In addition to the various functions that improved versions of the ok() function such as is and isnt, Test::More also provide a few functions to help displaying extra diagnostic messages.

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While we could use simple print statements instead of these functions, using these functions will ensure that our diagnostic messages won't interfere with any future changes in TAP, the Test Anything Protocol. So it is worth using them instead of print.

diag

diag() accepts a list of values, and will print it to the Standard Error stream of the test script preceded by a # sign to indicate to the TAP processor harness that this is just a comment. Not part of the protocol.

Given this script:

use strict;
use warnings;

use lib 'lib';
use MyTools;

use Test::More tests => 3;

diag "Add two numbers";
is(sum(1, 1),    2,     '1+1');
is(sum(2, 2),    4,     '2+2');

diag "Add 3 numbers";
is(sum(2, 2, 2), 6,  '2+2+2');

The output will look like this:

1..3
# Add two numbers
ok 1 - 1+1
ok 2 - 2+2
# Add 3 numbers
not ok 3 - 2+2+2
#   Failed test '2+2+2'
#   at t/33.t line 14.
#          got: '4'
#     expected: '6'
# Looks like you failed 1 test of 3.

note

When running the test script directly note() does the same as diag(), printing the parameters to STDERR. The difference occurs when we run the script under harness using prove. In that case messages printed using diag() will still show up, while messages printed by note() will be hidden.

This is a simple test script with a diag(), a note(), and a single ok() call.

use strict;
use warnings;
use Test::More tests => 1;


diag "This is from diag";
note "This if from note";
ok 1;

perl test.pl results in this output, where both diag and note messages can be seen:

1..1
# This is from diag
# This if from note
ok 1

Running via the harness using prove test.pl will generated this output, where only the diag message will show up.

# This is from diag
test.pl .. ok   
All tests successful.
Files=1, Tests=1,  1 wallclock secs ( 0.03 usr  0.00 sys +  0.02 cusr  0.00 csys =  0.05 CPU)
Result: PASS

explain

explain comes in handy when we need to print out complex data structures. It is like a smart version a href="https://metacpan.org/pod/Data::Dumper">Data::Dumper. If we give it a simple scalar it will return the same scalar and if we give it a reference to a data structure, we get a nicely formatted version of that data structure. Of course we still need to print it using either diag(), or note(), but it is nice and compact.

This sample script has 3 variables. First we call diag() passing each one of the variables. This produces readable output only if the variable had scalar content such as a string or a number. Then we call diag() 3 times passing what explain() returned.

use strict;
use warnings;

use lib 'lib';
use MyTools;

use Test::More tests => 2;


is(sum(1, 1),    2,     '1+1');
is(sum(2, 2),    4,     '2+2');

my $x = "String data";
my $y = [ 1, 2, 3 ];
my %h = (
    foo => 'bar',
    numbers => [ 42, 17 ],
);

diag $x;
diag $y;
diag \%h;

diag explain $x;
diag explain $y;
diag explain \%h;

In the resulting output we can see the usefulness of explain to understand what's going on in a test script.

1..2
ok 1 - 1+1
ok 2 - 2+2
# String data
# ARRAY(0x7f8151804268)
# HASH(0x7f81520737e8)
# String data
# [
#   1,
#   2,
#   3
# ]
# {
#   'foo' => 'bar',
#   'numbers' => [
#     42,
#     17
#   ]
# }

When to use diag, note, and explain?

If within a test script we have multiple areas that we are testing, it can be a god idea to use diag or note to mention this before the section.

If a test will take a long time and will seem to be "stuck", it can be a good idea to warn the user beforehand.

When debugging a test script it is definitely a good idea to print the content of variables using diag explain.

Sometimes the test script will have strange output that look like a failure or that have windows opening and closing on the desktop. It would be a good idea to warn the user about these.

If a test case fails the appropriate ok or is function will return false. It can be a good idea to print extra information using the following construct:

ok $condition, 'name' or diag explain $variable;

I can even imaging test cases that will explain how to report bugs if a test fails.