Writing Unit Tests

This document covers the question “How do I write unit tests for SU2?” Before reading this page, make sure you are familiar with the pages Running Unit Tests and Build SU2 on Linux/MacOS.

This document is intended to be an introduction only. There are plenty of details that are not covered in this document. This omission is intentional. The Catch2 documentation is the best place to learn about using Catch2, so this guide does not duplicate any discussion of the complex features of Catch2. These more complex features include:

  • Grouping tests into sections with similar setup or teardown
  • Parameterized tests
  • Logging context to report alongside failures
  • Tests that are expected to throw exceptions
  • Hiding tests from the default list
  • Using Catch2 with a debugger
  • Custom matchers

Please refer to the Catch2 documentation for more information on these capabilities.

Catch2 Unit-Testing Framework

A unit-testing framework takes most of the boilerplate code out of unit testing. There’s no need to manually create a main() for each test, nor do you need to write your own floating-point matcher. A good unit-testing framework also provides many command-line tools, such as filtering the tests and controlling the output. Catch2 was chosen for the unit testing library for the following reasons:

  • It can be included as a header-only library.
  • It has a very clean, easy-to-use syntax
  • It has widespread use, including the FEniCS library.

Design Overview

  • Catch2 is included as a header file in the externals folder, and is distributed with the SU2 source code.
  • All tests are placed in a top-level directory named UnitTests. Inside this directory is a structure just like the existing folder structure (e.g. SU2_CFD/numerics), except that there are not separate src and include folders.
  • Tests are grouped by class, and put in files such as CNumerics_tests.cpp.
  • A single test executable is compiled and run, as opposed to a separate test executable for each group of tests. With the single test executable, you can always filter down to groups of tests or individual tests.
  • When ninja test or meson test is run, the test executable is only run once, sweeping through all the unit tests. The result only shows a single failure or a single success. If more detail is desired, then the test executable can be run manually.
  • The relevant SU2 code is compiled as a library (e.g. libSU2core) and then linked into both the main executable (SU2_CFD) and the test program (test_driver).

Writing a Basic Unit Test

There are many working examples of unit tests within the SU2 codebase. To see them, browse the folder UnitTests/. For an introduction, a simple example is given here. In order to add this test, the developer would create a .cpp file with something like the following lines:

#include "catch.hpp"

TEST_CASE("Addition", "[arithmetic]") {

  int a = 2, b = 2;
  REQUIRE(a + b == 4);

  • The header catch.hpp contains the macros used for unit tests. These macros replace a lot of the boilerplate code needed for testing.
  • TEST_CASE is used to define a test case. Each unit test must start with this macro.
  • Here, Addition is the name of the test case. The name is a proper, string, and can have spaces, numbers, or puncutation. This stands in contrast to many unit-testing frameworks, such as Boost test or Google test, where the test names must be valid C++ variable names.
  • The second argument, [arithmetic] is a tag. Tags are used to group related tests together, even if they occur in different test cases or files.
  • REQUIRE() is similar to assert(). It checks that the contained logical statement is true. If not, it will display relevant error messages.
  • You can also use the macro CHECK(). This also checks if the contained logical statment is true, but it does not stop on the first failure. It will record the results and continue execution, whether or not the check is true.

For more detail on writing tests, please visit Catch2’s documentation.

Adding the Unit Test to the Test Driver

In order to run the unit test, it must be added to the meson build scripts. Add the new .cpp file to UnitTests/meson.build. This will tell meson to build your unit test, then run it using the test driver provided by Catch2.

Floating Point Unit Tests

An important part of unit testing in scientific computing is floating point comparisons. For tests with floating point numbers, it is not proper to require a strong equality. Instead, Catch2 provides the wrapper class Approx. Approx can be placed on either side of an equality to indicate that two floating-point numbers are only approximately equal.

For example:

REQUIRE(volume == Approx(0.85478577));

The type of approximation and the precision can be customized. For more detail on these customizations, please see Catch2’s documentation. Alternatively, Catch2 also supplies custom matchers for use with floating-point numbers. These include WithinAbs, WithinULP, and WithinRel.

Directdiff and AD Tests

You can also write tests that involve algorithmic differentiation (AD) and direct differentiation (DD). There are a few things that must be done differently when writing these tests:

  • The test must be linked with the correct AD or DD libraries. To do so, add the test to the meson lists su2_cfd_tests_ad or su2_cfd_tests_dd, respectively, in UnitTests/meson.build.
  • When using the su2double datatype in and AD or DD build, the value stored in su2double is accessed using SU2_TYPE::GetValue(). A simple assert such as CHECK(y == Approx(64.0) will fail to compile if y is an su2double. This is because you’re trying to compare an su2double object, with both values and derivatives, with a float. The correct form to use is CHECK(SU2_TYPE::GetValue(y) == Approx(64.0)) (and you can also use REQUIRE).

Real Examples

If you find the above examples a bit simplistic, then you can refer to the following files to find simple, real-world unit-tests:

  • UnitTests/SU2_CFD/numerics/CNumerics_tests.cpp
  • UnitTests/Common/geometry/primal_grid/CPrimalGrid_tests.cpp
  • UnitTests/Common/geometry/dual_grid/CDualGrid_tests.cpp
  • UnitTests/Common/simple_ad_test.cpp
  • UnitTests/Common/simple_directdiff_test.cpp


Where can I learn more about unit tests?

The following two books are great introductions to software testing:

  • “Working Effectively with Legacy Code,” by Michael Feathers
  • “Modern C++ Programming with Test-Driven Development,” by Jeff Langr

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