Unit Testing versus Functional Tests

Unit tests tell a developer that the code is doing things right; functional tests tell a developer that the code is doing the right things.

Unit tests:
Unit tests are written from a programmer's perspective. They ensure that a particular method of a class successfully performs a set of specific tasks. Each test confirms that a method produces the expected output when given a known input.

Writing a suite of maintainable, automated unit tests without a testing framework is virtually impossible. Before you begin, choose a framework that your team agrees upon. You will be using it constantly, so you better like it. There are several unit-testing frameworks available from the Extreme Programming Web site. The one I am most familiar with is JUnit for testing Java code.

Functional tests:
Functional tests are written from a user's perspective. These tests confirm that the system does what users are expecting it to.

Many times the development of a system is likened to the building of a house. While this analogy isn't quite correct, we can extend it for the purposes of understanding the difference between unit and functional tests. Unit testing is analogous to a building inspector visiting a house's construction site. He is focused on the various internal systems of the house, the foundation, framing, electrical, plumbing, and so on. He ensures (tests) that the parts of the house will work correctly and safely, that is, meet the building code. Functional tests in this scenario are analogous to the homeowner visiting this same construction site. He assumes that the internal systems will behave appropriately, that the building inspector is performing his task. The homeowner is focused on what it will be like to live in this house. He is concerned with how the house looks, are the various rooms a comfortable size, does the house fit the family's needs, are the windows in a good spot to catch the morning sun. The homeowner is performing functional tests on the house. He has the user's perspective. The building inspector is performing unit tests on the house. He has the builder's perspective.

Like unit tests, writing a suite of maintainable, automated functional tests without a testing framework is virtually impossible. JUnit is very good at unit testing; however, it unravels when attempting to write functional tests. There is no equivalent of JUnit for functional testing. There are products available for this purpose, but I have never seen these products used in a production environment. If you can't find a testing framework that meets your needs, you'll have to build one.

No matter how clever we are at building the projects we work on, no matter how flexible the systems are that we build, if what we produce isn't usable, we've wasted our time. As a result, functional testing is the most important part of development.

Because both types of tests are necessary, you'll need guidelines for writing them.
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About Debasis Pradhan

Debasis has over a decade worth of exclusive experience in the field of Software Quality Assurance, Software Development and Testing. He writes here to share some of his interesting experiences with fellow testers.


  1. I chanced upon this article only today and I know this comment comes very late, nonetheless, I must say that there are frameworks like Fit available for functional testing as well. It may not be as comprehensive as JUnit, but it is a good start and will mature.

  2. Hi

    Tks very much for post:

    I like it and hope that you continue posting.

    Let me show other source that may be good for community.

    Source: Building inspector interview questions

    Best rgs


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