Test controller logic in ASP.NET Core

By Steve Smith

Controllers play a central role in any ASP.NET Core MVC app. As such, you should have confidence that controllers behave as intended. Automated tests can detect errors before the app is deployed to a production environment.

View or download sample code (how to download)

Unit tests of controller logic

Unit tests involve testing a part of an app in isolation from its infrastructure and dependencies. When unit testing controller logic, only the contents of a single action are tested, not the behavior of its dependencies or of the framework itself.

Set up unit tests of controller actions to focus on the controller's behavior. A controller unit test avoids scenarios such as filters, routing, and model binding. Tests that cover the interactions among components that collectively respond to a request are handled by integration tests. For more information on integration tests, see Integration tests in ASP.NET Core.

If you're writing custom filters and routes, unit test them in isolation, not as part of tests on a particular controller action.

To demonstrate controller unit tests, review the following controller in the sample app. The Home controller displays a list of brainstorming sessions and allows the creation of new brainstorming sessions with a POST request:

public class HomeController : Controller
{
    private readonly IBrainstormSessionRepository _sessionRepository;

    public HomeController(IBrainstormSessionRepository sessionRepository)
    {
        _sessionRepository = sessionRepository;
    }

    public async Task<IActionResult> Index()
    {
        var sessionList = await _sessionRepository.ListAsync();

        var model = sessionList.Select(session => new StormSessionViewModel()
        {
            Id = session.Id,
            DateCreated = session.DateCreated,
            Name = session.Name,
            IdeaCount = session.Ideas.Count
        });

        return View(model);
    }

    public class NewSessionModel
    {
        [Required]
        public string SessionName { get; set; }
    }

    [HttpPost]
    public async Task<IActionResult> Index(NewSessionModel model)
    {
        if (!ModelState.IsValid)
        {
            return BadRequest(ModelState);
        }
        else
        {
            await _sessionRepository.AddAsync(new BrainstormSession()
            {
                DateCreated = DateTimeOffset.Now,
                Name = model.SessionName
            });
        }

        return RedirectToAction(actionName: nameof(Index));
    }
}

The preceding controller:

The HTTP GET Index method has no looping or branching and only calls one method. The unit test for this action:

  • Mocks the IBrainstormSessionRepository service using the GetTestSessions method. GetTestSessions creates two mock brainstorm sessions with dates and session names.
  • Executes the Index method.
  • Makes assertions on the result returned by the method:
[Fact]
public async Task Index_ReturnsAViewResult_WithAListOfBrainstormSessions()
{
    // Arrange
    var mockRepo = new Mock<IBrainstormSessionRepository>();
    mockRepo.Setup(repo => repo.ListAsync())
        .ReturnsAsync(GetTestSessions());
    var controller = new HomeController(mockRepo.Object);

    // Act
    var result = await controller.Index();

    // Assert
    var viewResult = Assert.IsType<ViewResult>(result);
    var model = Assert.IsAssignableFrom<IEnumerable<StormSessionViewModel>>(
        viewResult.ViewData.Model);
    Assert.Equal(2, model.Count());
}
private List<BrainstormSession> GetTestSessions()
{
    var sessions = new List<BrainstormSession>();
    sessions.Add(new BrainstormSession()
    {
        DateCreated = new DateTime(2016, 7, 2),
        Id = 1,
        Name = "Test One"
    });
    sessions.Add(new BrainstormSession()
    {
        DateCreated = new DateTime(2016, 7, 1),
        Id = 2,
        Name = "Test Two"
    });
    return sessions;
}

The Home controller's HTTP POST Index method tests verifies that:

  • When ModelState.IsValid is false, the action method returns a 400 Bad Request ViewResult with the appropriate data.
  • When ModelState.IsValid is true:
    • The Add method on the repository is called.
    • A RedirectToActionResult is returned with the correct arguments.

An invalid model state is tested by adding errors using AddModelError as shown in the first test below:

[Fact]
public async Task IndexPost_ReturnsBadRequestResult_WhenModelStateIsInvalid()
{
    // Arrange
    var mockRepo = new Mock<IBrainstormSessionRepository>();
    mockRepo.Setup(repo => repo.ListAsync())
        .ReturnsAsync(GetTestSessions());
    var controller = new HomeController(mockRepo.Object);
    controller.ModelState.AddModelError("SessionName", "Required");
    var newSession = new HomeController.NewSessionModel();

    // Act
    var result = await controller.Index(newSession);

    // Assert
    var badRequestResult = Assert.IsType<BadRequestObjectResult>(result);
    Assert.IsType<SerializableError>(badRequestResult.Value);
}

[Fact]
public async Task IndexPost_ReturnsARedirectAndAddsSession_WhenModelStateIsValid()
{
    // Arrange
    var mockRepo = new Mock<IBrainstormSessionRepository>();
    mockRepo.Setup(repo => repo.AddAsync(It.IsAny<BrainstormSession>()))
        .Returns(Task.CompletedTask)
        .Verifiable();
    var controller = new HomeController(mockRepo.Object);
    var newSession = new HomeController.NewSessionModel()
    {
        SessionName = "Test Name"
    };

    // Act
    var result = await controller.Index(newSession);

    // Assert
    var redirectToActionResult = Assert.IsType<RedirectToActionResult>(result);
    Assert.Null(redirectToActionResult.ControllerName);
    Assert.Equal("Index", redirectToActionResult.ActionName);
    mockRepo.Verify();
}

When ModelState isn't valid, the same ViewResult is returned as for a GET request. The test doesn't attempt to pass in an invalid model. Passing an invalid model isn't a valid approach, since model binding isn't running (although an integration test does use model binding). In this case, model binding isn't tested. These unit tests are only testing the code in the action method.

The second test verifies that when the ModelState is valid:

  • A new BrainstormSession is added (via the repository).
  • The method returns a RedirectToActionResult with the expected properties.

Mocked calls that aren't called are normally ignored, but calling Verifiable at the end of the setup call allows mock validation in the test. This is performed with the call to mockRepo.Verify, which fails the test if the expected method wasn't called.

Note

The Moq library used in this sample makes it possible to mix verifiable, or "strict", mocks with non-verifiable mocks (also called "loose" mocks or stubs). Learn more about customizing Mock behavior with Moq.

SessionController in the sample app displays information related to a particular brainstorming session. The controller includes logic to deal with invalid id values (there are two return scenarios in the following example to cover these scenarios). The final return statement returns a new StormSessionViewModel to the view (Controllers/SessionController.cs):

public class SessionController : Controller
{
    private readonly IBrainstormSessionRepository _sessionRepository;

    public SessionController(IBrainstormSessionRepository sessionRepository)
    {
        _sessionRepository = sessionRepository;
    }

    public async Task<IActionResult> Index(int? id)
    {
        if (!id.HasValue)
        {
            return RedirectToAction(actionName: nameof(Index), 
                controllerName: "Home");
        }

        var session = await _sessionRepository.GetByIdAsync(id.Value);
        if (session == null)
        {
            return Content("Session not found.");
        }

        var viewModel = new StormSessionViewModel()
        {
            DateCreated = session.DateCreated,
            Name = session.Name,
            Id = session.Id
        };

        return View(viewModel);
    }
}

The unit tests include one test for each return scenario in the Session controller Index action:

[Fact]
public async Task IndexReturnsARedirectToIndexHomeWhenIdIsNull()
{
    // Arrange
    var controller = new SessionController(sessionRepository: null);

    // Act
    var result = await controller.Index(id: null);

    // Assert
    var redirectToActionResult = 
        Assert.IsType<RedirectToActionResult>(result);
    Assert.Equal("Home", redirectToActionResult.ControllerName);
    Assert.Equal("Index", redirectToActionResult.ActionName);
}

[Fact]
public async Task IndexReturnsContentWithSessionNotFoundWhenSessionNotFound()
{
    // Arrange
    int testSessionId = 1;
    var mockRepo = new Mock<IBrainstormSessionRepository>();
    mockRepo.Setup(repo => repo.GetByIdAsync(testSessionId))
        .ReturnsAsync((BrainstormSession)null);
    var controller = new SessionController(mockRepo.Object);

    // Act
    var result = await controller.Index(testSessionId);

    // Assert
    var contentResult = Assert.IsType<ContentResult>(result);
    Assert.Equal("Session not found.", contentResult.Content);
}

[Fact]
public async Task IndexReturnsViewResultWithStormSessionViewModel()
{
    // Arrange
    int testSessionId = 1;
    var mockRepo = new Mock<IBrainstormSessionRepository>();
    mockRepo.Setup(repo => repo.GetByIdAsync(testSessionId))
        .ReturnsAsync(GetTestSessions().FirstOrDefault(
            s => s.Id == testSessionId));
    var controller = new SessionController(mockRepo.Object);

    // Act
    var result = await controller.Index(testSessionId);

    // Assert
    var viewResult = Assert.IsType<ViewResult>(result);
    var model = Assert.IsType<StormSessionViewModel>(
        viewResult.ViewData.Model);
    Assert.Equal("Test One", model.Name);
    Assert.Equal(2, model.DateCreated.Day);
    Assert.Equal(testSessionId, model.Id);
}

Moving to the Ideas controller, the app exposes functionality as a web API on the api/ideas route:

  • A list of ideas (IdeaDTO) associated with a brainstorming session is returned by the ForSession method.
  • The Create method adds new ideas to a session.
[HttpGet("forsession/{sessionId}")]
public async Task<IActionResult> ForSession(int sessionId)
{
    var session = await _sessionRepository.GetByIdAsync(sessionId);
    if (session == null)
    {
        return NotFound(sessionId);
    }

    var result = session.Ideas.Select(idea => new IdeaDTO()
    {
        Id = idea.Id,
        Name = idea.Name,
        Description = idea.Description,
        DateCreated = idea.DateCreated
    }).ToList();

    return Ok(result);
}

[HttpPost("create")]
public async Task<IActionResult> Create([FromBody]NewIdeaModel model)
{
    if (!ModelState.IsValid)
    {
        return BadRequest(ModelState);
    }

    var session = await _sessionRepository.GetByIdAsync(model.SessionId);
    if (session == null)
    {
        return NotFound(model.SessionId);
    }

    var idea = new Idea()
    {
        DateCreated = DateTimeOffset.Now,
        Description = model.Description,
        Name = model.Name
    };
    session.AddIdea(idea);

    await _sessionRepository.UpdateAsync(session);

    return Ok(session);
}

Avoid returning business domain entities directly via API calls. Domain entities:

  • Often include more data than the client requires.
  • Unnecessarily couple the app's internal domain model with the publicly exposed API.

Mapping between domain entities and the types returned to the client can be performed:

Next, the sample app demonstrates unit tests for the Create and ForSession API methods of the Ideas controller.

The sample app contains two ForSession tests. The first test determines if ForSession returns a NotFoundObjectResult (HTTP Not Found) for an invalid session:

[Fact]
public async Task ForSession_ReturnsHttpNotFound_ForInvalidSession()
{
    // Arrange
    int testSessionId = 123;
    var mockRepo = new Mock<IBrainstormSessionRepository>();
    mockRepo.Setup(repo => repo.GetByIdAsync(testSessionId))
        .ReturnsAsync((BrainstormSession)null);
    var controller = new IdeasController(mockRepo.Object);

    // Act
    var result = await controller.ForSession(testSessionId);

    // Assert
    var notFoundObjectResult = Assert.IsType<NotFoundObjectResult>(result);
    Assert.Equal(testSessionId, notFoundObjectResult.Value);
}

The second ForSession test determines if ForSession returns a list of session ideas (<List<IdeaDTO>>) for a valid session. The checks also examine the first idea to confirm its Name property is correct:

[Fact]
public async Task ForSession_ReturnsIdeasForSession()
{
    // Arrange
    int testSessionId = 123;
    var mockRepo = new Mock<IBrainstormSessionRepository>();
    mockRepo.Setup(repo => repo.GetByIdAsync(testSessionId))
        .ReturnsAsync(GetTestSession());
    var controller = new IdeasController(mockRepo.Object);

    // Act
    var result = await controller.ForSession(testSessionId);

    // Assert
    var okResult = Assert.IsType<OkObjectResult>(result);
    var returnValue = Assert.IsType<List<IdeaDTO>>(okResult.Value);
    var idea = returnValue.FirstOrDefault();
    Assert.Equal("One", idea.Name);
}

To test the behavior of the Create method when the ModelState is invalid, the sample app adds a model error to the controller as part of the test. Don't try to test model validation or model binding in unit tests—just test the action method's behavior when confronted with an invalid ModelState:

[Fact]
public async Task Create_ReturnsBadRequest_GivenInvalidModel()
{
    // Arrange & Act
    var mockRepo = new Mock<IBrainstormSessionRepository>();
    var controller = new IdeasController(mockRepo.Object);
    controller.ModelState.AddModelError("error", "some error");

    // Act
    var result = await controller.Create(model: null);

    // Assert
    Assert.IsType<BadRequestObjectResult>(result);
}

The second test of Create depends on the repository returning null, so the mock repository is configured to return null. There's no need to create a test database (in memory or otherwise) and construct a query that returns this result. The test can be accomplished in a single statement, as the sample code illustrates:

[Fact]
public async Task Create_ReturnsHttpNotFound_ForInvalidSession()
{
    // Arrange
    int testSessionId = 123;
    var mockRepo = new Mock<IBrainstormSessionRepository>();
    mockRepo.Setup(repo => repo.GetByIdAsync(testSessionId))
        .ReturnsAsync((BrainstormSession)null);
    var controller = new IdeasController(mockRepo.Object);

    // Act
    var result = await controller.Create(new NewIdeaModel());

    // Assert
    Assert.IsType<NotFoundObjectResult>(result);
}

The third Create test, Create_ReturnsNewlyCreatedIdeaForSession, verifies that the repository's UpdateAsync method is called. The mock is called with Verifiable, and the mocked repository's Verify method is called to confirm the verifiable method is executed. It's not the unit test's responsibility to ensure that the UpdateAsync method saved the data—that can be performed with an integration test.

[Fact]
public async Task Create_ReturnsNewlyCreatedIdeaForSession()
{
    // Arrange
    int testSessionId = 123;
    string testName = "test name";
    string testDescription = "test description";
    var testSession = GetTestSession();
    var mockRepo = new Mock<IBrainstormSessionRepository>();
    mockRepo.Setup(repo => repo.GetByIdAsync(testSessionId))
        .ReturnsAsync(testSession);
    var controller = new IdeasController(mockRepo.Object);

    var newIdea = new NewIdeaModel()
    {
        Description = testDescription,
        Name = testName,
        SessionId = testSessionId
    };
    mockRepo.Setup(repo => repo.UpdateAsync(testSession))
        .Returns(Task.CompletedTask)
        .Verifiable();

    // Act
    var result = await controller.Create(newIdea);

    // Assert
    var okResult = Assert.IsType<OkObjectResult>(result);
    var returnSession = Assert.IsType<BrainstormSession>(okResult.Value);
    mockRepo.Verify();
    Assert.Equal(2, returnSession.Ideas.Count());
    Assert.Equal(testName, returnSession.Ideas.LastOrDefault().Name);
    Assert.Equal(testDescription, returnSession.Ideas.LastOrDefault().Description);
}

Test ActionResult<T>

In ASP.NET Core 2.1 or later, ActionResult<T> (ActionResult<TValue>) enables you to return a type deriving from ActionResult or return a specific type.

The sample app includes a method that returns a List<IdeaDTO> for a given session id. If the session id doesn't exist, the controller returns NotFound:

[HttpGet("forsessionactionresult/{sessionId}")]
[ProducesResponseType(200)]
[ProducesResponseType(404)]
public async Task<ActionResult<List<IdeaDTO>>> ForSessionActionResult(int sessionId)
{
    var session = await _sessionRepository.GetByIdAsync(sessionId);

    if (session == null)
    {
        return NotFound(sessionId);
    }

    var result = session.Ideas.Select(idea => new IdeaDTO()
    {
        Id = idea.Id,
        Name = idea.Name,
        Description = idea.Description,
        DateCreated = idea.DateCreated
    }).ToList();

    return result;
}

Two tests of the ForSessionActionResult controller are included in the ApiIdeasControllerTests.

The first test confirms that the controller returns an ActionResult but not a nonexistent list of ideas for a nonexistent session id:

[Fact]
public async Task ForSessionActionResult_ReturnsNotFoundObjectResultForNonexistentSession()
{
    // Arrange
    var mockRepo = new Mock<IBrainstormSessionRepository>();
    var controller = new IdeasController(mockRepo.Object);
    var nonExistentSessionId = 999;

    // Act
    var result = await controller.ForSessionActionResult(nonExistentSessionId);

    // Assert
    var actionResult = Assert.IsType<ActionResult<List<IdeaDTO>>>(result);
    Assert.IsType<NotFoundObjectResult>(actionResult.Result);
}

For a valid session id, the second test confirms that the method returns:

  • An ActionResult with a List<IdeaDTO> type.
  • The ActionResult<T>.Value is a List<IdeaDTO> type.
  • The first item in the list is a valid idea matching the idea stored in the mock session (obtained by calling GetTestSession).
[Fact]
public async Task ForSessionActionResult_ReturnsIdeasForSession()
{
    // Arrange
    int testSessionId = 123;
    var mockRepo = new Mock<IBrainstormSessionRepository>();
    mockRepo.Setup(repo => repo.GetByIdAsync(testSessionId))
        .ReturnsAsync(GetTestSession());
    var controller = new IdeasController(mockRepo.Object);

    // Act
    var result = await controller.ForSessionActionResult(testSessionId);

    // Assert
    var actionResult = Assert.IsType<ActionResult<List<IdeaDTO>>>(result);
    var returnValue = Assert.IsType<List<IdeaDTO>>(actionResult.Value);
    var idea = returnValue.FirstOrDefault();
    Assert.Equal("One", idea.Name);
}

The sample app also includes a method to create a new Idea for a given session. The controller returns:

[HttpPost("createactionresult")]
[ProducesResponseType(201)]
[ProducesResponseType(400)]
[ProducesResponseType(404)]
public async Task<ActionResult<BrainstormSession>> CreateActionResult([FromBody]NewIdeaModel model)
{
    if (!ModelState.IsValid)
    {
        return BadRequest(ModelState);
    }

    var session = await _sessionRepository.GetByIdAsync(model.SessionId);

    if (session == null)
    {
        return NotFound(model.SessionId);
    }

    var idea = new Idea()
    {
        DateCreated = DateTimeOffset.Now,
        Description = model.Description,
        Name = model.Name
    };
    session.AddIdea(idea);

    await _sessionRepository.UpdateAsync(session);

    return CreatedAtAction(nameof(CreateActionResult), new { id = session.Id }, session);
}

Three tests of CreateActionResult are included in the ApiIdeasControllerTests.

The first text confirms that a BadRequest is returned for an invalid model.

[Fact]
public async Task CreateActionResult_ReturnsBadRequest_GivenInvalidModel()
{
    // Arrange & Act
    var mockRepo = new Mock<IBrainstormSessionRepository>();
    var controller = new IdeasController(mockRepo.Object);
    controller.ModelState.AddModelError("error", "some error");

    // Act
    var result = await controller.CreateActionResult(model: null);

    // Assert
    var actionResult = Assert.IsType<ActionResult<BrainstormSession>>(result);
    Assert.IsType<BadRequestObjectResult>(actionResult.Result);
}

The second test checks that a NotFound is returned if the session doesn't exist.

[Fact]
public async Task CreateActionResult_ReturnsNotFoundObjectResultForNonexistentSession()
{
    // Arrange
    var nonExistentSessionId = 999;
    string testName = "test name";
    string testDescription = "test description";
    var mockRepo = new Mock<IBrainstormSessionRepository>();
    var controller = new IdeasController(mockRepo.Object);

    var newIdea = new NewIdeaModel()
    {
        Description = testDescription,
        Name = testName,
        SessionId = nonExistentSessionId
    };

    // Act
    var result = await controller.CreateActionResult(newIdea);

    // Assert
    var actionResult = Assert.IsType<ActionResult<BrainstormSession>>(result);
    Assert.IsType<NotFoundObjectResult>(actionResult.Result);
}

For a valid session id, the final test confirms that:

  • The method returns an ActionResult with a BrainstormSession type.
  • The ActionResult<T>.Result is a CreatedAtActionResult. CreatedAtActionResult is analogous to a 201 Created response with a Location header.
  • The ActionResult<T>.Value is a BrainstormSession type.
  • The mock call to update the session, UpdateAsync(testSession), was invoked. The Verifiable method call is checked by executing mockRepo.Verify() in the assertions.
  • Two Idea objects are returned for the session.
  • The last item (the Idea added by the mock call to UpdateAsync) matches the newIdea added to the session in the test.
[Fact]
public async Task CreateActionResult_ReturnsNewlyCreatedIdeaForSession()
{
    // Arrange
    int testSessionId = 123;
    string testName = "test name";
    string testDescription = "test description";
    var testSession = GetTestSession();
    var mockRepo = new Mock<IBrainstormSessionRepository>();
    mockRepo.Setup(repo => repo.GetByIdAsync(testSessionId))
        .ReturnsAsync(testSession);
    var controller = new IdeasController(mockRepo.Object);

    var newIdea = new NewIdeaModel()
    {
        Description = testDescription,
        Name = testName,
        SessionId = testSessionId
    };
    mockRepo.Setup(repo => repo.UpdateAsync(testSession))
        .Returns(Task.CompletedTask)
        .Verifiable();

    // Act
    var result = await controller.CreateActionResult(newIdea);

    // Assert
    var actionResult = Assert.IsType<ActionResult<BrainstormSession>>(result);
    var createdAtActionResult = Assert.IsType<CreatedAtActionResult>(actionResult.Result);
    var returnValue = Assert.IsType<BrainstormSession>(createdAtActionResult.Value);
    mockRepo.Verify();
    Assert.Equal(2, returnValue.Ideas.Count());
    Assert.Equal(testName, returnValue.Ideas.LastOrDefault().Name);
    Assert.Equal(testDescription, returnValue.Ideas.LastOrDefault().Description);
}

Additional resources