Using Go timers for MQTT testing

Go timers along with a select can be used to simplify testing both read and write side of communication protocols. In this article you will learn to combine a Go timer along with a select statement to test both sides with a single test case.

This article uses a Go timer and the Go select statement to test our MQTT publish and subscribe in a single simple test statement. A quick note on the go testing package: it is much like the JUnit where tests using a particular naming convention TestXXX(t *testing.T) {} will be run automatically with easy to reports having been generated.

The Problem

The following code snippet is directly from the IoTe edge gateway project. One of the primary features of IoTe is the ability to send and receive MQTT messages.

The problem comes when trying to test code that is invoked only when a network connection is made and data is copied. This typically requires two different processes.

Performing read and writes in one function

For example testing MQTT publish and subscribe typically requires two processes, one for each the publisher (sender) and one for the (subscriber). Hence you need to control two different programs to perform this type of test.

Another problem happens because the subscriber has to register the callback before a packet is published. The listen function will be waiting for a packet to arrive before the call to publish a message is called.

A timeout is needed

The subscribe (reader) will be waiting for an unspecified period of time for the publisher (writer) to send a message. We need to determine when too much time has passed for the test packet to be recieved and the associtated message passed back to the parent function indicating a successful message.

We will wait for half a second before we determine the test has failed.

The follow test taken directly from the iote test cases see mqtt_test.go as a reference. Let’s check out the code.

// TestMQTT ensures that we can a) subscribe to a specific channel
// b) publish data to a specific channel and c) recieve the data before
// a timeout.  In this test we 
func TestMQTT(t *testing.T) {
    // Messanger is basically a wrapper around the MQTT client, we
	// will use it to subscribe to the test channel and subsequently
    // publish a message to the channel
	msg := GetMessanger()
	if msg == nil {
		t.Error("Expected a messanger but got nil")

    // set up some variables for the test
	topic := "iote/test"
	message := "Hello, World!"
    // this is the channel used by the callback to communicate to the 
    // select statement that an MQTT message
	heard := make(chan bool)
    // Subscribe to the test topic and provide the anonymous call back
	msg.Subscribe("test", topic, func(c mqtt.Client, m mqtt.Message) {

		// This anonymous function is the callback for all messages sent
		// to the MQTT 'iot/test' topic
		if topic != m.Topic() {
			t.Errorf("Expected topic (%s) got (%s)", topic, m.Topic())
		if message != string(m.Payload()) {
			t.Errorf("Message expected (%s) got (%s) ", message, m.Payload())
		heard <- true		

    // Now publish the message
	msg.Publish("iote/test", 0, false, message)

    // wait for either a message on the 'heard' channel (pass!) or a
	// timeout (fail). 
	select {
	case <- heard:
		// Our message has been recieved. Yeah the test passed! Say nothing.

	case <-time.After(time.Second * 5):
		t.Error("Expected a message from client got nothing")

Explaining the Test

Since this is a unit test I wanted to be keep the test self contained in a single test case (function). with Go this can be easily accomplished without threads.

To test MQTT publish and subscribe in the same function we need to do the following:

  1. Provide the eclipse PAHO MQTT library with a callback function.

  2. The callback function will be anonymous with access to the variable in the scope of the test function. In other words, we don’t need to use a global variable.

  3. a channel to let the test function know that an MQTT message has been passed to the callback function.

  4. Finally the Go select statement will be used to select the first event between either a MQTT message being recieved by the callback or a timeout indicating no MQTT message was ever recieved.