Browse Month: December 2015

Spies In LabVIEW

In my last post I covered how I am using unit testing in LabVIEW. In this post I want to share a useful tool on that journey.

Test Doubles

One of the first rules I operate under while testing is using as much of the real application as possible in testing a behaviour. Then each test becomes more valuable as it covers the integration of all the units as well as their contents.

Sometimes however this simply isn’t possible. You may need to talk to hardware that isn’t available, or a database or file that is hard to verify as part of the test (It’s normally possible somehow, but perhaps not worth it). This is where test doubles come in.

A test double is simply a substitute for a software component that you want to exclude from the test. In my last post I mentioned that OO make testing easier, this is why. If these components are written to an abstracted interface we can replace them with a double using dynamic dispatch.

Sometimes JohnnyDepp.lvclass can't be used (source
Sometimes JohnnyDepp.lvclass can’t be used (source)

There are different types of test doubles that are well covered in an article by Martin Fowler. Without getting bogged down into terminology these can return canned answers, simulate some behaviour or simply act as black holes for data!


One type is called a spy. A spy object is a way for us to peek inside an object. Essentially it is a double that stores information about how it was called so that you can query it later and make sure it was called in the way that you expected.

For example if we are sending a logging library a value of 1 to log, we want to see that the file writing function was called with a value of 1 for the channel name for itself.

Brittle Tests Health Warning – Overuse of this can create very brittle tests. The advantage of taking a high level approach to testing is that your tests aren’t coupled to implementation details which will change more than behaviours. If you use spies too much and you see a lot of implementation details you risk making tests that frequently break and/or require more maintenance.

Spies In LabVIEW

So how do we do this in LabVIEW? Because LabVIEW is a compiled language we must specifically implement new components that contain the spy abilities.

Essentially this component must be able to store the details of each call in a way that it can be read back later. You can do this however you like! But I have created a library to try and take some of the hard work out of it.

LabSpy API

By creating these spies inside of your class you can create a spy class that you can use in your testing. 


Typically when we do these there are a few steps:

  1. Create a setup and delete spies method which can be called in the setup and teardown of your test. Make sure the references they create are accessible (either output as an indicator or make accessible through another accessor).
  2. Create the override methods and add the register calls. If you want to track input parameters create a type def for them and wire into the parameters input of the register call function.
  3. Write the test and check the calls using the LabSpy API. The image below shows a simplified diagram showing what this could look like.

Simplified Test View

Now you can check that your software is making the calls with the correct parameters.

Where To Get It

This project is released under an open source license and you can find it on my github account at There is a VI Package so that you can install it into the palettes which you can download from

Feel free to download it, play with it, suggest fixes or add feature that you would find useful.

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