Doctest - my favorite lightweight, zero-friction unit test framework

In my personal C++ projects I’ve always been using doctest. It’s simply awesome. It takes a few seconds to get bootstrapped and you are ready to run your tests. And it should really be the first thing you do when you start a new project.

For example, I’ve been using it in neschan which is a NES emulator that I wrote for fun back in 2018, and one such example is a few unit test that validates the emulated 6502 CPU works correctly:


TEST_CASE("CPU tests") {
    nes_system system;

    SUBCASE("simple") {

        cout << "Running [CPU][simple]..." << endl;


                0xa9, 0x10,     // LDA #$10     -> A = #$10
                0x85, 0x20,     // STA $20      -> $20 = #$10
                0xa9, 0x01,     // LDA #$1      -> A = #$1
                0x65, 0x20,     // ADC $20      -> A = #$11
                0x85, 0x21,     // STA $21      -> $21=#$11
                0xe6, 0x21,     // INC $21      -> $21=#$12
                0xa4, 0x21,     // LDY $21      -> Y=#$12
                0xc8,           // INY          -> Y=#$13
                0x00,           // BRK 

        auto cpu = system.cpu();

        CHECK(cpu->peek(0x20) == 0x10);
        CHECK(cpu->peek(0x21) == 0x12);
        CHECK(cpu->A() == 0x11);
        CHECK(cpu->Y() == 0x13);

It’s pretty self-explanatory - use TEST_CASE to define a test case and SUBCASE for scenarios, and CHECK for actual validation/assertion. (Ignore INIT_TRACE - it’s not part of the doctest framework)

To use it in your own project - just download one file:

curl -o doctest.h

And include that and add a #define:

#include "doctest.h"

int add(int a, int b) {
  return a + b;

TEST_CASE("testing 1+1=2") {
    CHECK(add(1,1) == 2);

The magic DOCTEST_CONFIG_IMPLEMENT_WITH_MAIN is to tell doctest.h this file needs a main. You should only have it before #include doctest.h (obviously), so that the following code in doctest.h can kick in:

DOCTEST_MSVC_SUPPRESS_WARNING_WITH_PUSH(4007) // 'function' : must be 'attribute' - see issue #182
int main(int argc, char** argv) { return doctest::Context(argc, argv).run(); }

Note that you should only have this in a single file (perhaps a bit obvious). Other .cc/.cpp files just need to #include "doctest.h" without the #define - the linker wouldn’t be happy more than one main function, after all.

Compile and run:

NOTE: –std=c++11 is required to use doctest, otherwise g++ would shout at you for feeding it nonsense

[~/tmp/test]: g++ --std=c++11 -o test
[~/tmp/test, 1s]: ./test
[doctest] doctest version is "2.3.1"
[doctest] run with "--help" for options
[doctest] test cases:      1 |      1 passed |      0 failed |      0 skipped
[doctest] assertions:      1 |      1 passed |      0 failed |
[doctest] Status: SUCCESS!

It doesn’t get simpler than this. When I say zero friction I really mean it. OK, maybe not entirely zero, but close enough.

Note that the earlier main function calls out to doctest::Context(argc, argv). This means that the final executable automatically comes with command line arguments you can use to control how the test executes, such as:

  1. Test case filters
  2. Listing all test cases / test suites
  3. Running tests N times
  4. And much more

If you are curious…

If you are curious, doctest.h is giagantic 6000 line header file that got assembled from two files with a bit post-processing, if any of them changed:


    # add a custom target that assembles the single header when any of the parts are touched
        OUTPUT ${CMAKE_CURRENT_SOURCE_DIR}/doctest/doctest.h
        COMMAND ${CMAKE_COMMAND} -P ${CMAKE_CURRENT_SOURCE_DIR}/scripts/cmake/assemble_single_header.cmake
        COMMENT "assembling the single header")

    add_custom_target(assemble_single_header ALL DEPENDS ${CMAKE_CURRENT_SOURCE_DIR}/doctest/doctest.h)


set(doctest_include_folder "${CMAKE_CURRENT_LIST_DIR}/../../doctest/")

file(READ ${doctest_include_folder}/parts/doctest_fwd.h fwd)
file(READ ${doctest_include_folder}/parts/doctest.cpp impl)

file(WRITE  ${doctest_include_folder}/doctest.h "// ====================================================================== lgtm [cpp/missing-header-guard]\n")
file(APPEND ${doctest_include_folder}/doctest.h "// == DO NOT MODIFY THIS FILE BY HAND - IT IS AUTO GENERATED BY CMAKE! ==\n")
file(APPEND ${doctest_include_folder}/doctest.h "// ======================================================================\n")
file(APPEND ${doctest_include_folder}/doctest.h "${fwd}\n")
file(APPEND ${doctest_include_folder}/doctest.h "#ifndef DOCTEST_SINGLE_HEADER\n")
file(APPEND ${doctest_include_folder}/doctest.h "#define DOCTEST_SINGLE_HEADER\n")
file(APPEND ${doctest_include_folder}/doctest.h "#endif // DOCTEST_SINGLE_HEADER\n")
file(APPEND ${doctest_include_folder}/doctest.h "\n${impl}")

This makes bootstraping the whole unit test essentially painless. You can just include a copy in your repo/folder and you are done. No need to fiddle with package manager / submodule. I wish more frameworks are done like this at least during distribution. Of course, assembling the entire boost library into a single header might be a bit extreme, but for simple frameworks where reducing friction of adoption is important, this can be a rather useful technique.