Writing xpcshell-based unit tests

xpcshell tests are quick-to-run tests, that are generally used to write unit tests. They do not have access to the full browser chrome like browser chrome tests, and so have much lower overhead. They are typical run by using ./mach xpcshell-test which initiates a new xpcshell session with the xpcshell testing harness. Anything available to the XPCOM layer (through scriptable interfaces) can be tested with xpcshell. See Mozilla automated testing and pages tagged "automated testing" for more information.

Introducing xpcshell testing

xpcshell tests must start with test_. For this example, create a file named test_example.js with the following contents:

function run_test() {
  // Write tests and assertions here.

If this is a brand new test suite, the test runner needs to know about the existence of the tests and how to configure them through the use of the xpcshell.ini manifest file. First add the XPCSHELL_TESTS_MANIFESTS += ['xpcshell.ini'] declaration (with the correct relative xpcshell.ini path) to the moz.build file located in or above the directory. Then create the xpcshell.ini file to tell the build system about the individual tests, and provide any additional configuration options. Add the following line in the xpcshell.ini to add a single test. This line lets the build system know that the test exists.


Finally, to run the test, execute it by running the mach command from the root of the Gecko source code directory.

# Run a single test:
$ ./mach xpcshell-test path/to/tests/test_example.js

# Test an entire test suite in a folder:
$ ./mach xpcshell-test path/to/tests/

# Or run any type of test, including both xpcshell and browser chrome tests:
$ ./mach test path/to/tests/test_example.js

The test is executed by the testing harness by calling the run_test function. If this function runs to completion without throwing an exception, the test succeeds. The above example doesn't really test anything, but it gives you an idea how you'd actually write a test.

xpcshell Testing API

xpcshell tests have access to the following functions. They are defined in testing/xpcshell/head.js and testing/modules/Assert.jsm.


ok(truthyOrFalsy[, message])
equal(actual, expected[, message])
notEqual(actual, expected[, message])
deepEqual(actual, expected[, message])
notDeepEqual(actual, expected[, message])
strictEqual(actual, expected[, message])
notStrictEqual(actual, expected[, message])
rejects(actual, expected[, message])
greater(actual, expected[, message])
greatOrEqual(actual, expected[, message])
less(actual, expected[, message])
lessOrEqual(actual, expected[, message])
These assertion methods are provided by Assert.jsm. It implements the CommonJS Unit Testing specification version 1.1, which provides a basic, standardized interface for performing in-code logical assertions with optional, customizable error reporting. It is highly recommended to use these assertion methods, instead of the ones mentioned below.
Assert.throws(callback, expectedException[, message])
Assert.throws(callback[, message])
Asserts that the provided callback function throws an exception. The expectedException argument can be an Error instance, or a regular expression matching part of the error message (like in Assert.throws(() => a.b, /is not defined/).

Deprecated assertions and logging

do_check_eq(a, b)Deprecated since Gecko 32.0
Call this function to assert that two objects are equal (using ==). If not equal, an exception is logged and the test case is halted.
do_check_neq(a, b)Deprecated since Gecko 32.0
Call this function to assert that two objects are not equal (using !=). If equal, an exception is logged and the test case is halted.
do_check_true(expr)Deprecated since Gecko 32.0
Call this function to assert that expr is equal to true.
do_check_false(expr)Deprecated since Gecko 32.0
Call this function to assert that expr is equal to false.
do_check_null(expr)Deprecated since Gecko 32.0
Call this function to assert that expr is equal to null.
Call this function to print text to the test's log file.
do_throw(messageText)Deprecated since Gecko 32.0
Call this function to report an error and exit the test. The argument is a string that will be reported in the test's log file.
Note: While do_throw can be caught by a try/catch block, executing it will cause the test to fail when it completes.

Test case registration and execution

add_task([condition, ]testGenerator)
Add a generator to the list of tests that are to be run asynchronously. Whenever the generator yields a Promise, the test runner waits until the promise is resolved or rejected before proceeding. As in Task.jsm, rejected promises are converted into exceptions, and resolved promises are converted into values. For tests that use add_task(), the run_test() function is optional, but if present, it should also call run_next_test() to start execution of all asynchronous test functions. The test cases must not call run_next_test(), it is called automatically when the task finishes. See Async tests, below, for more information. Starting in Gecko (Firefox 40 / Thunderbird 40 / SeaMonkey 2.37), you can optionally specify a condition which causes the test function to be skipped; see Adding conditions through the add_test function for details.
add_test([condition, ]testFunction)
Add a test function to the list of tests that are to be run asynchronously. Each test function must call run_next_test() when it's done. For tests that use add_test(), the run_test() function is optional, but if present, it should also call run_next_test() to start execution of all asynchronous test functions. In most cases, you should rather use the more readable variant add_task(). See Async tests, below, for more information. Starting in Gecko (Firefox 40 / Thunderbird 40 / SeaMonkey 2.37), you can optionally specify a condition which causes the test function to be skipped; see Adding conditions through the add_test function for details.
Run the next test function from the list of asynchronous tests. Each test function must call run_next_test() when it's done. run_test() should also call run_next_test() to start execution of all asynchronous test functions. See Async tests, below, for more information.
Executes the function callback after the current JS test file has finished running, regardless of whether the tests inside it pass or fail. You can use this to clean up anything that might otherwise cause problems between test runs.
If callback returns a Promise, the test will not finish until the promise is fulfilled or rejected (making the termination function asynchronous).
Cleanup functions are called in reverse order of registration.
Delay exit of the test until do_test_finished() is called. do_test_pending() may be called multiple times, and do_test_finished() must be paired with each before the unit test will exit.
Call this function to inform the test framework that an asynchronous operation has completed. If all asynchronous operations have completed (i.e., every do_test_pending() has been matched with a do_test_finished() in execution), then the unit test will exit.


do_get_file(testdirRelativePath, allowNonexistent)
Returns an nsILocalFile object representing the given file (or directory) in the test directory. For example, if your test is unit/test_something.js, and you need to access unit/data/somefile, you would call do_get_file('data/somefile'). The given path must be delimited with forward slashes. You can use this to access test-specific auxiliary files if your test requires access to external files. Note that you can also use this function to get directories.
Note: If your test needs access to one or more files that aren't in the test directory, you should install those files to the test directory in the Makefile where you specify XPCSHELL_TESTS. For an example, see netwerk/test/Makefile.in#117.
Registers a directory with the profile service and returns an nsILocalFile object representing that directory. It also makes sure that the profile-change-net-teardown, profile-change-teardown, and profile-before-change observer notifications are sent before the test finishes. This is useful if the components loaded in the test observe them to do cleanup on shutdown (e.g., places).
Note: do_register_cleanup will perform any cleanup operation before the profile and the network is shut down by the observer notifications.
By default xpcshell tests will disable the idle service, so that idle time will always be reported as 0. Calling this function will re-enable the service and return a handle to it; the idle time will then be correctly requested to the underlying OS. The idle-daily notification could be fired when requesting idle service. It is suggested to always get the service through this method if the test has to use idle.
Returns an nsILocalFile object representing the test directory. This is the directory containing the test file when it is currently being run. Your test can write to this directory as well as read any files located alongside your test. Your test should be careful to ensure that it will not fail if a file it intends to write already exists, however.
Imports the JavaScript file referenced by testdirRelativePath into the global script context, executing the code inside it. The file specified is a file within the test directory. For example, if your test is unit/test_something.js and you have another file unit/extra_helpers.js, you can load the second file from the first by calling load('extra_helpers.js').
Calls do_get_file(testdirRelativePath), then registers the returned file.


do_parse_document(path, type)
Parses and returns a DOM document.
Executes the function callback on a later pass through the event loop. Use this when you want some code to execute after the current function has finished executing, but you don't care about a specific time delay. This function will automatically insert a do_test_pending / do_test_finished pair for you.
do_timeout(delay, fun)
Call this function to schedule a timeout. The given function will be called with no arguments provided after the specified delay (in milliseconds). Note that you must call do_test_pending so that the test isn't completed before your timer fires, and you must call do_test_finished when the actions you perform in the timeout complete, if you have no other functionality to test. (Note: the function argument used to be a string argument to be passed to eval, and some older branches support only a string argument or support both string and function.)

Multiprocess communication

Asynchronously send a message to all remote processes. Pairs with do_await_remote_message or equivalent ProcessMessageManager listeners.
do_await_remote_message(name, optionalCallback)
Returns a promise that is resolved when the message is received. Must be paired with do_send_remote_message or equivalent ProcessMessageManager calls. If optionalCallback is provided, the callback must call do_test_finished.

xpcshell.ini manifest

The manifest controls what tests are included in a test suite, and the configuration of the tests. It is loaded via the `moz.build` property configuration proprety.

The following are all of the configuration options for a test suite as listed under the [DEFAULT] section of the manifest.

Tests can be filtered by tags when running multiple tests. The command for mach is ./mach xpcshell-test --tag TAGNAME
The relative path to the head JavaScript file, which is run once before a test suite is run. The variables declared in the root scope are available as globals in the test files. See Test head and support files for more information and usage.
Set this to "browser" if your tests need access to things in the browser/ directory (e.g. additional XPCOM services that live there)
For this entire test suite, run the tests only if they meet certain conditions. See Adding conditions in the xpcshell.ini manifest for how to use these properties.
Make files available via the resource://test/[filename] path to the tests. The path can be relative to other directories, but it will be served only with the filename. See Test head and support files for more information and usage.
Test file names must start with test_ and are listed in square brackets

Creating a new xpcshell.ini file

When creating a new directory and new xpcshell.ini manifest file, the following must be added to a moz.build file near that file in the directory hierarchy:

XPCSHELL_TESTS_MANIFESTS += ['path/to/xpcshell.ini']

Typically, the moz.build containing XPCSHELL_TESTS_MANIFESTS is not in the same directory as xpcshell.ini, but rather in a parent directory. Common directory structures look like:


# or


Test head and support files

Typically in a test suite, similar setup code and dependencies will need to be loaded in across each test. This can be done through the test head, which is the file declared in the xpcshell.ini manifest file under the head property. The file itself is typically called head.js. Any variable declared in the test head will be in the global scope of each test in that test suite.

In addition to the test head, other support files can be declared in the xpcshell.ini manifest file. This is done through the support-files declaration. These files will be made available through the url resource://test plus the name of the file. These files can then be loaded in using the Components.utils.import function or other loaders. The support files can be located in other directory as well, and they will be made available by their filename.

# File structure:

# xpcshell.ini
head = head.js
support-files =
// head.js
var globalValue = "A global value.";

// Import support-files.
// test_example.js
function run_test() {
  equal(globalValue, "A global value.", "Declarations in head.js can be accessed");

Additional testing considerations

Async tests

Asynchronous tests (that is, those whose success cannot be determined until after run_test finishes) can be written in a variety of ways.

Task-based asynchronous tests

The easiest is using the add_task helper. add_task takes a JavaScript generator as its argument, which is run as in Task.jsm. add_task tests are run automatically if you don't have a run_test function.

function run_test() {
  // If you don't have any synchronous tests to call, you don't need to define run_test.
  // But if you define run_test, you must call run_next_test at the end of it.

add_task(function* test_foo() {
  let foo = yield makeFoo(); // makeFoo() returns a Promise<foo>
  equal(foo, expectedFoo);

add_task(function* test_bar() {
  let foo = yield makeBar(); // makeBar() returns a Promise<bar>
  equal(bar, expectedBar);

Callback-based asynchronous tests

You can also use add_test, which takes a function and adds it to the list of asynchronously-run functions. These functions are not run automatically; you must have a run_test function which calls run_next_test, and each function given to add_test must also call run_next_test at its end. You should normally use add_task instead of add_test, but you may see add_test in existing tests.

function run_test() {

add_test(function test_foo() {
  makeFoo(function callback(foo) { // makeFoo invokes a callback<foo> once completed
    equal(foo, expectedFoo);

add_test(function test_bar() {
  makeBar(function callback(bar) {
    equal(bar, expectedBar);

Other tests

We can also tell the test harness not to kill the test process once run_test() is finished, but to keep spinning the event loop until our callbacks have been called and our test has completed. This can be achieved with do_test_pending() and do_test_finished():

function run_test() {
  // Tell the harness to keep spinning the event loop at least
  // until the next do_test_finished() call.

  someAsyncProcess(function callback(result) {
    equal(result, expectedResult);

    // Close previous do_test_pending() call.

Testing in child processeses

By default xpcshell tests run in the parent process. If you wish to run test logic in the child, you have several ways to do it:

  1. Create a regular test_foo.js test, and then write a wrapper test_foo_wrap.js file that uses the run_test_in_child() function to run an entire script file in the child. This is an easy way to arrange for a test to be run twice, once in chrome and then later (via the _wrap.js file) in content. See /network/test/unit_ipc for examples. The run_test_in_child() function takes a callback, so you should be able to call it multiple times with different files, if that's useful.
  2. For tests that need to run logic in both the parent + child processes during a single test run, you may use the poorly documented sendCommand() function, which takes a code string to be executed on the child, and a callback function to be run on the parent when it has completed. You will want to first call do_load_child_test_harness() to set up a reasonable test environment on the child. sendCommand returns immediately, so you will generally want to use do_test_pending/do_test_finished with it. NOTE: this method of test has not been used much, and your level of pain may be significant. Consider option #1 if possible.

See the documentation for run_test_in_child() and do_load_child_test_harness() in testing/xpcshell/head.js for more information.

Platform-specific tests

Sometimes you might want a test to know what platform it's running on (to test platform-specific features, or allow different behaviors). Unit tests are not normally invoked from a Makefile (unlike Mochitests), or preprocessed (so not #ifdefs), so platform detection with those methods isn't trivial.

Runtime detection

Some tests will want to only execute certain portions on specific platforms. One approach that's been used is to look for the existence of platform-specific components or interfaces. It's a bit hackish, but it's simple and it works.

  • For Windows:

var isWindows = ("@mozilla.org/windows-registry-key;1" in Components.classes);

  • For OS X:

var isOSX = ("nsILocalFileMac" in Components.interfaces);

  • For Linux:

var isLinux = ("@mozilla.org/gnome-gconf-service;1" in Components.classes);

Conditionally running a test

There are two different ways to conditional skip a test, either through

Adding conditions through the add_test function

You can use conditionals on individual test functions instead of entire files. The condition is provided as an optional first parameter passed into add_test() or add_task(). The condition is an object which contains a function named skip_if(), which is an arrow function returning a boolean value which is true if the test should be skipped.

For example, you can provide a test which only runs on Mac OS X like this:

  skip_if: () => MOZINFO.os != "mac"
}, function some_test() {
  // Test code goes here

Since MOZINFO.os != "mac" is true only when testing on Mac OS X, the test will be skipped on all other platforms.

Note: Arrow functions are ideal here because if your condition compares constants, it will already have been evaluated before the test is even run, meaning your output will not be able to show the specifics of what the condition is.

Adding conditions in the xpcshell.ini manifest

Sometimes you may want to add conditions to specify that a test should be skipped in certain configurations, or that a test is known to fail on certain platforms. You can do this in xpcshell manifests by adding annotations below the test file entry in the manifest, for example:

skip-if = os == 'win'

This example would skip running test_example.js on Windows.

Note: Starting with Gecko (Firefox 40 / Thunderbird 40 / SeaMonkey 2.37), you can use conditionals on individual test functions instead of on entire files. See Adding conditions through the add_test function above for details.

There are currently four conditionals you can specify:


skip-if tells the harness to skip running this test if the condition evaluates to true. You should use this only if the test has no meaning on a certain platform, or causes undue problems like hanging the test suite for a long time.


run-if tells the harness to only run this test if the condition evaluates to true. It functions as the inverse of skip-if.


fail-if tells the harness that this test is expected to fail if the condition is true. If you add this to a test, make sure you file a bug on the failure and include the bug number in a comment in the manifest, like:

# bug xxxxxx
fail-if = os == 'linux'

run-sequentially basically tells the harness to run the respective test in isolation. This is required for tests that are not "thread-safe". You should do all you can to avoid using this option, since this will kill performance. However, we understand that there are some cases where this is imperative, so we made this option available. If you add this to a test, make sure you specify a reason and possibly even a bug number, like:

run-sequentially = Has to launch Firefox binary, bug 123456.
Manifest conditional expressions

For a more detailed description of the syntax of the conditional expressions, as well as what variables are available, see this page.

Running unit tests under a C++ debugger

Via --debugger and -debugger-interactive

You can specify flags when issuing the xpcshell-test command that will cause your test to stop right before running so you can attach to xpcshell in a debugger (implemented in bug 382682).


$ ./mach xpcshell-test --debugger gdb --debugger-interactive netwerk/test/test_resumable_channel.js
# js>_execute_test();
...failure or success messages are printed to the console...
# js>quit();

On Windows with the VS debugger:

$ ./mach xpcshell-test --debugger devenv --debugger-interactive netwerk/test/test_resumable_channel.js

Or with WinDBG:

$ ./mach xpcshell-test --debugger windbg --debugger-interactive netwerk/test/test_resumable_channel.js

Debugging xpcshell tests in a child process

To debug the child process, where code is often being run in a project, set MOZ_DEBUG_CHILD_PROCESS=1 in your environment (or on the command line) and run the test. You will see the child process emit a printf with its process ID, then sleep. Attach a debugger to the child's pid, and when it wakes up you can debug it:

$ MOZ_DEBUG_CHILD_PROCESS=1 ./mach xpcshell-test test_simple_wrap.js
  debug me @13476

Debug both parent and child processes

Use MOZ_DEBUG_CHILD_PROCESS=1 to attach debuggers to each process. (For gdb at least, this means running separate copies of gdb, one for each process.)

Problems with pending events and shutdown

Events are not processed during test execution if not explicitly triggered. This sometimes causes issues during shutdown, when code is run that expects previously created events to have been already processed. In such cases, this code at the end of a test can help:

let thread = gThreadManager.currentThread;
while (thread.hasPendingEvents())