5. Increase Test Coverage

Python development follows a practice that all semantic changes and additions to the language and stdlib are accompanied by appropriate unit tests. Unfortunately Python was in existence for a long time before the practice came into effect. This has left chunks of the stdlib untested which is not a desirable situation to be in.

A good, easy way to become acquainted with Python’s code and to help out is to help increase the test coverage for Python’s stdlib. Ideally we would like to have 100% coverage, but any increase is a good one. Do realize, though, that getting 100% coverage is not always possible. There could be platform-specific code that simply will not execute for you, errors in the output, etc. You can use your judgement as to what should and should not be covered, but being conservative and assuming something should be covered is generally a good rule to follow.

Choosing what module you want to increase test coverage for can be done in a couple of ways. You can simply run the entire test suite yourself with coverage turned on and see what modules need help. This has the drawback of running the entire test suite under coverage measuring which takes some time to complete, but you will have an accurate, up-to-date notion of what modules need the most work.

Another is to follow the examples below and simply see what coverage your favorite module has. This is “stabbing in the dark”, though, and so it might take some time to find a module that needs coverage help.

Do make sure, though, that for any module you do decide to work on that you run coverage for just that module. This will make sure you know how good the explicit coverage of the module is from its own set of tests instead of from implicit testing by other code that happens to use the module.

5.1. Common Gotchas

Please realize that coverage reports on modules already imported before coverage data starts to be recorded will be wrong. Typically you can tell a module falls into this category by the coverage report saying that global statements that would obviously be executed upon import have gone unexecuted while local statements have been covered. In these instances you can ignore the global statement coverage and simply focus on the local statement coverage.

When writing new tests to increase coverage, do take note of the style of tests already provided for a module (e.g., whitebox, blackbox, etc.). As some modules are primarily maintained by a single core developer they may have a specific preference as to what kind of test is used (e.g., whitebox) and prefer that other types of tests not be used (e.g., blackbox). When in doubt, stick with whitebox testing in order to properly exercise the code.

5.2. Measuring Coverage

It should be noted that a quirk of running coverage over Python’s own stdlib is that certain modules are imported as part of interpreter startup. Those modules required by Python itself will not be viewed as executed by the coverage tools and thus look like they have very poor coverage (e.g., the stat module). In these instances the module will appear to not have any coverage of global statements but will have proper coverage of local statements (e.g., function definitions will be not be traced, but the function bodies will). Calculating the coverage of modules in this situation will simply require manually looking at what local statements were not executed.

5.2.1. Using coverage.py

One of the most popular third-party coverage tools is coverage.py which provides very nice HTML output along with advanced features such as branch coverage. If you prefer to stay with tools only provided by the stdlib then you can by using test.regrtest.

Because the in-development version of Python is bleeding-edge, it is possible that the latest release version of coverage.py will not work. In that case you should try using the in-development of coverage.py to see if it has been updated as needed. To do this you should clone/check out the development version of coverage.py:

hg clone https://bitbucket.org/ned/coveragepy

Another option is to use an installed copy of coverage.py if you already have an installed copy. But if you do not already have it installed then it is preferred you use a clone of coverage.py for gathering coverage results.

If you are using a clone of coverage.py, the following should work (substitute COVERAGEDIR with the directory where your clone exists, e.g. ../coveragepy):


Coverage.py will print out a little bit of helper text verifying that everything is working. If you are using an installed copy, you can do the following instead:

./python -m coverage

The rest of the examples on how to use coverage.py will assume you are using a cloned copy, but you can substitute the above and all instructions should still be valid.

To run the test suite under coverage.py, do the following:

./python COVERAGEDIR run --pylib Lib/test/regrtest.py

To run only a single test, specify the module/package being tested in the --source flag (so as to prune the coverage reporting to only the module/package you are interested in) and then append the name of the test you wish to run to the command:

./python COVERAGEDIR run --pylib --source=abc Lib/test/regrtest.py test_abc

To see the results of the coverage run, you can view a text-based report with:

./python COVERAGEDIR report

You can use the --show-missing flag to get a list of lines that were not executed:

./python COVERAGEDIR report --show-missing

But one of the strengths of coverage.py is its HTML-based reports which let you visually see what lines of code were not tested:

./python COVERAGEDIR html -i --include=`pwd`/Lib/* --omit="Lib/test/*,Lib/*/tests/*"

This will generate an HTML report in a directory named htmlcov which ignores any errors that may arise and ignores modules for which test coverage is unimportant (e.g. tests, temp files, etc.). You can then open the htmlcov/index.html file in a web browser to view the coverage results along with pages that visibly show what lines of code were or were not executed. Branch Coverage

For the truly daring, you can use another powerful feature of coverage.py: branch coverage. Testing every possible branch path through code, while a great goal to strive for, is a secondary goal to getting 100% line coverage for the entire stdlib (for now).

If you decide you want to try to improve branch coverage, simply add the --branch flag to your coverage run:

./python COVERAGEDIR run --pylib --branch <arguments to run test(s)>

This will lead to the report stating not only what lines were not covered, but also what branch paths were not executed. Coverage Results For Modules Imported Early On

For the truly truly daring, you can use a hack to get coverage.py to include coverage for modules that are imported early on during CPython’s startup (e.g. the encodings module). Do not worry if you can’t get this to work or it doesn’t make any sense; it’s entirely optional and only important for a small number of modules.

If you still choose to try this, the first step is to build coverage.py’s C extension code. Assuming that coverage.py’s clone is at COVERAGEDIR and your clone of CPython is at CPYTHONDIR, you execute the following in your coverage.py clone:

CPPFLAGS="-I CPYTHONDIR -I CPYTHONDIR/Include" CPYTHONDIR/python setup.py build_ext --inplace

This will build coverage.py’s C extension code in-place, allowing the previous instructions on how to gather coverage to continue to work.

To get coverage.py to be able to gather the most accurate coverage data on as many modules as possible with a HORRIBLE HACK that you should NEVER use in your own code, run the following from your CPython clone:

PYTHONPATH=COVERAGEDIR/coverage/fullcoverage ./python COVERAGEDIR run --pylib Lib/test/regrtest.py

This will give you the most complete coverage possible for CPython’s standard library.

5.2.2. Using test.regrtest

If you prefer to rely solely on the stdlib to generate coverage data, you can do so by passing the appropriate flags to test.regrtest (along with any other flags you want to):

./python -m test --coverage -D `pwd`/coverage_data <test arguments>

Do note the argument to -D; if you do not specify an absolute path to where you want the coverage data to end up it will go somewhere you don’t expect.


If you are running coverage over the entire test suite, make sure to add -x test_importlib test_runpy test_trace to exclude those tests as they trigger exceptions during coverage; see http://bugs.python.org/issue10541 and http://bugs.python.org/issue10991.

Once the tests are done you will find the directory you specified contains files for each executed module along with which lines were executed how many times.

5.3. Filing the Issue

Once you have increased coverage, you need to generate the patch and submit it to the issue tracker. On the issue set the “Components” to “Test” and “Versions” to the version of Python you worked on (i.e., the in-development version).

5.4. Measuring coverage of C code with gcov and lcov

It’s also possible to measure the function, line and branch coverage of Python’s C code. Right now only GCC with gcov is supported. In order to create an instrumented build of Python with gcov, run:

make coverage

Then run some code and gather coverage data with the gcov command. In order to create a HTML report you can install lcov. The command:

make coverage-lcov

assembles coverage data, removes 3rd party and system libaries and finally creates a report. You can skip both steps and just run:

make coverage-report

if you like to generate a coverage report for Python’s stdlib tests. It takes about 20 to 30 minutes on a modern computer.


Multiple test jobs may not work properly. C coverage reporting has only been tested with a single test process.