TSTL: the template scripting testing language

Josie Holmes, Alex Groce, Jervis Pinto, Pranjal Mittal, Pooria Azimi, Kevin Kellar, James O’Brien

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

15 Scopus citations


A test harness, in automated test generation, defines the set of valid tests for a system, as well as their correctness properties. The difficulty of writing test harnesses is a major obstacle to the adoption of automated test generation and model checking. Languages for writing test harnesses are usually tied to a particular tool and unfamiliar to programmers, and often limit expressiveness. Writing test harnesses directly in the language of the software under test (SUT) is a tedious, repetitive, and error-prone task, offers little or no support for test case manipulation and debugging, and produces hard-to-read, hard-to-maintain code. Using existing harness languages or writing directly in the language of the SUT also tends to limit users to one algorithm for test generation, with little ability to explore alternative methods. In this paper, we present TSTL, the template scripting testing language, a domain-specific language (DSL) for writing test harnesses. TSTL compiles harness definitions into an interface for testing, making generic test generation and manipulation tools for all SUTs possible. TSTL includes tools for generating, manipulating, and analyzing test cases, including simple model checkers. This paper motivates TSTL via a large-scale testing effort, directed by an end-user, to find faults in the most widely used geographic information systems tool. This paper emphasizes a new approach to automated testing, where, rather than focus on developing a monolithic tool to extend, the aim is to convert a test harness into a language extension. This approach makes testing not a separate activity to be performed using a tool, but as natural to users of the language of the system under test as is the use of domain-specific libraries such as ArcPy, NumPy, or QIIME, in their domains. TSTL is a language and tool infrastructure, but is also a way to bring testing activities under the control of an existing programming language in a simple, natural way.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)57-78
Number of pages22
JournalInternational Journal on Software Tools for Technology Transfer
Issue number1
StatePublished - Feb 1 2018
Externally publishedYes


  • Domain-specific languages
  • End-user testing
  • Explicit-state model checking
  • Geographic information systems
  • Software testing

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Software
  • Information Systems


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