Testing Microservices Applications

By Juan Ignacio Giro

The shift towards microservices and modular applications makes testing more important and more challenging at the same time. You have to make sure that the microservices running in containers perform well and as intended, but you can no longer rely on conventional testing strategies to get the job done.

This is where new testing approaches are needed. Testing your microservices applications require the right approach, a suitable set of tools, and immense attention to details. This article will guide you through the process of testing your microservices and talk about the challenges you will have to overcome along the way. Let’s get started, shall we?

A Brave New World

Traditionally, testing a monolith application meant configuring a test environment and setting up all of the application components in a way that matched the production environment. It took time to set up the testing environment, and there were a lot of complexities around the process.

Testing also requires the application to run in full. It is not possible to test monolith apps on a per-component basis, mainly because there is usually a base code that ties everything together, and the app is designed to run as a complete app to work properly.

Microservices running in containers offer one particular advantage: universal compatibility. You don’t have to match the testing environment with the deployment architecture exactly, and you can get away with testing individual components rather than the full app in some situations.

Of course, you will have to embrace the new cloud-native approach across the pipeline. Rather than creating critical dependencies between microservices, you need to treat each one as a semi-independent module.

The only monolith or centralized portion of the application is the database, but this too is an easy challenge to overcome. As long as you have a persistent database running on your test environment, you can perform tests at any time.

Keep in mind that there are additional things to focus on when testing microservices.

  • Microservices rely on network communications to talk to each other, so network reliability and requirements must be part of the testing.
  • Automation and infrastructure elements are now added as codes, and you have to make sure that they also run properly when microservices are pushed through the pipeline
  • While containerization is universal, you still have to pay attention to specific dependencies and create a testing strategy that allows for those dependencies to be included

Test containers are the method of choice for many developers. Unlike monolith apps, which lets you use stubs and mocks for testing, microservices need to be tested in test containers. Many CI/CD pipelines actually integrate production microservices as part of the testing process.

Contract Testing as an Approach

As mentioned before, there are many ways to test microservices effectively, but the one approach that developers now use reliably is contract testing. Loosely coupled microservices can be tested in an effective and efficient way using contract testing, mainly because this testing approach focuses on contracts; in other words, it focuses on how components or microservices communicate with each other.

Syntax and semantics construct how components communicate with each other. By defining syntax and semantics in a standardized way and testing microservices based on their ability to generate the right message formats and meet behavioral expectations, you can rest assured knowing that the microservices will behave as intended when deployed.

Ways to Test Microservices

It is easy to fall into the trap of making testing microservices complicated, but there are ways to avoid this problem. Testing microservices doesn’t have to be complicated at all when you have the right strategy in place.

There are several ways to test microservices too, including:

  • Unit testing: Which allows developers to test microservices in a granular way. It doesn’t limit testing to individual microservices, but rather allows developers to take a more granular approach such as testing individual features or runtimes.
  • Integration testing: Which handles the testing of microservices in an interactive way. Microservices still need to work with each other when they are deployed, and integration testing is a key process in making sure that they do.
  • End-to-end testing: Which⁠—as the name suggests⁠—tests microservices as a complete app. This type of testing enables the testing of features, UI, communications, and other components that construct the app.

What’s important to note is the fact that these testing approaches allow for asynchronous testing. After all, asynchronous development is what makes developing microservices very appealing in the first place. By allowing for asynchronous testing, you can also make sure that components or microservices can be updated independently to one another.

The Challenges

We’ve covered the different ways to test microservices and how you can have a suitable testing strategy to begin with. Now, it is time to take a closer look at tools that can help you run tests against microservices better.

Hoverfly is one of my favorites. It is a tool for simulating API latency and failures, which is perfect for when your microservices rely on strict API commands. It allows you to anticipate API failures and optimize API performance.

For unit testing, VCR is the tool to use. It basically acts like a VCR; it records your test environment’s HTTP interactions and enables playback during future test runs. You only need to create the testing procedure once, allowing for more consistent unit testing across the board.

Pact, on the other hand, is the tool you want to use for contract testing. The framework helps you do integration testing in a seamless way. You can configure a Pact mock provider and simulate minimal expected response or other scenarios directly on the testing tool.

To tie everything together, you can use Vagrant by Hashicorp; a tool designed to create and maintain a robust testing environment. It runs locally and in the cloud with the ability to create and manage virtual machine environments being its most valuable feature.

Yes, testing microservices is still a challenge, but it is a hassle worth going through when developing cloud-native applications. Besides, the tips and strategies we discussed in this article will help you overcome the hassle right away.

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