Test-Drive ASP.NET MVC Review

A few years back I started dallying with test-driven development, but I never fully committed to the practice. This wasn’t because I didn’t believe in the value of TDD; it was more a matter of not completely understanding how to incorporate “test first” into my everyday development. Back in my web forms days, I could point fingers at the framework for my ignorance and laziness. After all, web forms weren’t exactly designed for testability so who could blame me for not embracing TDD in those conditions, right? But when I switched to ASP.NET MVC and quickly found myself fresh out of excuses and it became instantly clear that it was time to get my head around red-green-refactor once and for all or I would regretfully miss out on one of the biggest selling points the new framework had to offer.

Test-Drive ASP.NET MVC

I have previously written about how I learned ASP.NET MVC. It was primarily hands on learning but I did read a couple of ASP.NET MVC books along the way. The books I read dedicated a chapter or two to TDD and they certainly addressed the benefits of TDD and how MVC was designed with testability in mind, but TDD was merely an afterthought compared to, well, teaching one how to code the model, view and controller. This approach made some sense, and I learned a bunch about MVC from those books, but when it came to TDD the books were just a teaser and an opportunity missed.  But then I got lucky – Jonathan McCracken contacted me and asked if I’d review his book, Test-Drive ASP.NET MVC, and it was just what I needed to get over the TDD hump.

As the title suggests, Test-Drive ASP.NET MVC takes a different approach to learning MVC as it focuses on testing right from the very start. McCracken wastes no time and swiftly familiarizes us with the framework by building out a trivial Quote-O-Matic application and then dedicates the better part of his book to testing first – first by explaining TDD and then coding a full-featured Getting Organized application inspired by David Allen’s popular book, Getting Things Done. If you are a learn-by-example kind of coder (like me), you will instantly appreciate and enjoy McCracken’s style – its fast-moving, pragmatic and focused on only the most relevant information required to get you going with ASP.NET MVC and TDD.

The book continues with the test-first theme but McCracken moves away from the sample application and incorporates other practical skills like persisting models with NHibernate, leveraging Inversion of Control with the IControllerFactory and building a RESTful web service. What I most appreciated about this section was McCracken’s use of and praise for open source libraries like Rhino Mocks, SQLite and StructureMap (to name just a few) and productivity tools like ReSharper, Web Platform Installer and ASP.NET SQL Server Setup Wizard.  McCracken’s emphasis on real world, pragmatic development was clearly demonstrated in every tool choice, straight-forward code block and developer tip. Whether one is already familiar with the tools/tips or not, McCracken’s thought process is easily understood and appreciated.

The final section of the book walks the reader through security and deployment – everything from error handling and logging with ELMAH, to ASP.NET Health Monitoring, to using MSBuild with automated builds, to the deployment  of ASP.NET MVC to various web environments. These chapters, like those prior, offer enough information and explanation to simply help you get the job done. 

Do I believe Test-Drive ASP.NET MVC will turn you into an expert MVC developer overnight?  Well, no.  I don’t think any book can make that claim.  If that were possible, I think book list prices would skyrocket!  That said, Test-Drive ASP.NET MVC provides a solid foundation and a unique (and dare I say necessary) approach to learning ASP.NET MVC.  Along the way McCracken shares loads of very practical software development tips and references numerous tools and libraries. The bottom line is it’s a great ASP.NET MVC primer – if you’re new to ASP.NET MVC it’s just what you need to get started. 

Do I believe Test-Drive ASP.NET MVC will give you everything you need to start employing TDD in your everyday development?  Well, I used to think that learning TDD required a lot of practice and, if you’re lucky enough, the guidance of a mentor or coach.  I used to think that one couldn’t learn TDD from a book alone. Well, I’m still no pro, but I’m testing first now and Jonathan McCracken and his book, Test-Drive ASP.NET MVC, played a big part in making this happen.  If you are an MVC developer and a TDD newb, Test-Drive ASP.NET MVC is just the book for you.


  1. Sounds like I need to add this one to my Amazon wish list. I’m working on a new ASP.NET project and attempting to do TDD.

    Thanks for the review.

  2. I’ve been in the same boat as you. I’ve read some MVC books and they have a chapter on TDD that doesn’t seem to be relevant to programming in the real world. That’s my biggest pet peeve about programming books.

    Sounds like this book has a more realistic approach that takes the real world into account. Which makes it actually useful.

    Can’t wait to give it a read and see if TDD is for me.

  3. I’m a “learn-by-doing” kind of guy as well… My favorite books are those that walk you through a problem, discuss design options, and teach you solid practical implementation skills.

    As you pointed out, the problem with books that talk about TDD as part of a larger approach never lead with TDD. If this book really starts with TDD from the ground up, and includes examples of the things I’m already using (MVC, ORM, IoC, etc.), then it sounds like a winner.

    Thanks for the write-up.