Are Test-Driven Development and Literate Programming the Same Discipline?

Posted by Elf Sternberg as programming

A co-worker of mine is very fond of Test Driven Development, which isn’t really my thing, although I’m learning. I have a lot of respect for his code, which works. When I mentioned that, when working alone, I really enjoyed Literate Programming the look on his face couldn’t have been more clear. He said he hated Literate Programming, that there was no point to writing that much commentary.

So I’ve been doing TDD with one project, and LP with another project, and I’ve come to a rather amusing conclusion: Test Driven Development and Literate Programming are the same discipline.

There are a million analogies to programming: debugging a blank page.  Architecture.  Sculpture.  If these are strong analogies for programming, then how about this one: TDD and LP are the injection molding of programming.  Both attempt to describe the outside of the program, the shape of it, the outlines inside of which it should live, and the border over which it shall not cross.  Once you’ve written that outline, you then write a program that conforms to it.  LP does it piece by piece.  TDD does it whole-hog, checks for leaks, and goes and revises either the mold or the program and tries again.

But both are essentially the discipline of describing the program in excruciating detail, then writing the program to that description.   TDD is automated, true, and can tell you when you’ve lied to yourself; LP, in contrast, assumes that since your duty is to keep text and code in sync not only don’t you lie to yourself, you’re unwilling to lie to yourself.

There are many disciplines to programming, with “throw it at the wall and see what sticks” continuing to be the most favored among many developers.  (Believe me, I’ve worked at places where that was the official development policy).   But when you talk about constraining the specification such that you know for sure “the program is supposed to do this“, then LP and TDD are, at base, doing the same thing: describing the specification in such detail that the program ends up molded to the spec.

1 Response to Are Test-Driven Development and Literate Programming the Same Discipline?


December 15th, 2009 at 12:42 pm

Are Test-Driven Development and Literate Programming the Same Discipline? | Elf Sternberg…

Are Test-Driven Development and Literate Programming the Same Discipline…

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