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Why test?

Org-mode has grown into a popular large and feature-rich application, on which development often happens at a great pace. Indeed, feature requests posted on the Org mailing list are frequently developed and published within hours of the request.

The down-side of such rapid development is that on some occasions, one of the many patches, features, or refactorings being applied to the code-base may unintentionally cause unexpected behavior within Org-mode. This is known as a software regression. The larger and more complex Org-mode becomes, the more you may expect to see such software regressions.

One concern with introducing software regressions is that the regression may not be immediately obvious to users. Indeed it can be hours, days, or even months before an Org-mode user moves to export an important schedule, when "bang" - the regression has reared its ugly head.

The solution to avoiding software regressions? Regression Testing! With a regression test suite the developer can run the tests prior to committing their change, to ensure their additions do not break the regression tests.

Naturally, a regression test suite is only as good as the number, quality, and coverage of regression tests within it, and this is where Org-mode users can help.

Running the current test suite

So long as you are on an up-to-date release of Org-mode you may run the tests on your local setup. To update Org-mode check out the org FAQ page. Note, the test suite will run on versions of Emacs back to version 22.

A pre-requisite for running the tests is the ERT test library. This may be obtained easily as follows.

Emacs-22 / Emacs-23

In Emacs-22 and Emacs-23 you will need to download the test files _ert.el_ and ert-x.el to your testing directory. This may be accomplished with the following commands entered on the command line.

cd /path/to/org-mode/testing
curl -O
curl -O

Alternatively you may download the files within your browser.

  • browse to
  • right click ert.el link and select download linked file (or
  • equivalent) and save to org-mode/testing/ert.el
  • right click ert-x.el link and select download linked file (or
  • equivalent) and save to org-mode/testing/ert-x.el

That's it - you may now run the tests.


Emacs-24 includes ERT, so nothing to do.

Run tests from the command line

To run the tests from the command line (without loading your personal configurations) use the following commands (Note, if you have more than one version of Emacs on your system, you may need to include the full path to the required Emacs executable).

cd /path/to/org-mode/testing
Emacs -Q -batch -l org-test.el -eval "(setq org-confirm-babel-evaluate nil)" -f org-test-run-batch-tests'

Run tests from within Emacs

To run the tests from within Emacs itself.

M-x load-file RET /path/to/org-mode/testing/org-test.el
M-x org-test-run-all-tests

Writing tests with minimal Emacs-lisp knowledge

Thanks to the growing number of test-macros that are being made available, it is becoming easier to write regression tests with minimal lisp knowledge, and you are also likely to greatly improve your knowledge of Emacs-lisp as a result. And the more tests you write, the more confident you may be that your personal use of the many Org-mode features available has not been affected by regression.

And of course, any help toward improving the Org-mode test-suite is highly appreciated.

Preparing to write tests

Coming soon...


Coming soon...

Testing Utilities

Several useful utilities exist to make the practice of writing tests even easier. These are available from the Org-mode repository as a seperate git sub-module. Assuming you have cloned Org-mode using git, you may install these extra utilities with the following git commands.

cd /path/to/org-mode
git submodule init
git submodule update


  • Help all non-programmers to help:
  • Link to tutorials on debugging, emacs debugger...
  • Create simple packages with test data, and place them here for download:
  • Directory trees with org-files for export-stress-testing.
  • One Org-file per bug to prevent regression.
  • Name and add corner cases.
  • Create automated tests to programm against.

Ideas for test

  • Verify the output of tests with tools like diff (think export here).

What we need to know to actually write tests

The tutorial I'd need to write a test is one which lays out code I could copy and paste to do the following:

setup the test environment

  • create a test directory
  • create a sample file
  • put the cursor in a particular place

run the command we need to test

  • hit the TAB key, or C-c C-c (some folks might need to be reminded how to
  • find out exactly what command is actually being run when you hit a keystroke. And some of me might need to be told what lisp-code to use when the keystroke runs different commands at different places in a file)
  • reformat a table
  • clock in/out
  • create the agenda
  • export .html .ics .dvi files

How do we specify the correct result???

  • check that the headline folded properly. What's the lisp code for getting
  • the folded string as displayed?
  • check that the cursor is where it should be? Especially when the cursor is
  • near elipses...
  • check that the agenda is built properly. What's the lisp code for getting
  • the agenda as a string?
  • check that the exported files are correct. Maybe the right suggestion is to
  • run the export on two different files, so the test can focus on the 'diff' between them. That way different people who run the same test on different hosts can get the same result.

ERT Example

I implemented a toy test of org's html export facility using ert.el. See ert-publish-test.el for the implementation. To run the test open up org-publish-test.el, and M-x eval-buffer. This should load ert, and run the simple html export test.

COMMENT buffer dictionary

LocalWords: ert el EmacsLispExpectations org's