PropEr testing of process interaction

by Eirini Arvaniti – some additions and fixes by Kostis Sagonas

In this tutorial, we will use PropEr to test a group of interacting processes. The system under test consists of one master and multiple slave processes. The main concept is that the master plays ping-pong (i.e. exchanges ping and pong messages) with all slave processes, which do not interact with each other. For the rest of this tutorial, we will refer to the slave processes as the ping-pong players.

The ping-pong master

The ping-pong master is implemented as an Erlang gen_server. The internal state of the server is a dictionary containing the scores (i.e. the number of ping-pong message exchanges with the master) of the ping-pong players. External clients can make the following requests:

In order to test the stand-alone behaviour of the ping-pong master we can define an abstract state machine, as described in this tutorial about testing generic servers with PropEr. The state machine specification for the ping-pong master can be found here.

The ping-pong players

A ping-pong player is a process spawned and registered as Name that executes the following loop:

ping_pong_player(Name) ->
    receive
        ping_pong ->
            ping(Name);
        {tennis, From} ->
            From ! maybe_later;
        {football, From} ->
            From ! no_way
    end,
    ping_pong_player(Name).

When a player is asked by an external client to play ping-pong, she will send a ping message to the ping-pong master. On the other hand, if asked to play tennis or football, the player replies with a message expressing her dislike for any sport other than ping-pong. The API for interacting with a ping-pong player is the following:

play_ping_pong(Player) ->
    Player ! ping_pong,
    ok.

play_tennis(Player) ->
    Player ! {tennis, self()},
    receive
        Reply -> Reply
    end.

play_football(Player) ->
    Player ! {football, self()},
    receive
        Reply -> Reply
    end.

It's ping-pong time!

It's now time to test that the system behaves as expected when the ping-pong players interact with the master. To this end, we will specify an abstract state machine modeling the master's internal state, just as we would do to test the stand-alone behaviour of the master. We choose to base our state machine specification on the master process because this is the main component of the system under test. But now, instead of making ping/1 calls directly to the master, we will instruct the ping-pong players to do so by performing the asynchronous play_ping_pong/1 call. Moreover, we will include synchronous play_tennis/1 calls to the ping-pong players, to test that such calls do not influence the players' interaction with the master. In our case, this is quite obvious. But when testing, for example, the interaction of processes in a big supervision tree, we cannot be sure about the possible side-effects of each operation.

On the other hand, it is important to keep the complexity of our model at a reasonable level. Otherwise, it's quite probable to make errors in the state machine specification. For each different feature we would like to test, defining a simple state machine that concentrates on the operations related to that feature will usually reveal any inconsistencies between the model and the actual system behaviour. These inconsistencies will be reflected in the results of the selected API calls.

Below we give the abstract state machine that will be used to test the ping-pong system. As usual, it specifies:

Having successfully tested the stand-alone behaviour of the master, we expect this property to pass the tests:

prop_ping_pong_works() ->
    ?FORALL(Cmds, commands(?MODULE),
            ?TRAPEXIT(
                begin
                    ?MASTER:start_link(),
                    {History,State,Result} = run_commands(?MODULE, Cmds),
                    ?MASTER:stop(),
                    ?WHENFAIL(io:format("History: ~w\nState: ~w\nResult: ~w\n",
                                        [History, State, Result]),
                              aggregate(command_names(Cmds), Result =:= ok))
                end)).

But...

5> proper:quickcheck(ping_pong_statem:prop_ping_pong_works()).
...............
=ERROR REPORT==== 30-May-2011::01:50:11 ===
** Generic server ping_pong terminating
** Last message in was {'$gen_cast',stop}
** When Server state ==  <...internal representation of the state...>
** Reason for termination ==
** {badarg,[{erlang,exit,[undefined,kill]},
            {ping_pong,'-terminate/2-lc$^0/1-0-',1},
            {ping_pong,terminate,2},
            {gen_server,terminate,6},
            {proc_lib,init_p_do_apply,3}]}
..!
Failed: After 18 test(s).
[{set,{var,1},{call,ping_pong,add_player,[mary]}},
 {set,{var,2},{call,ping_pong,play_ping_pong,[mary]}},
 {set,{var,3},{call,ping_pong,play_ping_pong,[mary]}},
 {set,{var,4},{call,ping_pong,get_score,[mary]}},
 {set,{var,5},{call,ping_pong,add_player,[mary]}},
 {set,{var,6},{call,ping_pong,play_tennis,[mary]}},
 {set,{var,7},{call,ping_pong,play_tennis,[mary]}},
 {set,{var,8},{call,ping_pong,play_tennis,[mary]}},
 {set,{var,9},{call,ping_pong,remove_player,[mary]}}]
History: [{{state,[],{dict,0,16,16,8,80,48,{[],[],[],[],[],[],[],[],[],[],[],[],[],[],
           [],[]},{{[],[],[],[],[],[],[],[],[],[],[],[],[],[],[],[]}}}},ok},
          {{state,[mary],{dict,1,16,16,8,80,48,{[],[],[],[],[],[],[],[],[],[],[],[],[],
           [],[],[]},{{[],[],[],[],[],[],[],[],[],[[mary|0]],[],[],[],[],[],[]}}}},ok},
          {{state,[mary],{dict,1,16,16,8,80,48,{[],[],[],[],[],[],[],[],[],[],[],[],[],
           [],[],[]},{{[],[],[],[],[],[],[],[],[],[[mary|1]],[],[],[],[],[],[]}}}},ok},
          {{state,[mary],{dict,1,16,16,8,80,48,{[],[],[],[],[],[],[],[],[],[],[],[],[],
           [],[],[]},{{[],[],[],[],[],[],[],[],[],[[mary|2]],[],[],[],[],[],[]}}}},0}]
State: {state,[mary],{dict,1,16,16,8,80,48,{[],[],[],[],[],[],[],[],[],[],[],[],[],[],
        [],[]},{{[],[],[],[],[],[],[],[],[],[[mary|2]],[],[],[],[],[],[]}}}}
Result: {postcondition,false}

Shrinking ...(3 time(s))
[{set,{var,1},{call,ping_pong,add_player,[mary]}},
 {set,{var,3},{call,ping_pong,play_ping_pong,[mary]}},
 {set,{var,4},{call,ping_pong,get_score,[mary]}}]
History: [{{state,[],{dict,0,16,16,8,80,48,{[],[],[],[],[],[],[],[],[],[],[],[],[],[],
           [],[]},{{[],[],[],[],[],[],[],[],[],[],[],[],[],[],[],[]}}}},ok},
          {{state,[mary],{dict,1,16,16,8,80,48,{[],[],[],[],[],[],[],[],[],[],[],[],[],
           [],[],[]},{{[],[],[],[],[],[],[],[],[],[[mary|0]],[],[],[],[],[],[]}}}},ok},
          {{state,[mary],{dict,1,16,16,8,80,48,{[],[],[],[],[],[],[],[],[],[],[],[],[],
           [],[],[]},{{[],[],[],[],[],[],[],[],[],[[mary|1]],[],[],[],[],[],[]}}}},0}]
State: {state,[mary],{dict,1,16,16,8,80,48,{[],[],[],[],[],[],[],[],[],[],[],[],[],[],
        [],[]},{{[],[],[],[],[],[],[],[],[],[[mary|1]],[],[],[],[],[],[]}}}}
Result: {postcondition,false}
false

...the property fails, along with error reports on the server crashing!

What is more, the History and State fields contain dictionaries which are printed out based on their internal representation. We decide to deal with this issue by including some pretty-printing functions in the property, so as to output more informative debugging information.

pretty_history(History) ->
    [{pretty_state(State),Result} || {State,Result} <- History].

pretty_state(#state{scores = Scores} = S) ->
    S#state{scores = dict:to_list(Scores)}.

prop_ping_pong_works() ->
    ?FORALL(Cmds, commands(?MODULE),
            ?TRAPEXIT(
                begin
                    ?MASTER:start_link(),
                    {History,State,Result} = run_commands(?MODULE, Cmds),
                    ?MASTER:stop(),
                    ?WHENFAIL(io:format("History: ~w\nState: ~w\nRes: ~w\n",
                                       [pretty_history(History), pretty_state(State), Result]),
                              aggregate(command_names(Cmds), Result =:= ok))
                end)).

And run the test once more:

7> proper:quickcheck(ping_pong_statem:prop_ping_pong_works()).
.............
=ERROR REPORT==== 30-May-2011::02:09:56 ===
** Generic server ping_pong terminating
** Last message in was {'$gen_cast',stop}
** When Server state == <...internal representation of the state...>
** Reason for termination ==
** {badarg,[{erlang,exit,[undefined,kill]},
            {ping_pong,'-terminate/2-lc$^0/1-0-',1},
            {ping_pong,terminate,2},
            {gen_server,terminate,6},
            {proc_lib,init_p_do_apply,3}]}
.
=ERROR REPORT==== 30-May-2011::02:09:56 ===
<...similar error report...>
..........!
Failed: After 25 test(s).
[{set,{var,1},{call,ping_pong,add_player,[alice]}},
 {set,{var,2},{call,ping_pong,play_ping_pong,[alice]}},
 {set,{var,3},{call,ping_pong,play_tennis,[alice]}},
 {set,{var,4},{call,ping_pong,play_tennis,[alice]}},
 {set,{var,5},{call,ping_pong,remove_player,[alice]}},
 {set,{var,6},{call,ping_pong,add_player,[mary]}},
 {set,{var,7},{call,ping_pong,play_ping_pong,[mary]}},
 {set,{var,8},{call,ping_pong,get_score,[mary]}},
 {set,{var,9},{call,ping_pong,add_player,[john]}},
 {set,{var,10},{call,ping_pong,play_tennis,[john]}},
 {set,{var,11},{call,ping_pong,add_player,[alice]}},
 {set,{var,12},{call,ping_pong,add_player,[bob]}},
 {set,{var,13},{call,ping_pong,play_tennis,[john]}}]
History: [{{state,[],[]},ok},{{state,[alice],[{alice,0}]},ok},
          {{state,[alice],[{alice,1}]},maybe_later},
          {{state,[alice],[{alice,1}]},maybe_later},
          {{state,[alice],[{alice,1}]},{removed,alice}},
          {{state,[],[]},ok},{{state,[mary],[{mary,0}]},ok},
          {{state,[mary],[{mary,1}]},0}]
State: {state,[mary],[{mary,1}]}
Result: {postcondition,false}

Shrinking ........(8 time(s))
[{set,{var,6},{call,ping_pong,add_player,[mary]}},
 {set,{var,7},{call,ping_pong,play_ping_pong,[mary]}},
 {set,{var,8},{call,ping_pong,get_score,[mary]}}]
History: [{{state,[],[]},ok},{{state,[mary],[{mary,0}]},ok},
          {{state,[mary],[{mary,1}]},0}]
State: {state,[mary],[{mary,1}]}
Result: {postcondition,false}
false

Of course the property still fails and new error reports are produced. This happens because the asynchronous play_ping_pong/1 operation introduces non-determinism in the order in which messages are received by the server. Here we can see yet another benefit of property based testing: it helps to increase our understanding about process interaction in the system under test.

Fixing the postcondition of get_score/1 so as to achieve deterministic results is quite simple in this case:

postcondition(S, {call,_,get_score,[Name]}, Result) ->
    Result =< proplists:get_value(Name, S#state.scores);

The error reports, however, are triggered by a not-so-evident bug in the code. They are occassionaly produced when stopping the server, because of an attempt to get and subsequently kill the pid associated with a name that is actually not present in the process registry. Let us re-examine the code that's executed when stopping the server:

terminate(_Reason, Dict) ->
    Players = dict:fetch_keys(Dict),
    lists:foreach(fun (Name) -> exit(whereis(Name), kill) end, Players).

The exception raised suggests that there exist some names which are stored in the server's internal dictionary, but are not associated with any (process) pid. But where do these names come from? To get the answer we have to take a look at how ping messages are handled by the server:

handle_call({ping, FromName}, _From, Dict) ->
    {reply, pong, dict:update_counter(FromName, 1, Dict)};

This suggests that incoming ping messages associated with names not present in the server's dictionary are actually inserted in the dictionary. When we perform an asynchronous play_ping_pong/1 request to a player, there is a chance that this player might be removed before her ping message is received by the master. In this case, when the master eventually receives the ping message, the name of the removed player will be added to the dictionary, despite not being associated with any process. Having spotted the bug, we can easily fix it:

handle_call({ping, FromName}, _From, Dict) ->
    case dict:is_key(FromName, Dict) of
        true ->
            {reply, pong, dict:update_counter(FromName, 1, Dict)};
        false ->
            {reply, {removed, FromName}, Dict}
    end;

And now the property successfully passes the tests:

11> proper:quickcheck(ping_pong_statem:prop_ping_pong_works()).
<...3000 dots...>
OK: Passed 3000 test(s).

34% {ping_pong,add_player,1}
16% {ping_pong,remove_player,1}
16% {ping_pong,play_ping_pong,1}
16% {ping_pong,play_tennis,1}
16% {ping_pong,get_score,1}
true

You can get the complete final code of this tutorial by clicking on the following links: master_statem, ping_pong and ping_pong_statem.