Using the Proxy Pattern for Unit Testing

Understanding an Object Oriented Programming design pattern requires having a clear and specific use case for which you would apply it. Here is one for the Proxy Pattern.

The Proxy Pattern as described in the Gang Of Four book does:

Allow for object level access control by acting as a pass through entity or a placeholder object.

Although it is one of the simplest of all patterns (maybe with the Singleton Pattern), this description remains nebulous. The simple drawing below attempts to provide a clearer picture. As in real life, the proxy is a middle man, here between an API and some client code.

Screen Shot 2013-11-17 at 9.38.38 PM

The question is: if the proxy does nothing but delegating to the API (unlike the Adapter Pattern or the Facade Pattern), what do I need a proxy for? Shall I not just call the API directly?

Let’s look at the case where you have no control over the API, for instance if you use a third party library, or even an internal library whose source code you do no have access to. A recent example I came across is the use of the C# UrlHelper API in a .NET MVC project. The Action() method below returns a URI as a string given the controller name, the action name, and the query string parameters as a hash:

string Action(string action, string controller, object routeValues)

Therefore, a call to:

urlHelper.Action("Products", "View", new {store = "BrisbaneCity"})

will return:

http://myapp.mydomain.com/products/view?store=BrisbaneCity

The TrackerController below has an explicit dependency on UrlHelper. The Registration() action method sets the URL of the mobile site back button using the UrlHelper.Action() method.

using System.Web.Mvc;

public class TrackerController : Controller
{
    private UrlHelper UrlHelper { get; set; }

    public TrackerController(UrlHelper urlHelper) 
    {
        UrlHelper = urlHelper;
    }

    [...]

    [HttpGet]
    public ActionResult Registration(Guid? order)
    {
        ViewBag.MobileBackButtonUrl = UrlHelper.Action("Index", "Tracker", new { order });
        [...]
    }
[...]
}

A unit test that checks the MobileBackButtonUrl property of the ViewBag would look like that:

[TestClass]
public class TrackerControllerTest
{
    private Mock<UrlHelper> mockUrlHelper;
    private TrackerController trackerController;

    [TestInitialize]
    public void Initialize()
    {
        mockUrlHelper = new Mock<UrlHelper>();
        trackerController = new TrackerController(mockUrlHelper);
    }

    [...]

    [TestMethod]
    public void Registration_SetsTheMobileBackButtonUrl()
    {
        var testUrl = "http://thebackbuttonurl"
        mockUrlHelper.Setup(h=>h.Action("Index", "Tracker", It.IsAny()).Return(testUrl);
        var result = trackerController.Registration(new Guid());
        Assert.AreEqual(testUrl, result.ViewBag.MobileBackButtonUrl;
    }

[...]

}

Unfortunately, because the UrlHelper does not have a parameterless constructor, it cannot be mocked using the C# Moq library. Even it it had a parameterless constructor, the Action() method not being virtual will prevent Moq from stubbing it. The bottom line is: it is very hard to unit test a class that has dependencies on third party APIs.

So, let’s use the Proxy Pattern to make our testing easier. The idea is the create a proxy for the UrlHelper class. We’ll call it UrlHelperProxy.

using System;
using System.Web.Mvc;
using System.Web.Routing;

namespace Dominos.OLO.Html5.Controllers
{
    public class UrlHelperProxy
    {
        private readonly UrlHelper helper;
        public UrlHelperProxy() {}

        public UrlHelperProxy(UrlHelper helper)
        {
            this.helper = helper;
        }

        public virtual string Action(string action, string controller, object hash)
        {
            return helper.Action(action, controller, hash);
        }
    }
}

As you can see the UrlHelperProxy does nothing fancy but delegating the Action() method to the UrlHelper. But what it does differently is:

  1. It has a parameterless constructor
  2. The Action() method is virtual

Therefore, by changing the TrackerController code to accept injection of an UrlHelperProxy instead of UrlHelper, we will be able to appropriately unit test the Registration() method.

using System;
using System.Web.Mvc;

public class TrackerController : Controller
{
    private UrlHelperProxy UrlHelper { get; set; }

    public TrackerController(UrlHelperProxy urlHelper) 
    {
        UrlHelper = urlHelper;
    }
[...]
}

[TestClass]
public class TrackerControllerTest
{
    private Mock<UrlHelperProxy> mockUrlHelper
    private TrackerController trackerController;

    [TestInitialize]
    public void Initialize()
    {
        mockUrlHelper = new Mock<UrlHelperProxy>();
        trackerController = new TrackerController(mockUrlHelper);
    }
[...]
}

I am always in favour of changing a design to improve testability. An example is the provision of setter injectors to some of the properties that the unit test need to alter/stub. It usually pays off by providing a deeper understanding of the code and some of the design considerations to be had.

Here is a simple example that illustrate a well known and simple Object Oriented Design Pattern. We made our TrackerController class more testable, and we understand better what the Proxy Pattern can be used for: win win!

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