HorusKol

Adventures and musings in the world of web development

Laravel 8 database factories for even better testing

November 12, 2020

Automated tests are awesome. Having repeatable tests on your codebase to warn you if anything trippy has happened because of changes you've been making, and thereby helping to preventing the release of buggy code, is a lifesaver. They're also a bit of a pain sometimes, especially when testing code relying on a framework, since you sometimes need to bootstrap that framework as part of your tests.

When you're dealing with testing database interactions, you can experience even more pain. Not only do you have to restore state between each test, you also have to insert test data for many tests, which slows down tests and you can end up with a lot of setup prior to your actual test and assertions.

There are a number of strategies for speeding up testing, such as these general tips. Even database testing can be improved with functionality like Laravel's RefreshDatabase trait.

Database factories

Laravel provides database factories, which allow us to easily create fully populated data models within your tests, and reduce clutter within the test methods.

Say we have a simple table defined in a migration like this:

Schema::create('schools', function (Blueprint $table) {
    $table->bigIncrements('id');
    $table->string('name');
    $table->timestamps();
});

We will need to include the HasFactory behaviour trait in the relevant model:

namespace App\Models; // assuming the Laravel 8 app structure

use Illuminate\Database\Eloquent\Factories\HasFactory;
use Illuminate\Database\Eloquent\Model;

class School extends Model
{
    use HasFactory;
}

Now we can define the factory in the database\factories directory. We can run php artisan make:factory SchoolFactory to make the scaffold for us to fill in:

<?php

namespace Database\Factories;

use App\Models\School;
use Illuminate\Database\Eloquent\Factories\Factory;

class SchoolFactory extends Factory
{
    /**
     * The name of the factory's corresponding model.
     *
     * @var  string
     */
    protected $model = Color::class;

    /**
     * Define the model's default state.
     *
     * @return  array
     */
    public function definition()
    {
        return [
            'name' => $this->faker->sentence,
        ];
    }
}

Then in when we want to use the factory in our tests, we can write a single line:

$school = School::factory()->create();

And now there will be a model and a database record which can be manipulated and tested as needed. Even better, because the factory is using the Faker library, every school we create using this factory will have a random name - removing hardcoded strings and values.

It is also possible to create a model without persisting it in the database by using the make method instead:

$school = School::factory()->create();

If it is important for a specific string to be tested when creating/making a model with a factory, it is possible to override the data when calling create/make:

$school = School::factory()->create([
    'name' => 'Grange Hill',
]);

Related data and factories

Schools run courses, so we're going to create a courses table (and a Course model):

Schema::create('courses', function (Blueprint $table) {
    $table->bigIncrements('id');
    $table->bigInteger('school_id')->unsigned();
    $table->string('name');
    $table->timestamps();
});

Our Course model has the following relationship to the School model:

public function school()
{
    return $this->belongsTo(School::class);
}

Now, in order for our database factory to create a valid course, we need to set the school_id field, since it isn't nullable (courses must be attached to a school). The easiest, naive way is to do this in the CourseFactory:

public function definition()
{
    return [
        'school_id' => 1,
        'name' => $this->faker->sentence(),
    ];
}

Unfortunately, this wouldn't also create the school, which may be important in some tests, and cause errors if we try to do something like $course->school->name in our code under test.

It is possible to inject/override values defined in the factory when using them to create or make models in our test. So, we can do something like:

$school = School::factory()->create();
$course = Course::factory()->create([
    'school_id' => $school,
]);

In some tests, though, this could get a bit boilerplate, especially with complex/multiple relationships, and that boilerplate can get in the way of seeing what the test is doing/testing. Sometimes we can push it up to a setup method in the test case, but other times I'd rather just create a valid course along with its relations in just the one line.

To do this, we can call other factories from within a factory:

public function definition()
{
    return [
        'school_id' => School::factory()->create(),
        'name' => $this->faker->sentence(),
    ];
});

Unfortunately, this brings a couple of problems. The first is that if we simply make a course instead of creating and persisting it, we will still create a database record for the school. The other problem is that, while we can still inject a school from our test if we want to, we'll end up with two school records being created (the one we create in our test and the one being made by the course's database factory which is then overridden).

/**
 * @test
 */
public function that_school_can_be_injected_into_course_factory()
{
    $school = School::factory()->create();

    $course = Course::factory()->create([
        'school_id' => $school,
    ]);

    // this will pass, since the school is actually overridden
    $this->assertEquals($school->id, $course->school->id, 'school was not overridden');

    // this will fail, since two schools are created
    $this->assertEquals(1, School::all()->count(), 'there are more schools than there should be');
}

This means there are three inserts into the database when there should have only been two. That extra insert adds a little bit more time to the test, and that can add up across multiple tests.

Even worse, if we are creating multiple courses in a test:

/**
 * @test
 */
public function that_school_can_be_injected_into_course_factory()
{
    $school = School::factory()->create();

    $courses = Course::factory()->count(3)->create([ // create 3 courses
        'school_id' => $school,
    ]);

    // this will pass, since the school is actually overridden
    $this->assertEquals($school->id, $course->school->id, 'school was not overridden');

    // this will fail, since four schools are created
    $this->assertEquals(1, School::all()->count(), 'there are more schools than there should be');
}

In this case, four schools will have been inserted into the database, when we only needed one.