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Alex Rupérez

Published: 16 May 08:40
I starred stripe/tracer-objc at GitHub.
Generic record & playback framework for Objective-C
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Tracer is an experimental testing tool that lets you record & play back the behavior of arbitrary objects in Objective-C.

Let's say you have a dependency in your code, ThatThing. You call ThatThing, it calls you back, and behavior varies depending on user input or environmental factors.

@protocol ThatInterface <NSObject>
- (void)someCommand:(int)i;
- (void)someOtherCommand:(NSArray *)objects;
// ...
- (void)onError:(NSError *)error;
- (void)onOtherError:(NSError *)error;

@interface ThatThing : NSObject <ThatInterface>

Testing complex async behavior is hard, especially if you don't control the source of behavior.

Tracer lets you record behavior of ThatThing as a trace:

ThatThing *thing = [ThatThing new];
TRCRecorder *recorder = [TRCRecorder new];
[recorder startRecording:thing protocol:@protocol(ThatInterface)];
NSString *result = [thing someCommand:-100];
[recorder stopRecording:thing protocol:@protocol(ThatInterface) completion:^(TRCTrace *trace, NSError *error) {
    // save trace

After recording completes, Tracer prints the trace to the console as JSON, so you can save behavior to a file.

2019-04-17 23:01:22.689124-0700 xctest[62038:4377601] -----BEGIN TRACE JSON-----
  "start_ms" : 1551678464427,
  "id" : "trace",
  "protocol" : "SomeProtocol",
  "calls" : [
      "id" : "call",
      "start_ms" : 203,
      "method" : "someCommand:",
      "arguments" : [
          "id" : "value",
          "type" : "int",
          "object_type" : "not_an_object",
          "object_value" : -100
      "return_value" : {
        "id" : "value",
        "type" : "void",
-----END TRACE JSON-----

In your tests, instead of mocking the complex behavior of ThatThing, you can simply play recorded behavior:

ThatThing *thing = [ThatThing new];
TRCTrace *trace = [TRCTrace loadFromJSONFile:@"saved_trace"];
[TRCPlayer playTrace:trace onTarget:thing completion:^(NSError * _Nullable error) {


Current limitations

  • Tracer doesn't support hooking async behavior (e.g. completion blocks)
  • You must provide a protocol to scope recording
  • Optional protocol methods won't be recorded
  • Naive introspection when recording unknown object types (Tracer simply records the object's description)
  • Playback is always on the main thread