Unit tests with Python in VS Code

The Python extension supports unit testing with Python's built-in unittest framework as well as pytest and Nose. To use either pytest and Nose, they must be installed into the current Python environment (the one identified in the pythonPath setting, see Environments).

After enabling a test framework, use the Python: Discover Unit Tests command to scan the project for tests according to the discovery patterns of the currently selected test framework (see Test discovery. Once discovered, VS Code provides a variety of means to run tests (see Run tests) and debug tests (see Debug tests). VS Code displays unit test output in the Python Test Log panel, including errors caused when a test framework is not installed.

Tip: a useful repository containing a variety of unit tests, applied to different sorting algorithms, is https://github.com/gwtw/py-sorting.

For a general background on unit testing, see Unit Testing on Wikipedia.

An example test and walkthrough

Python tests are Python classes that are saved in separate files from the code being tested. How you write tests and how you save test files depends on the conventions of the framework you're using. Once you've written tests and have enabled a test framework, VS Code locates those tests and provides you with various commands to run and debug them.

The following steps give you a quick walkthrough of working with test in VS Code. The sections that follow then go into more detail about test discovery, running tests, and debugging tests.

  1. Enable the unittest framework by adding the following entries to your user (or workspace) settings. We recommend explicitly enabling one framework and disabling the others as shown here:

    "python.unitTest.unittestEnabled": true,
    "python.unitTest.pyTestEnabled": false,
    "python.unitTest.nosetestsEnabled": false,
  2. Create a file named inc_dec.py with the following code to be tested:

    def increment(x):
        return x + 1
    def decrement(x):
        return x - 1
  3. Create a file named test1.py that contains a test class with two test methods, one of which is intentionally set to fail for the purposes of demonstration:

    import unittest
    import inc_dec
    class Test_TestIncrementDecrement(unittest.TestCase):
        def test_increment(self):
            self.assertEquals(inc_dec.increment(3), 4)
        def test_decrement(self):
            self.assertEquals(inc_dec.decrement(3), 4)
    if __name__ == '__main__':
  4. When using unittest, VS Code by default looks for tests whenever you save a recognized test file. The unittest framework specifically looks for files with "test" anywhere in the filename, as in test1.py. Once VS Code recognizes tests, it provides several ways to run those tests as shown later in Running tests. The most obvious means are adornments that appear directly in the editor and allow you to easily run a single test method or a test class:

    Test adornments that appear in the VS Code editor for unit test code

  5. For this walkthrough, select Run Test above the class to run all the tests in the class.

    Run test adornments on a unit test class

  6. VS Code displays tests results directly in the editor, where you can see that one test passed and one failed:

    Test result adornments on a unit test methods

    VS Code also shows test results in the Python Test Log output panel:

    Test results in the Python Test Log output panel

  7. To more closely analyze a test, set a breakpoint on the line under the test_decrement function, then select the Debug Test adornment above that function. VS Code starts the debugger and pauses at the breakpoint. In this case, you can easily see that the expected result of 4 is incorrect and should be 2. Stop the debugger and correct that line of code:

    self.assertEquals(inc_dec.decrement(3), 2)
  8. Save the file and run the test again to see that it passes.

Note: running or debugging a unit test does not automatically save the test file. Always be sure to save changes to a test before running it, otherwise you'll likely be confused by the results because they still reflect the previous version of the file!

Enable a test framework

Unit testing in Python is disabled by default. To enable unit testing, set one and only one of the following settings to true: python.unitTest.unittestEnabled, python.unitTest.pyTestEnabled, and python.unitTest.nosetestsEnabled. Each framework also has specific configuration settings as described under Test framework configurations.

It's important that you enable only a single test framework at a time. For this reason, when you enable one framework also be sure to disable the others.

To enable unittest, for example, use the following settings:

"python.unitTest.unittestEnabled": true,
"python.unitTest.pyTestEnabled": false,
"python.unitTest.nosetestsEnabled": false,

To enable pyTest:

"python.unitTest.unittestEnabled": false,
"python.unitTest.pyTestEnabled": true,
"python.unitTest.nosetestsEnabled": false,

To enable Nose:

"python.unitTest.unittestEnabled": false,
"python.unitTest.pyTestEnabled": false,
"python.unitTest.nosetestsEnabled": true,

Test discovery

VS Code uses the currently enabled unit testing framework to discover tests. You can trigger test discovery at any time using the Python: Discover Unit Tests command.

With unittest, the "python.unitTest.autoTestDiscoverOnSaveEnabled" : true setting (true is the default), automatically performs test discovery whenever you save a test file. To disable this feature, set the value to false.

Test discovery applies the discovery patterns specified in the arguments setting for the current test framework: python.unitTest.unittestArgs, python.unitTest.pyTestArgs, or python.unitTest.nosetestArgs as described underTest framework configurations.

For example, the default arguments for unittest include -s . -p *test*.py, which instruct unittest to look recursively, starting with the project folder (-s .), for all files with names matching the *test*.py pattern (-p *test*.py). You can specify a different starting folder after -s, and/or a different pattern after -p.

PyTest, for its part, has an algorithm for determining its root folder and patterns, as described on pytest Configuration (docs.pytest.org).

For Nose, use the -w=<folder> and -m=<regex> switches to specify a starting folder and a regular expression for pattern matching (see Nose options (nose.readthedocs.io)).

Tip: Sometimes unit tests placed in subfolders aren't discovered because such test files cannot be imported. To make them importable, create an empty file named __init__.py in that folder.

Run tests

You run tests using any of the following actions:

  • Select Run Tests on the Status Bar (which can change appearance based on results),

    Test command on the VS Code status bar

    then select one of the commands like Run All Tests or Run Failed Unit Tests:

    Test commands that appear after using the Run Tests status bar command

  • Right-click a file in Explorer and select Run Unit Tests, which runs the tests in that one file.

  • Open a test file and select the Run Test adornment that appears above a test class or a method. This command runs only those tests in the class or runs that one test method, respectively.

    Python unit testing commands in the editor

  • From the Command Palette, select any of the run unit test commands:

    Python unit testing commands on the Command Palette

    Command Description
    Debug All Unit Tests See Debug tests.
    Debug Unit Test Method See Debug tests.
    Run All Unit Tests Searches for and runs all unit tests in the workspace and its subfolders.
    Run Current Unit Test File Runs the test in the file that's currently viewed in the editor.
    Run Failed Unit Tests Re-runs any tests that failed in a previous test run. Runs all test if no tests have been run yet.
    Run Unit Test File Prompts for a specific test filename, then runs the test in that file.
    Run Unit Test Method Prompts for the name of a test to run, providing auto-completion for test names.
    Show Unit Test Output Opens the Python Test Log panel with information about passing and failing tests, as well as errors and skipped tests.

Debug tests

Because unit tests themselves are source code, they are prone to code defects just like the production code they test. For this reason, you may occasionally need to step through unit tests in the debugger.

The Python: Debug All Tests and Python: Debug Unit Test Method commands (on both the Command Palette and Status Bar menu) launch the debugger for all tests and a single test method, respectively.

The debugger works the same for unit tests as for other Python code, including breakpoints, variable inspection, and so on. For more information, see Python debugging configurations and the general VS Code Debugging article.

Test framework configurations

The behavior of each test framework is driven by its applicable settings as described in the following sections.

Unittest configuration settings

Default Description
unittestEnabled false Specifies whether UnitTest is enabled as the test framework. All other frameworks should be disabled.
unittestArgs ["-v", "-s", ".", "-p", "*test*.py"] Arguments to pass to unittest, where each element that's separated by a space is a separate item in the list. See below for a description of the defaults.
cwd null Specifies an optional working directory for unit tests.
outputWindow "Python Test Log" The window to use for unit test output.
promptToConfigure true Specifies whether VS Code prompts to configure a test framework if potential tests are discovered.
debugPort 3000 Port number used for debugging of UnitTest tests.
autoTestDiscoverOnSaveEnabled true Specifies whether to enable or disable auto run test discovery when saving a unit test file.

The default arguments for UnitTest are as follows:

  • -v sets default verbosity. Remove this argument for simpler output.
  • -s . specifies the starting directory for discovering tests. If you have tests in a "test" folder, you can change this to -s test (meaning "-s", "test" in the arguments array).
  • -p *test*.py is the discovery pattern used to look for tests. In this case, it's any .py file that includes the word "test". If you name test files differently, such as appending "_test" to every filename, then use a pattern like *_test.py in the appropriate argument of the array.

To stop a test run on the first failure, add the fail fast option "-f" to the arguments array.

See unittest command-line interface for the full set of available options.

Pytest configuration settings

Default Description
pyTestEnabled false Specifies whether PyTest is enabled as the test framework. All other frameworks should be disabled.
pyTestPath "py.test" Path to PyTest. Use a full path if PyTest is located outside the current environment.
pyTestArgs [] Arguments to pass to PyTest, where each element that's separated by a space is a separate item in the list. See PyTest command line options.

You can also configure pytest using a pytest.ini file as described on PyTest Configuration.

Note If you have the pytest-cov coverage module installed, VS Code doesn't stop at breakpoints while debugging because pytest-cov is using the same technique to access the source code being run. To prevent this behavior, include --no-cov in pyTestArgs when debugging tests. (For more information, see Debuggers and PyCharm in the pytest-cov documentation.)

Nose configuration settings

Default Description
nosetestsEnabled false Specifies whether Nose is enabled as the test framework. All other frameworks should be disabled.
nosetestPath "nosetests" Path to Nose. Use a full path if Nose is located outside the current environment.
nosetestArgs [] Arguments to pass to Nose, where each element that's separated by a space is a separate item in the list. See Nose usage options.

You can also configure nose with a .noserc or nose.cfg file as described on Nose configuration.

See also