Archive for August, 2011

On the Origin of Software by Means of Artificial Selection

Friday, August 5th, 2011 Miro Samek

If you haven’t put your hands on the recent James Grenning’s book “Test-Driven Development for Embedded C” yet, I highly recommend you do. Here is why.

First, you need to realize that this book is not really about testing–it is about software development. The central idea behind TDD (Test-Driven Development) is that software, as any complex system in nature, has to evolve gradually and has to keep working throughout all the development stages. This idea is of course not new and goes back all the way to the Darwin’s “On the Origin of Species”. More recently, in his 1977 book “Systemantics: How Systems Work and Especially How They Fail” John Gall wrote:

“A complex system that works is invariably found to have evolved from a simple system that worked…. A complex system designed from scratch never works and cannot be patched up to make it work. You have to start over, beginning with a working simple system”.

The key point of TDD is to subject the software to constant “struggle for existence” to actually see if it indeed is still working and in the process weed out any undesired mutations.

Of course, in developing software we don’t have the deep evolutionary time, so we need to accelerate the pace of software evolution. We do this by automating the testing.

For embedded development this means avoiding the target system bottleneck (James calls it DOH-Development On Hardware). The embedded TDD strategy is to develop embedded software on the desktop and only occasionally check it on the real embedded hardware. This means that the C/C++ compilers and tools for the desktop (such as Visual C++, MinGW, or Cygwin for Windows and GCC for Linux and Mac OS X) are important for us.

The book comes with testing frameworks (Unity and CppUTest) and plenty of example code. The code works right of the box on Linux, but I had some issues running it on Windows. In the process of learning the tools, I’ve prepared a small template for Visual C++ 2008, which is available for download from:

This demo assumes that you download and install the CppUTest framework ( and that you define the environment variable CPP_U_TEST to point to the directory where you installed CppUTest. The Visual Studio solution AllTest.sln is located in the blinky\tests directory.

I’d love to hear about your experiences with TDD in embedded programming. I’m sure I will blog more about it in the future.