Onward and upward

24 August 2018

Instantiate case class with arbitrary values to reduce verbosity in tests

by @tanin

As we are using Playframework with Slick, we have 20+ case classes that directly correspond to tables in Postgresql. We have 10+ case classes that are used for Playframework’s forms and for higher-level representations (e.g. encapsulating two case classes within a single case class). With a large number of case classes, writing tests, specifically faking these case classes, becomes tedious and verbose.

More than often, I don’t care much what the values are. I just want sensible values (e.g. not empty, positive values, not too long). I’ve asked around a few times on Reddit and on Stackoverflow. One good suggestion is to use scalacheck-shapeless.

Scalacheck-shapeless works but isn’t a good fit. The main problem is that scalacheck-shapeless generates an extremely wild value. For example, a generated string might be empty or use Japanese characters. A generated integer might be a large negative number. Because our tests aim to verify normal use cases of our application. We don’t want to perform some sort of fuzzing tests here. We ended up having to define some values in our case class instances (using .copy) to avoid flaky tests. So, the code was still a bit verbose.

Moreover, Scalacheck-shapeless is a little bit too verbose for my taste, especially when we have a special type, say, com.twitter.util.Time, we need to bring into scope an implicit Arbitrary for com.twitter.util.Time. For example:

// import statements are omitted.

case class User(name: String, createdAt: com.twitter.util.Time)

implicit val implicitTime = Arbitrary.apply(Gen.const(Time.now))

val user = arbitrary[User].sample.get

Note that you might think we can encapsulate these lines in a method. We can’t because scalacheck-shapeless requires the type to be known (because of Macro expansion); We can encapsulate these lines using Macros though. In any case, using Macros comes with its own burden which will be explained in the next paragraph.

Then, I turned to Macros for generating a case class instance with arbitrary values. However, the main problem with using Macros is that our compile time (in sbt test:compile) takes 2x longer (from 2-3 minutes to 6 minutes). Ouch. Besides, Macros, whose advantage is to provide compilation safety, isn’t really needed here because the generation is only used in tests. We would have caught an error fairly quickly anyway if there is one.

Eventually, I’ve decided to go with the good old Scala/Java reflection for instantiating case classes with arbitrary values. Here’s what the code looks like:

import scala.reflect.api
import scala.reflect.api.{TypeCreator, Universe}
import scala.reflect.runtime.universe._

object Maker {
  val mirror = runtimeMirror(getClass.getClassLoader)

  var makerRunNumber = 1

  def apply[T: TypeTag]: T = {
    val method = typeOf[T].companion.decl(TermName("apply")).asMethod
    val params = method.paramLists.head
    val args = params.map { param =>
      makerRunNumber += 1
      param.info match {
        case t if t <:< typeOf[Enumeration#Value] => chooseEnumValue(convert(t).asInstanceOf[TypeTag[_ <: Enumeration]])
        case t if t =:= typeOf[Int] => makerRunNumber
        case t if t =:= typeOf[Long] => makerRunNumber
        case t if t =:= typeOf[Date] => new Date(Time.now.inMillis)
        case t if t <:< typeOf[Option[_]] => None
        case t if t =:= typeOf[String] && param.name.decodedName.toString.toLowerCase.contains("email") => s"[email protected]"
        case t if t =:= typeOf[String] => s"arbitrary-$makerRunNumber"
        case t if t =:= typeOf[Boolean] => false
        case t if t <:< typeOf[Seq[_]] => List.empty
        case t if t <:< typeOf[Map[_, _]] => Map.empty
        // Add more special cases here.
        case t if isCaseClass(t) => apply(convert(t))
        case t => throw new Exception(s"Maker doesn't support generating $t")

    val obj = mirror.reflectModule(typeOf[T].typeSymbol.companion.asModule).instance

  def chooseEnumValue[E <: Enumeration: TypeTag]: E#Value = {
    val parentType = typeOf[E].asInstanceOf[TypeRef].pre
    val valuesMethod = parentType.baseType(typeOf[Enumeration].typeSymbol).decl(TermName("values")).asMethod
    val obj = mirror.reflectModule(parentType.termSymbol.asModule).instance


  def convert(tpe: Type): TypeTag[_] = {
      new TypeCreator {
        override def apply[U <: Universe with Singleton](m: api.Mirror[U]) = {
          tpe.asInstanceOf[U # Type]

  def isCaseClass(t: Type) = {
    t.companion.decls.exists(_.name.decodedName.toString == "apply") &&
      t.decls.exists(_.name.decodedName.toString == "copy")

And here’s how we can use it:

val user = Maker[User]
val user2 = Maker[User].copy(email = "[email protected]")

Using reflection is pretty satisfactory because the compile time is still fast and the API is concise (more concise than using scalacheck-shapeless). Here are some other advantages of the code above:

I hope this code will be useful for your codebase!