Stephen A. Fuqua (saf)

a Bahá'í, software engineer, and nature lover in Austin, Texas, USA

Unit Testing with Entity Framework Core and Async

Entity Framework Core has a few changes that impact unit testing, particularly with respect to EntityEntry.State management. My previous unit testing techniques also did not take into account the use of async methods. In this article I’ll present a few techniques used in the context of a POC exploration of IdentityServer4. Although .NET Core 3 is now fully available, these examples are based on .NET Core 2.2.


IdentityServer4 has a ConfigurationDbContext that provides access for managing Client entities, along with an interface IConfigurationDbContext. While IdentityServer4’s infrastructure handles all of the OAuth processing, CRUD operations for clients is left up to us. Therefore I created a ClientsController and a ClientRepository, and injected the interface into the repository.

public class ClientsController : ControllerBase
    public ClientsController(IClientRepository repo) { ... }

public class ClientRepository : IClientRepository
    public ClientRepository(IConfigurationDbContext context) { ... }

public class ConfigurationDbContext : DbContext, IConfigurationDbContext
    public DbSet<Client> Clients { get; set; }


namespace IdentityServer4.EntityFramework.Interfaces
  /// <summary>Abstraction for the configuration context.</summary>
  /// <seealso cref="T:System.IDisposable" />
  public interface IConfigurationDbContext : IDisposable
    /// <summary>Gets or sets the clients.</summary>
    /// <value>The clients.</value>
    DbSet<Client> Clients { get; set; }
    /// <summary>Gets or sets the identity resources.</summary>
    /// <value>The identity resources.</value>
    DbSet<IdentityResource> IdentityResources { get; set; }
    /// <summary>Gets or sets the API resources.</summary>
    /// <value>The API resources.</value>
    DbSet<ApiResource> ApiResources { get; set; }
    /// <summary>Saves the changes.</summary>
    /// <returns></returns>
    int SaveChanges();
    /// <summary>Saves the changes.</summary>
    /// <returns></returns>
    Task<int> SaveChangesAsync();

If I were hand-coding the DbContext class, I would have made sure to include an interface just as IdentityServer4 did. I would also decorate it with a [ExcludeFromCodeCoverage] attribute: data access logic, which needs unit testing, belongs in the repository. The DbContext class is pattern based and, although there may be mapping logic, it is impractical to unit test. We’ll save that for full-blown API integration tests.

Unit Testing Challenges

So now we have two classes to test: the controller and the repository. Let’s focus on the repository. At first glance, it would seem trivial to write tests, and make them pass, using the Clients property and SaveChangesAsync method. The challenge comes from DbSet: it is an abstract class, it contains no implemented methods, the query logic requires an IQueryable, and the modification logic now returns EntityEntry objects. The EntityEntry object in turn is difficult to construct and the classes involved have warnings in the source code that they should not be directly relied on in non EntityFramework code.

Also of note: EntityFrameworkCore now has an Update method to go along with Add and Remove, so that those of who do not like using EntityFramework change tracking (more on this below) no longer need to use Attach and manually set EntityState.Modified, subject of my February blog post.

In order to unit test this, we will need some kind of test double that gives us the equivalent functionality while minimizing the effort required to write the tests. After all, if the testing is hard, we’re all the more likely to skip it.

IAsyncEnumerable and IAsyncQueryProvider

For this purpose, it is easier to hand-create a set of test-only classes than to use a mocking framework. Because of the async calls on IQueryable, this turns out to be harder than first thought: Linq is being used, and it invokes behind-the-scenes logic on interfaces hidden deeply away from us. This finally reveals a deep truth about ORMs: true isolation in unit tests is impossible when you are relying on a tool to generate SQL statements for you.

As I tried to work my own way through the additional difficulty of Linq with async support, I kept running up against an exception like this:

“The source IQueryable doesn’t implement IAsyncEnumerable{0}. Only sources that implement IAsyncEnumerable can be used for Entity Framework asynchronous operations.”

Thankfully Microsoft provided a leg-up in Testing with a mocking framework, albeit with Entity Framework 6 instead of Core involved. The code required for async has not changed much - primarily just a few interface name changes. My versions of these classes is available in GitHub: FakeAsyncDbSet, FakeAsyncEnumerable, and FakeAsyncQueryProvider.

Writing Unit Tests

Now we have the pieces necessary to write good unit tests for a repository, following this formula:

  1. Create a mock on the DbContext interface.
  2. Create a FakeAsyncDbSet<SomeClass>.
  3. Configure the mock to use this database set.
  4. Instantiate the repository using the mock DbContext.
  5. For query-based tests, manually add appropriate objects to the fake via theFakeDbSet.List.Add(...). Write assertsions for the correctness of the query result.
  6. For modification tests, verify that the correct objects were modified, using the fake’s convenience properties (of type List<SomeClass>) Added, Updated, and Deleted.

For a fully worked example, using NUnit 3 and FakeItEasy, see ClientRepositoryTests.cs.

Appendix: Change Tracking

Entity Framework’s change tracking mechanism handles caching of data, helping prevent extra database calls. In some systems this might be useful. In a potentially load-balanced web server, caching needs to be in a shared system - not buried inside of Entity Framework. The code will have to be written with the assumption that the object is not yet cached by EF, so you might as well just turn off change tracking altogether. EF in itself performs much better this way, although theoretically at the expense of some extra data access work.

To completely disable change tracking, call the UseQueryTrackingBehavior method on the database options object:

services.AddDbContext<ConfigurationDbContext>(options =>

Posted with : Software Testing, Microsoft .NET Framework, General Programming