Chapter 17 Testing considerations

When should you use webmockr vs. vcr vs. testing real HTTP interactions?

There is no right answer to this question, but rather a range of considerations.

On one hand, it seems appropriate to think about testing your R package in a way that is not sensitive to the remote service the package interacts with being down/etc. However, part of the user experience of using your package will be dealing with intermittent server side issues, for which ideally your package is robust to, and/or at least fails well in reponse to. Of course you can still test your package against failure scenarios without testing real interactions.

In addition to intermittent server side issues, your tests may be performing queries with cached (vcr) or mocked (webmockr) responses that are no longer valid with the current state of the remote service. It may be harmless, for example, the response to some query now returns no data because the data for that entity was removed. But it could be more serious in that the remove service changed their API such that an API route is no longer available or the route name has changed, or similar.

Testing real HTTP interactions should be the slowest option, but has the benefit of not adding any (permanent) files to your package. Mocking tests can be very lite weight, though you can include very heavy responses. Using vcr to cache real responses can lead to many files and sometimes files of large size. It’s worth thinking about this trade-off between speed of tests, what can be tested, and files added to your package.

If you’re working with in a team, and if you’re using vcr, you need to consider where files are stored and make sure access to those files doesn’t vary by team member.

A last option is to create a very minimal fake service to run your tests against. The consultancy Thoughtbot wrote a nice post on How to Stub External Services in Tests. Using Ruby, they briefly described mocking with webmock (similar to webmockr in R), using vcr (similar to vcr in R), and creating a “fake” (fake service).

Some have found they really don’t like having the added vcr cassettes in their projects, and thus prefer mocking.