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How to set tests as pending in your ExUnit suite

·3 mins

Elixir’s built in testing library is called ExUnit. It’s a proper testing framework, which, although simple, gives the developers a lot of power and flexibility. If you come from Ruby land, I am sure you’ve been in a position where you want to set a certain test to be skipped. For example, RSpec in Ruby does it with the pending method. Let’s see how we can customize our test suite so ExUnit can skip over tests in our test suite.

Tags #

ExUnit comes with this neat feature called tags. Tags are basically module variables in the test module. In the context of the test, you can think of them as annotations. So, by tagging a test, the value of the tag can be used in the test itself, by passing the context.

defmodule FileTest do
  # Changing directory cannot be async
  use ExUnit.Case, async: false

  setup context do
    # Read the :cd tag value
    if cd = context[:cd] do
      prev_cd = File.cwd!!(cd)
      on_exit fn ->!(prev_cd) end


  @tag cd: "fixtures"
  test "reads utf-8 fixtures" do"hello")
Note: Example taken from ExUnit's official [documentation](

Now, how can we utilize tags to get RSpec’s pending funcionality in ExUnit?

Running tests by tag #

Running tests by tag is really simple in ExUnit. Basically, ExUnit has the ability to skip/include any test by it’s tag.

For example, let’s say you have tagged couple of tests that are brittle:

defmodule SomeTest do
  use ExUnit.Case, async: false

  @tag :brittle
  test "some brittle code" do
    # test here...

Now, you can run only the tests with the brittle tag, by executing:

mix test test/some_test.exs --include brittle

Having this in mind, let’s introduce a custom tag of ours so we can make our tests pending.

Custom tags #

Although the word “custom” used in programming often means something complicated done from scracth by the programmer, in this case it’s very simple.

Let’s take any test and tag it with :pending.

defmodule SomeTest do
  use ExUnit.Case, async: false

  @tag :pending
  test "always true" do
    assert 1 == 1

We can exclude this “pending” test by executing our test suite with:

mix test --exclude pending

This will skip any tests that have the :pending tag. Simple as that, we have RSpec’s pending functionality just by excluding a tag. If you are wondering if we can make the exclusion of the tag automatic - yes we can. In your test_helper.exs add this line, before the ExUnit.start line:

ExUnit.configure(exclude: [pending: true])

This configuration will tell ExUnit that it should always skip tests that are tagged as :pending. Now, every time you run your tests, the tests tagged with :pending will be excluded.

Do you have any other interesting configuration trick in your ExUnit suite? Feel free to share them in the comments, I would love to learn more about ExUnit!

Thanks for reading!