Hugo Martins

On Unit Testing in Temporal

I’ve been using Temporal, “a developer-first, open source platform that ensures the successful execution of services and applications”, for troubleshooting purposes for a while now. We use it quite extensively at Datadog. Recently, I’ve started actually implementing something on top of Temporal and was amazed at the simplicity of its testing framework.

At first I was a bit confused, as I’m interested in Go and could only find documentation focusing on Java. Eventually, I found How to test Workflow Definitions in Go, a great introduction to the testing framework that Temporal offers with testsuite.

It all starts with a WorkflowTestSuite, in which we can initialize a TestWorkflowEnvironment. This TestWorkflowEnvironment is powerful and we immediately get access to a few important functions, such as AssertExpectations or ExecuteWorkflow. These allow you to do things as diverse as checking that all expected calls (to mocks) have been made and to execute a workflow inside a test environment. We can use RegisterActivity or RegisterWorkflow as well, to ensure our Activities and Workflows are available in the environment we’ll execute our tests in.

Unfortunately, as pointed out in Temporal’s documentation, “unless the Activity invocations are mocked(…) the test environment will execute the actual Activity code including any calls to outside services." This is particularly harmful if the Activities being invoked execute code that makes calls to endpoints on a network because:

  • it makes the tests unable to execute without connecting to the network;
  • it makes for unreliable and inconsistent behaviour of the tests;
  • and it doesn’t allow us to test multiple failure modes.

For this reason, Temporal’s testing framework offers methods to mock Activities in a TestWorkflowEnvironment such as OnActivity. This works well when the Activities are implemented internally but I couldn’t get it to work when the Activities are implemented in a third-party package.

I read a bit of the temporalio/samples-go repository, which houses a collection of samples and accompanying tests, to understand what needs to be done. It is seems simple enough:

type UnitTestSuite struct {

func (s *UnitTestSuite) TestSampleWorkflow() {
	// Initialize test environment for UnitTestSuite.
	env = s.NewTestWorkflowEnvironment()

	// Register needed Activities.

	// Mock Activities.
	env.OnActivity(externalpackage.ExternalActivity, mock.Anything, mock.Anything).Return(nil)

	// Execute Workflow and Assert.

I was surprised it was this easy. I confess I was expecting a little bit more complexity. That might be due to my lack of knowledge about the internals of Temporal, but I have to say I was quite excited about how easily I was able to make progress.