to verify functionality

Effects: Engineers over-invest in creating end-to-end tests that become brittle and more costly to maintain as the software ages.

Solution: Learn about the Test Pyramid and invest in a range of loosely-coupled (modular) tests to support both continual business and technical verification.

2. Contract testing is too expensive to maintain

Effects: Developers under-invest in creating contracts due to maintenance concerns, leading to unverified interactions within specific areas of the system.

Solution: Ensure that core APIs between system and service boundaries are continually verified with up-to-date contracts. Don’t use contract testing for every API, as this can result in overly-tight coupling.

3. Mocks, stubs, and doubles and the only way to simulate dependencies

Effects: Engineers rely on custom mocks that have implicit assumptions encoded within them. As the systems changes, the assumptions may not keep pace.

Solution: In addition to mocks, use “local-to-remote” development tools like Telepresence to test against actual dependencies running in a production-like environment.

4. Properties of production infrastructure do not impact component tests

Effects: Running tests on a non-production-like platform results in poor quality verification e.g. the use of container and cloud technology impacts network performance and memory allocation.

Solution: Ensure the local dev environment is as production-like as possible, e.g. run local tests in containers. Run component tests in a production-like environment within the build pipeline.

5. It’s impossible to run fast and accurate integration tests

Effects: Compromises are made with integration tests either providing a high level of confidence but running slow or providing low confidence but quick execution.

Solution: Prioritize accuracy with integration tests. For speed, use Test Containers to run databases with pre-canned data, and use build pipelines to scale verification with shared staging environments.

6. Testing only takes place during 6 pre-production

Effects: Customers find bugs in production, and unless reported, the engineering team may be unaware of the issues.

Solution: Invest early in observability throughout your applications, API gateway, and service mesh (and other infrastructure). Run semantic monitoring for key business journeys in production.

7. Test data is homogenous and easily generated

Effects: The use of poor quality test data leads to incorrect assumptions being made about functionality and performance.

Solution: Work with data and ops teams to understand the quantity and shape of core data. Ensure build pipeline tests again production-like databases.

8. Cross-functional tests (performance, security, etc) are ops responsibility

Effects: Cross-functional requirements are either neglected or poorly implemented as a product nears the go-live stage.

Solution: Developers should be encouraged to “shift left” the design and implementation of cross-functional requirements.