Setup and teardown in HUnit

Published on 25 February 2012.

I was pairing with @testobsessed on the file organization application and we were writing tests in HUnit (the xUnit framework for Haskell).

We noticed that HUnit has no built-in support for setUp and tearDown.

In this post I explain how it can be implemented in HUnit. I explain how it is different from traditional xUnit frameworks and highlight why I think it’s more beautiful.

Also, thanks to this blog post for giving us the idea how to implement it.


We were writing sort of like an acceptance test for importing files: when you import a file, it should be moved from its source directory to a new directory inside the destination directory. Additional meta data about the imported file should also be written.

To write this test, we need a temporary directory where we can create files to import and also create the destination directory where the files should be imported to.

When the test has run, we want the temporary directory to disappear so we don’t fill up the file system with test files.

Python implementation

In Python, I would implement it like this:

class TestOrgApp(unittest.TestCase):

    def setUp(self):
        self.tmp_dir = tempfile.mkdtemp(prefix="org-app-test")

    def tearDown(self):

    def testCanImportFile(self):
        # Test that does something with self.tmp_dir

Before each test is run, we create a temporary directory somewhere in the file system. Each test can use that directory for any purpose. It is then automatically removed after each test is run. (shutil.rmtree removes the directory and all of its content.)

It works similarly in other xUnit frameworks.

A test case in HUnit

Before I explain how you can achieve the same behavior in HUnit, let me show you what a simple test file can look like. Here is an example:

import Test.HUnit

tests = test
    [ "can add small numbers" ~: do
        (1 + 2) @?= 3

    , "can add large numbers" ~: do
        (10 + 20) @?= 30

main = runTestTT tests

Each test case is represented by a do-block. In this case, the do-block creates an IO action. You can think of it as a function that can perform IO operations such as reading a file from disk. A test can also be preceded with a label to give it a name.

If we run this, we get

Cases: 2  Tried: 2  Errors: 0  Failures: 0
Counts {cases = 2, tried = 2, errors = 0, failures = 0}

If we make a mistake, we get

### Failure in: 1:can add large numbers
expected: 31
 but got: 30
Cases: 2  Tried: 2  Errors: 0  Failures: 1
Counts {cases = 2, tried = 2, errors = 0, failures = 1}

Notice that there is no notion of a test class or setUp and tearDown methods in this file. A test suite is just a list of functions which each performs a test.

Haskell implementation

The way you implement setUp and tearDown in a HUnit is to include it in every test function that needs it. Something like this:

"can import file" ~: do
    tmpDir <- createDirectory "/tmp/org-app-test"
    -- Test that does something with tmpDir
    removeDirectoryRecursive tmpDir

This almost works. It fails if an exception is thrown in the test code. Then removeDirectoryRecursive is never called. We need to fix that.

We can extract this pattern into a function:

withTemporaryDirectory :: (FilePath -> IO ()) -> IO ()
withTemporaryDirectory = bracket setUp tearDown
        tmpDir   = "/tmp/org-app-test"
        setUp    = createDirectory tmpDir >> return tmpDir
        tearDown = removeDirectoryRecursive

The bracket function is similar to a try-finally block. It will always run the setUp function. If that succeeds, it will run the function passed in (the test in our case), and then always run the tearDown function, no matter if the test throws and exception or not.

It is roughly equivalent to this:

tmpDir = setUp()
    # Test that does something with tmpDir

We can use withTemporaryDirectory like this:

"can import file" ~: withTemporaryDirectory $ \tmpDir -> do
    -- Test that does something with tmpDir

The backslash syntax introduces a lambda function. So the test calls withTemporaryDirectory with one argument which is a function. (The signature of the function is FilePath -> IO ().) That function is run by withTemporaryDirectory in between the setUp and tearDown.

So for every test that needs this setup, we just need to insert this snippet between the label and the do:

withTemporaryDirectory $ \tmpDir ->

The beauty

I think several aspects of this approach are more elegant than in traditional xUnit frameworks:

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