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Blazing fast unit test compilation with doctest 1.1

You may remember my quest for faster compilation times. I had made several changes to the Catch test framework macros in order to save some compilation at the expense of my test code looking a bit less nice:

REQUIRE(a == 9); //Before
REQUIRE_EQUALS(a, 9); //After

The first line is a little bit better, but using several optimizations, I was able to dramatically change the compilation time of the test cases of ETL. In the end, I don't think that the difference between the two lines justifies the high overhead in compilation times.


doctest is a framework quite similar to Catch but that claims to be much lighter. I tested doctest 1.0 early on, but at this point it was actually slower than Catch and especially slower than my versions of the macro.

Today, doctest 1.1 was released with promises of being even lighter than before and providing several new ways of speeding up compilation. If you want the results directly, you can take a look at the next section.

First of all, this new version improved the basic macros to make expression decomposition faster. When you use the standard REQUIRE macro, the expression is composed by using several template techniques and operator overloading. This is really slow to compile. By removing the need for this decomposition, the fast Catch macros are much faster to compile.

Moreover, doctest 1.1 also introduces CHECK_EQ that does not any expression decomposition. This is close to what I did in my macros expect that it is directly integrated into the framework and preserves all its features. It is also possible to bypass the expression checking code by using FAST_CHECK_EQ macro. In that case, the exceptions are not captured. Finally, a new configuration option is introduced (DOCTEST_CONFIG_SUPER_FAST_ASSERTS) that removes some features related to automatic debugger breaks. Since I don't use the debugger features and I don't need to capture exception everywhere (it's sufficient for me that the test fails completely if an exception is thrown), I'm more than eager to use these new features.


For evaluation, I have compiled the complete test suite of ETL, with 1 thread, using gcc 4.9.3 with various different options, starting from Catch to doctest 1.1 with all compilation time features. Here are the results, in seconds:

Version Time VS Catch VS Fast Catch VS doctest 1.0
Catch 724.22      
Fast Catch 464.52 -36%    
doctest 1.0 871.54 +20% +87%  
doctest 1.1 614.67 -16% +32% -30%
REQUIRE_EQ 493.97 -32% +6% -43%
FAST_REQUIRE_EQ 439.09 -39% -6% -50%
SUPER_FAST_ASSERTS 411.11 -43% -12% -53%

As you can see, doctest 1.1 is much faster to compile than doctest 1.0! This is really great news. Moreover, it is already 16% faster than Catch. When all the features are used, doctest is 12% faster than my stripped down versions of Catch macros (and 43% faster than Catch standard macros). This is really cool! It means that I don't have to do any change in the code (no need to strip macros myself) and I can gain a lot of compilation time compared to the bare Catch framework.

I really think the author of doctest did a great job with the new version. Although this was not of as much interest for me, there are also a lot of other changes in the new version. You can consult the changelog if you want more information.


Overall, doctest 1.1 is much faster to compile than doctest 1.0. Moreover, it offers very fast macros for test assertions that are much faster to compile than Catch versions and even faster than the versions I created myself to reduce compilation time. I really thing this is a great advance for doctest. When compiling with all the optimizations, doctest 1.1 saves me 50 seconds in compilation time compared to the fast version of Catch macro and more than 5 minutes compared to the standard version of Catch macros.

I'll probably start using doctest on my development machine. For now, I'll keep Catch as well since I need it to generate the unit test reports in XML format for Sonarqube. Once this feature appears in doctest, I'll probably drop Catch from ETL and DLL

If you need blazing fast compilation times for your unit tests, doctest 1.1 is probably the way to go.


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