PHP: “Mocking” built-in functions like time() in Unit Tests

A common problem in Unit Testing in PHP is testing something that depends on the current time. For a determined test it should be possible to set the time in your test script without really changing the system settings. In this article I’ll describe how it is usually done with OOP and then come to an alternative solution with much less code that makes use of the new features in PHP 5.3.

The usual approach would be a wrapper class like this:

class Calendar
{
    public function time()
    {
        return time();
    }
    public function date($format, $time = null)
    {
        return date($format, $time ?: $this->time());
    }
    // ...
}

Now any class that uses date/time functions has to be modified to use the Calendar class via Dependency Injection:

class SomeClass
{
    /**
     * @var Calendar
     */
    private $calendar;

    public function __construct(Calendar $calendar = null)
    {
        $this->calendar = $calendar ?: new Calendar;
    }
    public function oneHourAgo()
    {
        return $this->calendar->date('H:i:s', $this->calendar->time() - 3600);
    }
}

Then you mock the Calendar class in your tests and pass it to the test subject. I won’t go into further details because you probaly know the concept of mocking and how to do this in your favourite unit testing framework. After all this article is not about mocking classes, because I have:

A simpler solution with namespaces

If you are using PHP 5.3 namespaces you are lucky because you won’t need all this overhead and probably no changes in your classes at all. The trick is to override built-in functions in your current namespace. Consider this namespaced version of the class from above:

namespace My\Namespace;

class SomeClass
{
    public function oneHourAgo()
    {
        return date('H:i:s', time() - 3600);
    }
}

As you can see, no overhead, just a straightforward call to date() and time(). To test this with specific times we implement a test case as follows (Example in PHPUnit but works as well with other frameworks):

namespace My\Namespace;

require_once 'PHPUnit\Framework\TestCase.php';

/**
 * Override time() in current namespace for testing
 *
 * @return int
 */
function time()
{
	return SomeClassTest::$now ?: time();
}

class SomeClassTest extends \PHPUnit_Framework_TestCase
{
	/**
	 * @var int $now Timestamp that will be returned by time()
	 */
	public static $now;

	/**
	 * @var SomeClass $someClass Test subject
	 */
	private $someClass;

	/**
	 * Create test subject before test
	 */
	protected function setUp()
	{
		parent::setUp();
		$this->someClass = new SomeClass;
	}
	/**
	 * Reset custom time after test
	 */
	protected function tearDown()
	{
		self::$now = null;
	}

	/*
	 * Test cases
	 */
	public function testOneHourAgoFromNoon()
	{
		self::$now = strtotime('12:00');
		$this->assertEquals('11:00', $this->someClass->oneHourAgo());
	}
	public function testOneHourAgoFromMidnight()
	{
		self::$now = strtotime('0:00');
		$this->assertEquals('23:00', $this->someClass->oneHourAgo());
	}
}

The crucial point here is that we implement a new function named exaclty like a built-in function. You cannot replace functions but since this is defined in the namespace \My\Namespace it does not replace anything. In fact it is a new function with the fully qualified name \My\Namespace\time()

The test subject now calls time() as unqualified name so PHP looks for the function in the current namespace at first. That is \My\Namespace\time() in our example. I recommend the section about name resolution rules in the manual for further reading.
Important Implication: It does not work if you use the global functions with fully qualified names (i.E. \time()) in your test subjects!

You can implement this function however you like, I decided to make the return value configurable within the test case via a static property that gets resetted after each test and if it is not set the real time is used.

I hope this solution helps, it may feel hackish but for me it made testing a lot easier!

2 thoughts on “PHP: “Mocking” built-in functions like time() in Unit Tests

  1. This looks excellent. The cleanest way to mock time that I have seen so far !
    Thanks a lot for the tip :)

  2. I liked this strategy so much… I pushed it a little further down the line :)

    In this post in programmers stackexchange I was searching for a way to organize my tests.

    I finally implemented a solution following the steps you describe in this page, overriding the DateTime() function. Available here for the curious :)

    Thanks again !

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