Is snapshot testing test driven?

In our endeavour to pair with everyone as part of “The Rails Camp Project”, at Rails Camp Hobart, our next pair was Emily. The aim of the project was to test drive a simple multi round game using a Rails backend and ReactJS. Emily was the lucky one to write the first line of actual code making the test written by Matt Patterson pass. The only hurdle for us Rails developers was to navigate the always changing ReactJS landscape and make use of snapshot testing, but how is snapshot testing even test driven?

Now, we’ve written an integration test that incorporates the backend logic as well as the front end behaviour. You might be wondering if the test we wrote with rspec is going to also cover the javascript and markup. Well, it is. But we’re also going to need to start adding some isolated unit tests for the frontend at some point.

You see, integration tests test that all components work together as expected but we also need to ensure that each isolated unit works on its own as expected too.

First, we got Emily to help us setup Enzyme testing and in a rush to try new things we added snapshot tests. As Enzyme Snapshot tests were the cool new thing people talked about we presumed this would be a good way to test the React component of our game. Emily changed the app entry which we created in commit 02 create-react-app to what was expected in our first integration test, a H1 with “Welcome to the game”.

The below animation shows that with snapshot testing you update your implementation to get a failure in the tests. This is the wrong way around for test driven development. Snapshots are not test driven and should not be used to drive out functionality but are ok for a verification of the general structure and styling of a component if done together with a visual check in the browser and a good set of integration tests.

snapshot testing

At this time this was not really “test driven”. We wrote the implementation and then just accepted what was provided by the Enzyme snapshot with a press of u for update the snapshot. on various discussions in the past we have heard eveything from:

“snapshot test everything, it is the new way of testing, we test 95% of our app that way”


“well you could edit the snapshot to make it fail and then update the implementation to make it pass”

So as we write this article a few months later what is our view on Enzyme and snapshot testing?

Our current rules on Enzyme testing

  • use shallow rendering for most unit level assertions
    it("renders welcome message", () => {
      const wrapper = shallow(<App />);
      expect(wrapper.childAt(0).text()).toBe("Welcome to the game");
  • use full DOM rendering sparingly, using mount() is no longer doing isolated unit testing of componenets. It can be handy when testing components that come from a third party and what goes on inside the component is not the concern of our tests, like when we use react router in a few posts time.
    const wrapper = mount(
  • use snapshot testing as a once off for a component as more of a “pseudo visual” confirmation that should be actually reviewed in the browser before pressing u to update the snapshot, more of a CSS style test.
    const wrapper = shallow(<App />);
  • And don’t get over excited like we did and attempt to use snapshot testing for everything

Tracking to pair with everyone at rails camp

With a lot of work already cut out for us, trying to share context with 36 developers, one at a time in just 48 hours - many of whom are new to, or unpracticed at TDD - we were thankful for our background in pair programming.

Our ability to navigate and pre-empt our new pairing budies as each new pair approached the keyboard meant that they could get stuck in quicker.

@gamzatti @SelenaSmall @saramic

Commit ea441c9

Author: Emily Coats <>
Date:   Sat Nov 24 17:19:12 2018 +1100

Add welcome message

Co-authored-by: Selena Small <>
Co-authored-by: Michael Milewski <>

Emily is a vue.js developer and this was her first experience with snapshot testing. To be honest, we have only been playing with it for a short while and are still debating as to how usefull it actually is.

The way it works is, the test takes a snapshot of the shallow rendered React component under test. What this means is that only that component is rendered and only the props that would be passed to further components down the render tree are rendered and not the actual components. This means if an element changes or state causes a change in the rendering of the component, then the snapshot changes when test are run again. You can then verify the changes are what you expected, post implementing the actual change, so not driving them through the tests.

The problem, however, is that very quickly huge swaths of HTML like snapshots are being generated which can become a nightmare as you try to find the diffs. As you can imagine, developers who are in a rush or don’t know any better, are likely to just accept those changes without double checking.

5 minutes with Emily


“I see how useful this would be for refactoring to see you have not changed anything by accident”

To test this thought, we put a simple outer div around a component and the snapshot basically said the whole page had changed when in fact the div had made the snapshot indent the identical content.

“It does seem a bit fiddly with minor changes causing big changes in snapshots”

The rails camp pairing experience was a great way to get an overview of how different people work, pair and test. We learned that Emily would usually write a unit test frist, get the code to work and then write a feature test afterwards.

Happy with the way our group pairing went, Emily liked the idea we presented of layered tests.


Add welcome message

Next time

Now that we have implemented a spec through the integration layer down to the component unit testing layer and made it pass, it will be time to rinse and repeat next time. Another failing test, but what if you cannot make it pass but still want to integrate your code with the rest of the team and not break continuous integration CI tests? join us next time to find out.

Authored By:

Selena Small & Michael Milewski