By Marko Ivanković, Google Zürich
Code coverage is a very interesting metric, covered by a large body of research that reaches somewhat contradictory results. Some people think it is an extremely useful metric and that a certain percentage of coverage should be enforced on all code. Some think it is a useful tool to identify areas that need more testing but don’t necessarily trust that covered code is truly well tested. Others yet think that measuring coverage is actively harmful because it provides a false sense of security.
Our team’s mission was to collect coverage related data then develop and champion code coverage practices across Google. We designed an opt-in system where engineers could enable two different types of coverage measurements for their projects: daily and per-commit. With daily coverage, we run all tests for their project, where as with per-commit coverage we run only the tests affected by the commit. The two measurements are independent and many projects opted into both.
While we did experiment with branch, function and statement coverage, we ended up focusing mostly on statement coverage because of its relative simplicity and ease of visualization.
How we measured
Our job was made significantly easier by the wonderful Google build system whose parallelism and flexibility allowed us to simply scale our measurements to Google scale. The build system had integrated various language-specific open source coverage measurement tools like Gcov (C++), Emma / JaCoCo (Java) and Coverage.py (Python), and we provided a central system where teams could sign up for coverage measurement.
For daily whole project coverage measurements, each team was provided with a simple cronjob that would run all tests across the project’s codebase. The results of these runs were available to the teams in a centralized dashboard that displays charts showing coverage over time and allows daily / weekly / quarterly / yearly aggregations and per-language slicing. On this dashboard teams can also compare their project (or projects) with any other project, or Google as a whole.
For per-commit measurement, we hook into the Google code review process (briefly explained in this article) and display the data visually to both the commit author and the reviewers. We display the data on two levels: color coded lines right next to the color coded diff and a total aggregate number for the entire commit.
Displayed above is a screenshot of the code review tool. The green line coloring is the standard diff coloring for added lines. The orange and lighter green coloring on the line numbers is the coverage information. We use light green for covered lines, orange for non-covered lines and white for non-instrumented lines.
It’s important to note that we surface the coverage information before the commit is submitted to the codebase, because this is the time when engineers are most likely to be interested in improving it.
I am happy to say that we can share some preliminary results with you today:
The chart above is the histogram of average values of measured absolute coverage across Google. The median (50th percentile) code coverage is 78%, the 75th percentile 85% and 90th percentile 90%. We believe that these numbers represent a very healthy codebase.
We have also found it very interesting that there are significant differences between languages:
The table above shows the total coverage of all analyzed code for each language, averaged over the past quarter. We believe that the large difference is due to structural, paradigm and best practice differences between languages and the more precise ability to measure coverage in certain languages.
Note that these numbers should not be interpreted as guidelines for a particular language, the aggregation method used is too simple for that. Instead this finding is simply a data point for any future research that analyzes samples from a single programming language.
The feedback from our fellow engineers was overwhelmingly positive. The most loved feature was surfacing the coverage information during code review time. This early surfacing of coverage had a statistically significant impact: our initial analysis suggests that it increased coverage by 10% (averaged across all commits).
We are aware that there are a few problems with the dataset we collected. In particular, the individual tools we use to measure coverage are not perfect. Large integration tests, end to end tests and UI tests are difficult to instrument, so large parts of code exercised by such tests can be misreported as non-covered.
We are working on improving the tools, but also analyzing the impact of unit tests, integration tests and other types of tests individually.
In addition to languages, we will also investigate other factors that might influence coverage, such as platforms and frameworks, to allow all future research to account for their effect.
We will be publishing more of our findings in the future, so stay tuned.
And if this sounds like something you would like to work on, why not apply on our job site?