A guide to test parametrization in Rust

Sometimes you want to run the same test with a set of different inputs. In Python, it would look like this:

@pytest.mark.parametrize("value", [1, 2, 3])
def test_add(value):
    assert value + value == 2 * value

pytest will cleanly separate test failures from each other, print stdout/stderr scrollback for each test, and all the good things that test frameworks are supposed to do.

Sometimes you want to run the same test repeatedly based on a folder of test files. A really low-linecount approach to that in Python would be this:

@pytest.mark.parametrize("input_filename", os.listdir("./testcases/"))
def test_add(input_filename):
    with open(input_filename) as f:
        value = json.load(input_filename)

    assert value + value == 2 * value

Putting your testcases into pure data files has the distinct advantage that you can reuse those testcases across languages, and since your testcases are now machine-readable data instead of arbitrary code, they can be mass-refactored more easily.

But how would that look like in Rust?

Basically, you have two choices to parametrize tests in Rust:

They’re both not great.

Code generation

We have a solution for metaprogramming in Rust. It’s called macros. Here’s how the first Python code snippet would look like in Rust:

macro_rules! make_testcase_add {
    ($value:expr, $testname:ident) => {
        fn $testname() {
            let value = $value;
            assert_eq!(value + value, 2 * value);

make_testcase_add!(1, test_add_1);
make_testcase_add!(2, test_add_2);
make_testcase_add!(3, test_add_3);

There are many crates, such as rstest, test-case, test-generator, or datatest that take off some of the boilerplate for you. You can find them by searching for “test parametrization” or “data-driven tests” on crates.io. Some of these crates are designed for specific use cases, assuming that one file equals one test case.

For simple cases of programmatic test generation, code generation is very easy to integrate into existing testsuites.

For more advanced usecases such as parametrizing a function by two dimensions 1, or producing a number of testcases based on a single file, I found that those macros compose poorly both with each other and any macros you might write, and sometimes impose themselves as “test frameworks” on your entire testsuite (rather than a few tests). The function coloring problem, but relived with macros.

To overcome this while still using codegen, you can use procedural macros. These have compile-time overhead and must be written in a separate crate, even for simple logic in generating test cases.

With increasing number of testcases, compilation times become a problem regardless. Each testcase is a function to compile, making it difficult to include community-maintained testsuites like html5lib-tests which have 20k test cases. Guess how well rustc performs on a file with linecount being a multiple of 20k? There are some things you can potentially optimize here, such as “sharding” your testcases into multiple mod { } blocks. But I haven’t tried that.

Just throw away the whole test framework

Cargo allows you to replace the entire test harness with your own. You do that by adding something like this to Cargo.toml

name = "integration"
path = "integration/main.rs"
harness = false

Now integration/main.rs is just another program with a main() function which will be run as part of cargo test. This is great because it allows you to use arbitrary Rust code to generate your testcases, not some weird, limited macro-based meta-language.

You are however now also responsible for:

You can reimplement all of that, but it would be really annoying to do so. The servo people have concluded the same thing, and forked Rust’s nightly-only test crate, and put it on crates.io.

Now the implication is that, should Rust ever evolve its test harness (for example to add new CLI arguments), servo’s tests will still run with the old harness.

To further complicate things, alternative test CLIs like nextest effectively assume the default test harness. In order to support custom ones, nextest had to come up with an ad-hoc specification as to which CLI arguments need to be supported in order to be able to run nextest over test targets with custom harnesses.

It’s not just nextest that breaks that way. insta, a snapshot-testing library, needs special attention when using it with custom test harnesses, as it employs some contrived hacks to figure out the current test’s name. Apparently insta also comes with its own way to do data-driven tests. Which is, again, just another macro that composes with nothing else. Speaking of composability, insta has its own test runner CLI called cargo insta test. It shells out to cargo test, which in turn shells out to test targets.

Anyway, the best off-the-shelf (but not default) test harness people seem to use is libtest-mimic. It is relatively easy to write custom test generators on top of it, mostly looks and feels like the default test harness included in Rust, and appears to be compatible with nextest according to nextest’s documentation.

libtest-mimic, or any custom test harness for that matter, cannot intercept stdout, meaning that printf debugging is now slightly less convenient. All because you wanted to parametrize some tests.


If you come here from Google, your best shot at this problem is either regular macros or libtest-mimic. But it’s not a satisfying answer.

I want to programmatically generate testcases in Rust in a way that is as low-boilerplate as the Python equivalent. I want to write a one-liner of Rust code that generates a collection of test items, and I want that neither to be an entirely new API and language separate from how one would normally write tests, nor do I want it to arbitrarily slow down compiletimes because obscene amounts of generated code are involved.

I made a rough sketch of what the surface-level experience would look like by releasing script-macro, but while RHAI is a pretty nice scripting language, it is not normal Rust code, and now you have a significant amount of complexity on top of all the problems coming with the code generation approach. In going down that particular prototyping rabbithole I also found inline-proc, which is a proc macro shelling out to cargo.


  1. For example, a list of n files and m possible configuration profiles, effectively running the test function n * m times.↩︎

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