Mocking Entity Framework 6 - How To Do It, When NOT To Do It

December 16, 2021 in Testing TDD Entity Framework
Read Time: 8 minutes
Mocking Entity Framework 6 - How To Do It, When NOT To Do It


First off, let me make a few assumptions if you’re reading this article and trying to mock with Entity Framework 6:

  1. You’re on a legacy codebase. If you weren’t you’d be using Entity Framework Core and the In-Memory Provider.
  2. You’re not utilizing Database Migrations. If you were, it may probably be easier to create a new database and run tests using localDb.
  3. Your schema is extremely large. With a large database schema (often seen in legacy systems) data setup can become extremely difficult. You want to set up some simple data for a test, but you end up 6 tables deep with a web of foreign key requirements.
  4. You’re not using the Repository Pattern. Although I’m not always a fan, it’s much easier to mock out an interface you define (usually).


Mocking has become controversial. It can be a testing code smell. If used incorrectly, it can lead to brittle tests, that don’t add a lot of value. Ironically, it can sometimes make tests more difficult to write.

A rule I like to follow is, try to only mock dependencies that are external to the system and that you don’t control. Things like a message bus, API calls to different services (even some you control, sending emails, texts, etc.).

A mocked database, by definition, is different than what is running in production. If you aren’t very careful, these differences may cause false positives or false negatives that wouldn’t be valid in production. We’ll get into the details later. Be sure the pros of mocking in this scenario outweigh the cons.

If You Must

The typical benefit of mocking your database during tests is speed. Excluding the database has the advantage of getting your tests to run blazing fast. I won’t go through too many of the details on how to do this. Microsoft has a great post of how to do this.

Making It Reusable

To make mocking easier to reuse throughout my tests I’ve used this extension method in the past with great success.

 1public static DbSet<T> MockDbSet<T>(this IList<T> list)
 2    where T : class
 4    var data = list.AsQueryable();
 6    var mock = new Mock<DbSet<T>>();
 8    mock.As<IDbAsyncEnumerable<T>>()
 9        .Setup(m => m.GetAsyncEnumerator())
10        .Returns(new TestDbAsyncEnumerator<T>(data.GetEnumerator()));
12    mock.As<IQueryable<T>>()
13        .Setup(m => m.Provider)
14        .Returns(new TestDbAsyncQueryProvider<T>(data.Provider));
16    mock.As<IQueryable<T>>().Setup(m => m.Expression).Returns(data.Expression);
17    mock.As<IQueryable<T>>().Setup(m => m.ElementType).Returns(data.ElementType);
18    mock.As<IQueryable<T>>().Setup(m => m.GetEnumerator()).Returns(data.GetEnumerator());
20    mock.Setup(x => x.Add(It.IsAny<T>())).Returns<T>((input) =>
21    {
22        list.Add(input);
23        return input;
24    });
26    // Setup Find method for only the "Id" property.
27    mock.Setup(set => set.Find(It.IsAny<object>()))
28        .Returns<object[]>(ids => list.FirstOrDefault(y =>
29            Convert.ToInt64(typeof(T).GetProperty("Id").GetValue(y, null)) == Convert.ToInt64(ids[0])));
31    mock.Setup(set => set.FindAsync(It.IsAny<object>()))
32        .ReturnsAsync((object[] ids) => list.FirstOrDefault(y =>
33            Convert.ToInt64(typeof(T).GetProperty("Id").GetValue(y, null)) == Convert.ToInt64(ids[0])));
35    return mock.Object;

Missing: Remove from DbSet

You can then use this DbSet and replace the property on your DbContext. Example:

 2// arrange
 3var orders = new List<Order>();
 4var invoices = new List<Invoice>();
 5var db = new TestAppDbContext();
 6db.Orders = orders.MockDbSet();
 7db.Invoices = invoices.MockDbSet();
11var invoiceService = new InvoiceService(db);
13// act
14invoiceService.InvoiceOrder(100); // invoice order 100
15var result = _invoices.First();
17// assert
19// a new invoice should be created.
22// an invoice for that order should be returned
25// an invoice line item, should be created for each order line item
28// a new invoice added to the simulated database.
29var newInvoice = invoices.First();

InvoiceOrder may look like something like this:

1public void InvoiceOrder(long orderId)
3    var order = _db.Orders.First(x => x.Id == orderId && x.Invoiced == false);
4    if (order == null) throw new InvalidOperationException($"Order {orderId} cannot be invoiced.");
5    var invoice = CreateInvoice(order);
6    _db.Invoices.Add(invoice);
7    _db.SaveChanges();

Line 5 is where interesting things happen. It’s where the invoice and the line items are created from the order. CreateInvoice is a private method, surrounded by database activity. This is the business logic we want to be testing.

In this instance, mocking the database is a decent way to test this method. Line 1, will be backed by List<Order> used in the MockDbSet method. Mocking even enables the LINQ query to run correctly. We could fill the list with various orders and actually confirm the business logic buried in the query.

Line 6 is backed by List<Invoice>. So even though this method is void, we can still get the resulting invoice. We could also have accessed it using the DbSet: _db.Invoices.First().

Why You Might Not Want To

There are so many differences between in-memory LINQ and actually hitting a database. Here are a few that come to mind:

Includes Since everything is in memory, Includes are simply ignored. While testing full object graphs would be returned all the time. If you aren’t aware of this, you may be surprised when properties come back null in Production.

LINQ SQL Provider vs LINQ in Memory There are LINQ methods that would blow up on a database, but not in memory. You have to be aware of the difference.

Auto incrementing Identity Columns If you have any code the relies on the fact that newly inserted entities have incrementing Ids, then this will not be available in memory.

Foreign Keys and Navigation Properties The LINQ SQL provider is amazing at what it does, especially when joining multiple tables. For example, the following LINQ queries will result in the same SQL:

_db.Post.Where(x => x.BlogId == 11) is the same as going through the navigation property: _db.Post.Where(x => x.Blog.Id == 11). The SQL will be the same.

Running in memory, you would have to ensure that your data is set up and the navigation properties are perfect.

SaveChanges - Data Fixup SaveChanges does a lot of data fixup after SQL has been run and data persisted. Especially when it comes to foreign keys and navigation properties. In Entity Framework, We can associate two related entities together using entity instances or their Ids.

Saving changes after calling: post.Blog = blog, will result in a lot of data clean up for free: post.BlogId would be set correctly. Also, the bidirectional properties would also be set: blog.Posts would now contain the same post instance.

None of these things happen when mocking the DbSet as described above.

Given all these caveats, I tend to lean away from this method, unless absolutely necessary. It’s typically needed more in legacy codebases.

What To Do Instead

Don’t Mock - Local Db LocalDb is your friend. This is installed with the .NET Framework and is usually available in an CI/CD pipeline. This is the best bet and will get your better parity with a SQL Server database.

SQLite This provider is extremely fast, but so is LocalDb, so there’s not a compelling reason to use this instead.

EF Core - In Memory Provider

One interesting difference between using a real database provider versus using something in memory is that foreign key constraints are not validated in memory. Depending on your use case, this may or may not be an advantage.

I’ve tried testing on some legacy systems in the past and data setup was next to impossible. With the spiderweb of foreign keys, seeding data (even for a simple test) was extremely difficult.

In that case, an in-memory implementation was beneficial, because I was able to set up just that data I cared about, even those the entities technically required other data. In a scenario like this, the Entity Framework Core In-Memory Provider was a good compromise. It alleviated several of the issues above that I had with the Entity Framework mocks (Auto Incrementing Ids, Foreign Keys, SaveChanges Data Fixup). I was actually quite impressed.

Of course, not everyone is able to upgrade to EF Core, but if you can, this is by far the best bet.

Push Logic To The Domain

To circle back all the way back to the disclaimer, you should try to avoid mocking the database or using the in-memory provider. The differences between this and a real database have to be evaluated for every test. Only do this if you are intimately familiar with your use case. And even then, make sure that your team is also.

A much better option is to push logic that needs to be tested to places where you don’t need mocks. If refactoring is an option or if we’re talking about new code, separating your data access and business logic will always be a better option.

Consider CreateInvoice from above. It could be written like this:

1public class InvoiceFactory
3    public Invoice Create(Order order)
4    {
5        // business logic with no database dependencies
6    }

At this point, your tests are running only on in-memory items and they can complete in milliseconds. You can test dozens of different scenarios (empty orders, orders with invalid data/statuses, different variables of line items, etc.) in sub-second times. No mocking required.

Another option would be to push this code down to your domain objects (aggregates). Favor pure functions, they are easy to test and fast!

Be Pragmatic When Testing

I don’t want to change the application just for testing.

It’s impossible to effectively test a legacy application without making code changes. So be honest about what your goals are.

I have to follow best practices

If you have some mission-critical business logic that’s buried somewhere in your application, you may want to extract it. Into anything (even a static method) that helps you test.

The Humble Object Pattern is a great tool for this. It’s a fancy way of saying: “extract logic to something without dependencies”. Then voil√†, no mocking needed.

Just as important as knowing how to mock Entity Framework 6 is knowing when not to do it.


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