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Saturday, March 21, 2009

How important is 100% code coverage ?

It can be hard to achieve 100% code coverage, and there are a number of proponents who do not believe in going the extra bit it takes to achieve that. There are people who do not feel comfortable unless they reach a 100% code coverage, and are passionate about it. What are some of the benefits of trying to attain a 100% code coverage ? What is actually 100% code coverage ?
Let's start with the meaning of what code coverage is (if you missed my previous post where I explained code coverage in more detail). Code coverage is a measurement that answers the question about how much of the source code for an application is run when the unit tests for the application are run, and more important, how much code is missed by the unit cases. If 100% of the lines of source code are run when the unit tests are run, then you have 100% code coverage. Seems fairly simple, right. Have you ever wondered why Service Level Agreements don't seem to promise 100%, but do 99%, or even 99.9% ? This example was just a statement thrown in between to demonstrate how getting to 100% is not easy in any field. Let's take this further.
When you write test cases, the principle behind writing the unit test cases and then executing them is to ensure that an application works as expected. So, if your test cases cover more of the code, then it means that the quality of a higher percentage of the code has been verified through testing. In practice, not everything goes by theory, so while 100% code coverage does not guarantee that an application has no bugs, your confidence in the quality of your code increases significantly the higher your code coverage is.
There are many people who feel that trying to target 95% code coverage is a futile target; at the same time, I believe that targeting 95% code coverage is not the way to go. 95% is a great interim target if you have not done code coverage before, but anything less than 100% is a path that you do not want to take. If you testing of the code is only 95%, you are still risking that 5% of the code is untested - this section of the code may be harmless, but may also have some big bugs that could screw up your happiness later. You allow exceptions to creep in, and then pretty soon, pressure causes you to make more exceptions, and an example has already been set. There will always be a niggling feeling that the untested portions of the code can come back to haunt you later.
Reaching there is not easy. It takes a lot of hard work to get everybody to target the 100% code coverage, and needs determination when the temptation is strong to leave things be in the 90% (even more so when sections of the code are older code that may not have seen many changes).

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