unit and acceptance testing, automation, productivity

How to test Swift async/await code with XCTest

⚠️ – This post refers to beta software. I'll try to keep it up to date, but it's possible some of the code samples won't work out of the box. All the code is available on GitHub. Latest update: Xcode 13.0 beta 1 (13A5154h)

Concurrency was one of the biggest and most welcome additions to Swift officially announced at WWDC 2021. Swift now supports the async/await pattern, first introduced in F# in the late 2000s and then adopted in other languages including JavaScript, TypeScript, and Rust.

This is a huge improvement for developers and it will help describe the code in a way that is easier to reason about and safer to update.

Let's look at how to write unit tests for code using async await in Xcode 13 with XCTest.

How to unit test async/await code

I'm a sucker for culinary examples, my book Test-Driven Development in Swift uses a restaurant menu ordering app to teach TDD, and I was delighted to see Apple introduce async/await in the Xcode 13.0 beta 1 release notes using asynchronous functions to prepare dinner. Let's stick with Apple's examples and write a test for the asynchronous chopVegetables method to ensure the vegetables are properly chopped by checking that the returning array has more than one element.

Because async/await is a feature at the Swift language level, to test an async function we can use the same approach we'd use to consume that code in production: call it with await.

func chopVegetables() async throws -> [Vegetable]

func testChoppingVegetablesReturnsManyVegetables() async throws {
    let vegetables = try await chopVegetables()
    XCTAssertGreaterThan(vegetables.count, 1)

That's it.

To appreciate how neater this is than the approach we used before the introduction of async await, let me show you the same test but for a chopVegetables version using callbacks and Result.

func chopVegetables(completion: @escaping (Result<[Vegetable], CookingError>) -> Void) { ... }

func testChoppingVegetablesReturnsManyVegetables() {
    let expectation = XCTestExpectation(description: "Chops the vegetables")

    chopVegetables { result in
        guard case .success(let vegetables) = result else { return }
        XCTAssertGreaterThan(vegetables.count, 1)

    wait(for: [expectation], timeout: 1)

The contrast is striking. asycn/await is certainly a welcome change on the testing side of the codebase, too!

How do async/await tests fail?

If the code we're awaiting throws, the test will fail like any other test that throws.

screenshot of test failure

If you want to have more refined error handling, you can wrap the try await call in a do catch.

func testChoppingVegetablesReturnsManyVegetables() async {
    do {
        let vegetables = try await chopVegetables(using: Knife(sharpness: .low))
        XCTAssertGreaterThan(vegetables.count, 1)
    } catch {
        XCTFail("Expected chopped vegetables, but failed \(error).")

Using do catch, you can generate more informative failures messages, which will help you triage and fix failed tests in the future.

How to test the failure path in async/await code

You can use the do catch approach to verify how async/await code fails.

Let's extend the Apple examples by adding a Knife parameter to the chopping function and expecting an error to be thrown if the knife is blunt.

func testChoppingVegetablesThrowsWhenKnifeBlunt() {
    do {
        _ = try await chopVegetables(using: Knife(sharpness: .low))
        XCTFail("Expected to throw while awaiting, but succeeded")
    } catch {
        XCTAssertEqual(error as? CookingError, .knifeTooBlunt)

Unfortunately the XCTAssertThorwsError and the other assertion APIs don't support concurrency yet, so do catch is the only option to test the error path of async code.

screenshot of unsupported concurrency error

The introduction of async/await in Swift is a fantastic improvement and the teams behind XCTest and Xcode 13 have done a great job enabling developers to write tests for this new breed of asynchronous code out of the box. Not only it doesn't require learning new APIs, but also greatly improves conciseness and understandability in the test code.

What do you think of asycn/await? Have you got any tips for testing asynchronous code? Leave a comment below or reach out on Twitter at @mokagio.

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