Shailen Tuli's blog

Thoughts on coding in Dart, Ruby, Python and Javascript

Writing Unit Tests for Pub Packages

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In this post I’m going to show you how to create a really simple Dart package. Because we would never want to write a package without testing the code in it, I will also introduce you to Dart’s quite excellent unittest framework.

Pub is Dart’s package mananger. After working through this post, you will be able to bundle your Dart libraries and share them with others on Pub.

For the purposes of this post, our package will be very basic and consist of a singe range() function modeled roughly on the Python builtin function with the same name.

range() will have the following signature:

List<num> range(num start, num stop, [num step = 1]);

It will return a list of ints between start and stop separated by step steps. Here is some sample usage:

range(0, 4);    // [0, 1, 2, 3]
range(1, 6, 2); // [1, 3, 5]

Let’s get started.

Create a simple package

Open up Dart Editor and create a New application called range. For this example, we will not be creating a web project, so uncheck Generate content for a basic web app when you create the application. But do make sure that Add Pub support is checked.

Delete the automatically created bin directory. We won’t be needing it.

Create a top level lib directory. Inside lib, create a range.dart file: the code for range() will go in here.

There are other directories and files that you should create - a README, a LICENSE, a doc/ folder for documentation, an example/ folder with examples showing usage of your package, etc. - but our focus here is on how to write unittests, so we’ll skip over those files and directories for now. To know what else you should be doing to make this a respectable package, see this excellent writeup on package layout conventions on the pub site.

Add unittest package to your library

With the basic files created for our package, let’s open up pubspec.yaml and add some metadata for our pub package (read more about Pubspec format). Every package must contain a pubspec.yaml; in fact, it is this file that makes it a package.

Add a simple description for the package and specify its only dependency, the unittest package. Your pubspec.yaml should look like this:

name:  range
description:  An approximate implementation of the range() function in Python.

  unittest: { sdk: unittest }

Run pub install (you can find it under Tools in the Editor). This will create a pubspec.lock file and a bunch of symlinks that are all necessary for the plumbing to work correctly; fortunately, Dart handles all these details for us.

Write some code

Let’s create a bare-bones implementation for range(). Add the following code to lib/range.dart:

library range; 

List<int> range(int start, int stop, [int step=1]) {
  if (start >= stop) {
    throw new ArgumentError("start must be less than stop");

  List<int> list = [];

  for (var i = start; i < stop; i+= step) {

  return list;

Write some tests

Create a top level test directory. Inside test, create a range_test.dart file: your tests will go in here. But before we can write our tests, test/range_test.dart needs access to the unittest package and the range library. At the top of range_test.dart, add these import statements:

import 'package:unittest/unittest.dart';
import 'package:range/range.dart';

Now add a couple of tests (we’ll need many more to really test range(), but these will do for now). Your range_test.dart should look like this:

import 'package:unittest/unittest.dart';
import 'package:range/range.dart';

void main() {
  test("range() produces a list that starts at `start`", () {
    expect(range(0, 4)[0], equals(0));

  test("range() throws an exception when start > stop", () {
    expect(() => range(5, 2), throwsA(new isInstanceOf<ArgumentError>()));

An individual test goes inside test(). expect() evaluates the equality between the expected and actual values. A string argument to test() describes the purpose of the test.

Run the tests (press the green arrow in the Editor; or, press CMD-R if you are using a Mac; or, type dart test/range_test.dart on the command line). Watch the output produced by the editor:

PASS: range() produces a list that starts at `start`
PASS: range() throws an exception when start > stop

All 2 tests passed.


So, we managed to create a minimal Dart package, made it (barely) good enough to put on pub, and wrote a few tests. This is a good start, of course, but we have only scratched the surface of how we should test our packages. For a very thorough explanation of how the unittest framework works in Dart, I would highly recommend a careful reading of Unit Testing with Dart by Google engineer Graham Wheeler. He goes into considerable details about writing tests, defining setUp() and tearDown(), running asynchronous tests, using and creating matchers, and configuring your test environment.