John Renner PhD Student @ UCSD

Proposal: Rust Custom Test Frameworks

06 August 2018

The Rust community recently approved a Custom Test Frameworks eRFC which lays out a series of goals and possible directions of exploration for implementing custom test frameworks. In this post, I present my own proposed fulfillment of the RFC with rationale.


Today in Rust, anyone can write a test using the #[test] macro:

fn my_test() {
    assert_eq!(2 + 2, 4);

This is incredibly ergonomic, but offers little control to people writing tests. Every #[test] function must be a function of type Fn() -> impl Termination and will be run using the default libtest test runner. If a test author needs more than the libtest runner can provide, then they can no longer use the #[test] macro. This proposal seeks to offer the ergonomic power of #[test] while providing the flexibility required to define and mix custom test formats and test runners.


Two small additions are enough to enable the creation of powerful test frameworks:

This allows us to write code like so:


use quickcheck::*;

fn identity(a: i32) -> bool {
    a * 1 == a

fn foo() {

This code contains two tests, written in two different formats, being executed by a third library.

Framework-Agnostic #[test_case]

#[test_case] is a marker to the compiler to aggregate the item beneath it and pass it to the test runner.


Rationale: #[test] has special smarts for working with libtest that we want to continue to work, but also be avoidable. If people want to provide syntactic sugar for declaring tests they can do so with their own proc_macro attribute.

Required Support Work: In order to avoid doing potentially expensive macro expansions in non-test builds, each third-party test macro needs to be two layers deep. The first step, would expand like so:

#[quickcheck]#[cfg(test)] #[quickcheck_inner]

We can provide this in an external support library.

#![test_runner] Crate Attribute

The goal of the test_runner attribute is to allow test frameworks to be written as simple functions.


Rationale: As a crate attribute, declaration in-file and through command line is already understood. The parameter is a function to make runner implementation simple. Passing tests as an &mut T to allow for the use of trait objects. We don’t pass Box values so that testing is possible on systems without dynamic allocation. We only allow one test runner because it will have to mediate things like command line arguments.

Required Support Work: Test runners will need to have a baseline trait that determines the minimal interface of a test. This will serve as the compatiblity layer between test-producing attributes and various test runners. Furthermore, we will need to stabilize the TestDescAndFn struct from libtest so that the trait can be implemented for it, so custom test runners can run existing tests.


The Test Runner Author

Suppose a test author wants to be able to query and execute tests from within an IDE. The editor has a standard API for test executables to adhere to, so they author a test runner that adheres to that specification, starting with a new crate:

$ cargo new --lib editor_runner

They then add the community-defined Testable trait to their Cargo.toml like so:

testable = "0.4"

Now it’s time to write the runner:

pub fn runner(tests: &[&dyn testable::Testable]) -> impl Termination {
    // parse args...
    // run tests
    // communicate through stdio
    // exit code

To use this test runner they add a Cargo dev-dependency for the runner and add the following to their


The Test Format Author

Many crates such as criterion and quickcheck offer new ways to declare tests. I call these test formats. Typically, these are proc_macro attributes that allow for a different declaration syntax than #[test]. Some, like quickcheck can just wrap #[test], but this can get messy the more removed your test format is from a simple function. Consider writing a test format for testing an HTTP server:

const TEST_INDEX: HttpTest = HttpTest {
    request: HttpRequest {
        url: "/",
        method: "GET"
    response: HttpResponse {
        body: Some("Hello World")

This test would perform the request and compare the response objects. To enable this the format author first declares their struct type:

struct HttpTest {
    request: HttpRequest,
    response: HttpResponse,
    name: &'static str

then implements the Testable trait:

impl testable::Testable for HttpTest {
    fn run(&self) -> () {
        // Make request
        // Assert equality on response fields
    fn name(&self) -> String {

Lastly, to make things nice for their users, they create a macro that automatically records the test name by turning:

const TEST_INDEX: HttpTest = HttpTest {


const TEST_INDEX: HttpTest = HttpTest {
    name: concat!(module_path!(), "TEST_INDEX")

Because HttpTest implements Testable it can be used with any test runner that accepts Testable’s. Sometimes, however, we want specialized features in the runner which are coupled to the declaration. This leads us to our third example:

The Framework Author

Framework authors seek to extend the very idea of what it means to be a test. These will require cooperation between the runner and the declaration format but can still provide modularity and compatibility.

Imagine I want to write a test framework that supports nested test suites. This model is actually compatible with existing simple tests that may already exist in the project so we declare an extension of Testable for our framework:

trait TestSuite: Testable {
    fn children(&self) -> impl Iterator<Item=TestSuite> {
        iter::empty() // A regular test has no children

impl<T> TestSuite for T where T: Testable {}

Now, the test runner I write will accept &[&dyn TestSuite] instead of &[&dyn Testable], but all Testable’s will continue to work. All that’s left is to decide the form of the struct and macro I wish to expose to my users. It could be something like this:

mod my_suite {
    fn foo() {}

    fn bar() {}

Because everything is still behind a trait, this approach would allow people to write their own TestSuite constructing macros and to produce alternate runners for TestSuite’s.

Useful Properties

This proposal has some implicit properties that are worth calling out:

Open Questions

While the proposal seems strong to me, there are still questions that need answering:

If you’re interested in playing around with the proposal, I’ve implemented it at djrenren/rust, and built some examples at djrenren/rust-test-frameworks.