Pure Unit Testing in Apex

Unit tests are something that every Salesforce developer is familiar with. We all need to exceed the 75% code coverage requirements, but why does Salesforce impose this requirement upon us, and what makes a high quality unit test? In this post we will:

  • Discuss the fundamental concepts of unit testing
  • Look at the quality signals of a good unit test
  • Discuss issues with the status quo in the Salesforce ecosystem.
  • Share tips and tricks to boost unit test performance

Unit Testing Overview

What are Unit Tests?

Within a software project, units are the most fine-grained or atomic pieces of software that could be possibly tested. We can identity units within our applications by taking a look at our interfaces and public methods.

A unit test is a piece of code that validates that a unit is working properly. Every time that we write a new unit test, we are leaving a breadcrumb on the trail of our thoughts so that the next generation of developers on our project can understand the original intent of our application.

How Should Test be Used?

Tests are to be executed whenever a new change is proposed to our application. Executing tests in this way gives us as developers confidence that our newly proposed code changes do not impact historically delivered functionality.

Authoring unit tests which clearly describe the intent of the code and executing them with every proposed change allows the unit tests to act as an internal compass and an automatic self-documentation mechanism for any modifications to the application throughout its entire lifecycle.

The Big Picture

Writing unit tests is about much more than obtaining 75% code coverage. We want to write unit tests which define the system’s behavior because unit tests are the low level system specifications. We should execute all tests as a prerequisite for performing code review to give our team confidence that the proposed change does not impact any historically delivered functionality.

Path to Repository

Quality Signals

Like any type of code, some unit tests are written better than others. Some of the quality signals we look for within a unit test are defined below.

Descriptive Name

Our unit tests should be descriptive and give the reader clear understanding of the intent of the functionality we are testing.



Single Source of Failure

A unit test should only ever have one reason it can possibly fail. This helps to guarantee the utility of the test as a valid prerequisite for proposed code modifications, and makes your development and delivery process much easier to maintain.


A unit test should operate the same way every time it is executed. It should not matter if it is executed in a scratch org, sandbox, or production. A test should operate the same way if the test is executed by a system administrator or by a DevOps system user. A test should not depend upon any existing user records or custom metadata within the application. Writing tests which operate in this way help to reduce false negatives of execution failures.


A unit test should be extremely cheap to construct, execute, and report on. Ideally, we want our unit tests to only be a handful of lines, and they should be able to execute extremely fast. We should try to make unit tests which are no more than 45 lines of code and take no more than 100ms to execute.

Arrange, Act, Assert

In general, we want to follow the Arrange, Act, Assert protocol for defining the structure of our tests.

Arrange: The first part of our test should construct objects in memory to set up our test.

Act: Next, we should make the explicit method call we are trying to test.

Assert: Finally, we should make assertions about the state of the system after the method call is completed.


Here is an example of a unit test which passes all of our defined quality signals.

private class UselessStringBuilderTest {

  private static void buildShouldConcatenateTwoStringsTogether() {
    UselessStringBuilder myStringBuilder = new UselessStringBuilder(); // arrange

    String response = myStringBuilder.build('Hello ', 'World!'); // act

      'Hello World!',
      'Failed to properly concatenate two strings.'
    ); // assert

Issues with the Status Quo

Types of Tests

There are three types of tests we can define in any software project.

A unit test is meant to test the interfaces and public method signatures within our application. Because each unit test is so small in scope, we want to keep their execution time as low as possible and construct many of them.

An integration test is meant to test the behavior of the application when many parts of the system are interacting with each other, such as the server logic and the database. Integration tests take longer to execute and they can break in more ways than a unit test, so we want to construct and own less of them than unit tests.

An end-to-end test is meant to emulate end user behavior by launching a headless browser and emulating the click paths of users. End-to-end tests take much more time to construct, operate, and maintain than the other kinds of tests so we want to construct even less of them.

Explicit Database Dependency

As Salesforce Developers, we sometimes forget how to classify our interactions with the database when writing tests. Apex treats the Database as a first class citizen within the language; we can execute a query and directly assign the query results to objects in memory. This is not the norm for any other technology stack.

Because of this uniquely low friction when interacting with the database, we as Salesforce developers often accidentally define integration tests instead of pure unit tests. Consider the following code block:

Long before = System.currentTimeMillis();
insert new Case(Origin='Email', Status= 'New');
Long after = System.currentTimeMillis();
System.debug('MS to insert a Case : ' + (after - before));

This code takes 197ms to execute when executed in an empty scratch org - which doesn’t sound that long in human terms, but we need to realize that this is as fast as it ever will be.

As the application grows and more automation gets introduced to the Case sObject - that insertion time is going to continue to increase, so any tests which insert a Case record will execute slower and slower as time goes on. Eventually, running the whole collection of tests for your application will become a burden for your developers, and it will inhibit your team’s ability to deliver code on a timely basis.

Unit Test Performance

Fake Record Ids

Generally speaking, when writing a pure unit test, we want to avoid performing any DML operations. One trick to help us avoid such database interactions is to use fake record Ids. Consider the following code:

Long before = System.currentTimeMillis();
Case myCase = new Case(
 Id = TestUtility.getFakeId(Case.SObjectType),
 Origin = 'Email',
 Status = 'New'
Long after = System.currentTimeMillis();
System.debug('MS to construct a Case : ' + (after - before));

This code takes 2ms to execute - no matter if in an empty scratch org, or a sandbox, or in a production org that has been running for 9 years. We construct the fake record Id by using a TestUtility class.

public class TestUtility {
  static Integer myNumber = 1;

  public static Id getFakeId(Schema.SObjectType sObjectType) {
    String index = String.valueOf(myNumber++);
    return (Id) (sObjectType.getDescribe().getKeyPrefix() +
    '0'.repeat(12 - index.length()) +

Constructing fake record Ids will help us to decrease the necessity of inserting a record just to prepare it for use within a unit test, but sometimes we have more complicated interactions with the database than just obtaining a record Id.

Virtual Selectors

When our application logic needs to query for records within the database, we often insert the records as part of the setup for the test. Take the following class diagram as an example:

AccountController and Test

We can imagine that the getAccountFromId method must execute a query to fetch the account from the given record Id. In order to write a test for this class, we would traditionally write something like this where we insert the account, then pass its Id into the method call.

static void getCalculatedCategoryShouldReturnNorthIfBillingStateIsMinnesota() {
  AccountController controllerUnderTest = new AccountController();
  Account testAccount = new Account(
    Name = 'Acme',
    BillingState = 'Minnesota',
  insert testAccount;

  String category = controllerUnderTest.getCalculatedCategory(testAccount.Id);

    'The Category is supposed to be north if the Account BillingState is Minnesota'

This would work, and it’s a fine quality test, but it is not a pure unit test - this is an integration test. When we insert the testAccount, we are interacting with the database and introducing multiple places where this test can fail that have nothing to do with the calculation of the category. To remedy this situation, we will introduce a new private virtual inner Selector class within the AccountController class.

Virtual Selector and Test

Then we can use a FakeSelector class within our test that extends the AccountController.Selector class and overrides its getAccountFromId method, and inject the query results at construction.

public class AccountController {
  @TestVisible AccountController.Selector selector = new AccountController.Selector();

  private Account getAccountFromId(Id recordId) {
    List<Account> accounts = selector.getAccountFromId(recordId);
    if (accounts.isEmpty()) {
      throw new AuraHandledException(Constants.INVALID_RECORD_ID + recordId);
    return accounts[0];

  private virtual with sharing class Selector {
    public virtual List<Account> getAccountFromId(Id accountId) {
      return [
        SELECT Id, BillingState, ParentId, Parent.BillingState
        FROM Account
        WHERE Id = :accountId
private class AccountControllerTest {
  static void getCalculatedCategoryShouldReturnNorthIfBillingStateIsMinnesota() {
    AccountController controllerUnderTest = new AccountController();
    Account mockedAccount = new Account(
      Id = TestUtility.getFakeId(Account.SObjectType),
      Name = 'Acme',
      BillingState = 'Minnesota'
    controllerUnderTest.selector = new FakeSelector(
      new List<Account>{ mockedAccount }

    String category = controllerUnderTest.getCalculatedCategory(

      'The Category is supposed to be north if the Account BillingState is Minnesota'

  private inherited sharing class FakeSelector extends AccountController.Selector {
    private List<Account> theAccounts;
    public FakeSelector(List<Account> theAccounts) {
      this.theAccounts = theAccounts;
    public override List<Account> getAccountFromId(Id accountId) {
      return this.theAccounts;

This test will operate in a constant amount of time, no matter how much automation is introduced on the Account sObject. This test can only fail if the getCalculatedCategory method is written incorrectly. This test is also is an example of Dependency Injection - the AccountController depends upon the existence of an Account record object. Traditionally, we would fetch that record from the database. Here, we are constructing our class in such a way where we can inject the account query results in at construction of the FakeSelector. This technique is extremely useful to help improve the testability of your code. As your team matures and you start discussing Test Driven Development and execution of all tests as a prerequisite for code review, techniques like this will become of greater importance during the application lifecycle development process.

Challenge: Test Everything Without DML

My challenge to you is to try to test all of your logic without executing any DML operations. So far, we have discussed using Fake record Ids, and Virtual Selector classes to help isolate our application functionality from the database and allow us to author more pure unit tests. These are helpful, but they are not a complete set of tools for all scenarios - there are some opportunities for improvement.

Try to write a TestUtility method which will allow you to set read only fields on sObjects in memory during test execution. This will help you to test any logic which relies on a formula, or rollup summary field value without interacting with the database.

Next, write a TestUtility method which will allow you to set parent-child relationships in memory. This will allow you to test application logic which relies on the execution of a subquery without needing to insert any records in the first place.

Finally, similar to how we used dependency injection to test the AccountController using the Selector, try to write a DML class which will allow you to mock the Database.SaveResult, Database.DeleteResult, etc. objects which are returned to you at runtime during a test.


Employing all of these techniques will help you to write pure unit tests which operate in a constant amount of time and can be executed as a prerequisite for code review. This will help your team build a suite of tests that can help improve your confidence that your application is still operating in the way you intend.