The Complete Guide to the Node.js Test Runner

Learn how to test JavaScript using the Node.js Test Runner

An example test suite using the Node.js Test Runner

Node.js is a popular runtime environment for building server-side applications using JavaScript. Testing is an essential part of any software development process, and the release of Node.js 20 brings an exciting update for developers. Node.js 20 promotes the built-in Test Runner from experimental to stable.

In this tutorial, we’ll take a closer look at the now-stable Test Runner, from installation to running tests and generating reports.

So, let’s get started and see how you can use the Node.js Test Runner.

Table of Contents

Getting Started with the Test Runner

To use the stable Test Runner you will need to download version 20 (or later) from nodejs.org or your favorite Node.js version manager. (Check out Volta!)

Now you can run tests by using the --test cli flag:

node --test

Writing Tests

Before running the Test Runner, you will need to write some actual tests. The essential test functions can be imported from the node:test module. Note: There is no test module, you have to use node:test.

const { describe, test } = require('node:test');


The test() function sets up an individual test. The first argument is a descriptive name for the test. The second argument is a function that performs the actual test. The tested function can be either a normal function or an asynchronous function.


The describe() function set ups up a suite of tests. A describe block can have many different tests inside of it and is meant to group together related tests. A describe block can also be used to set up and tear down tests using hooks.

The first argument to describe() is the name of the suite. The second argument is a function that contains one or more test() functions.

it() vs test()

There is a shorthand for the test() function called it(). it() is simply an alias for test(), so it does exactly the same thing and takes exactly the same parameters.

So then, why use one over the other?

The difference is readability, as a Stack Overflow answer states. When using it(), the tendency is to read it as part of the test name. So it('should do this thing') is read as: “It should do this thing”.

It really just comes down to personal preference. As long as you are consistent in your test files no one should complain too much.


Now that you have tests you’ll want to make sure that your code produces expected results. That is where the assert built-in module shines.

The assert module has many different types of asserts, but the one most commonly used is the assert.equal() function. As with most of the assert functions, assert.equal() takes two arguments, the actual value and the expected value. There is also a third optional message. assert.equal() will compare the actual and expected value and throws an error if they are not equal. When using “strict mode” (recommend!) this will use strict equality (===) rather than regular equality (==) in “legacy mode”.

To use assertions in your tests (in “strict mode”) use the following example.

const assert = require('node:assert/strict');

assert.equal(1, 1); // True
assert.equal(1, '1'); // False
assert.equal(1, {}); // False

Example Test

// example.test.js

const { describe, test } = require('node:test');
const assert = require('node:assert/strict');

// The function to test (normally this would be in a different file)
function compare(a, b) {
  if (typeof a !== 'number' || typeof b !== 'number') {
    throw new Error('Not a number');

  if (a > b) {
    return 1;
  else if (a < b) {
    return -1;

  return 0;

// The test suite
describe('compare()', () => {
  test('Returns a 1 when a is greater than b', () => {
    const result = compare(2, 1);
    assert.equal(result, 1);

  test('Returns a -1 when a is less than b', () => {
    const result = compare(1, 2);
    assert.equal(result, -1);

  test('Returns a 0 when a equals b', () => {
    const result = compare(1, 1);
    assert.equal(result, 0);

  test('Throws an error when one of the inputs is not a number', () => {
    assert.throws(() => compare('test', 1));

How Does Node Find Tests?

By default, the Test Runner will recursively search the current directory for any of the following files:

  • All *.js, *.cjs, and *.mjs files in directories called test.
  • All files named “test”. Example: test.js
  • All files starting with “test-”. Example: test-something.cjs
  • All files ending with “.test”, “-test”, or “_test”: Examples: something.test.js, something-test.cjs, something_test.mjs

Limiting the Tests

Testing a large code base can sometimes be a time-consuming process. if you want to limit the test files being run, just pass them as arguments to node --test.

You can also pass globs to node --test (as of Node.js 21) instead of a file path. This allows you, for example, to specify all files under a certain directory: node --test some/path/**/*.test.js.

Alternatively, you can use --test-name-pattern to filter to just specific tests by regex pattern. For example: node --test --test-name-pattern="regex \w+"

At the time of writing, it appears that the filtering only works on top-level tests and doesn’t work on subtests. See this GitHub issue for a potential solution in a future release of Node.js.

Within a test file, you can also filter and limit tests using describe.skip(), test.skip(), it.skip(), describe.only(), test.only(), and it.only(). These work just like the standard describe() and it() functions as detailed above. The key difference is that the skip variant will not run the test and the only variant will restrict the Test Runner to only running that test or suite.

Before version 20.2.0 test.skip() and test.only() were not available. If you prefer using test() over it(), make sure you are on the latest version of Node.js!

TODO tests

Not ready to implement a test yet, but you know ahead of time what you want to test? Then use describe.todo(), test.todo(), and it.todo(). These mark the tests as TODO so you can come back to them later. This can be useful when working on other tests as the number of TODO tests is printed in the output, reminding you to get back to them.

Before version 20.2.0 test.todo() was not available. If you prefer using test() over it(), make sure you are on the latest version of Node.js!

Test Timeouts

By default, tests will not timeout. So if you want to cut off long-running tests you can add --test-timeout to your node --test call. The --test-timeout flag will take the number of milliseconds that you want to set the timeout to. For example: node --test --test-timeout=3000.

Please be aware that this feature was released in Node.js version 20.11.0.


Hooks are a great way to reuse common set up and tear down processes. Hooks come in several different flavors:

  • before() - Executes a function before a test suite
  • beforeEach() - Executes a function before each test in a suite
  • afterEach() - Executes a function after each test in a suite
  • after() - Executes a function after a test suite

Each hook takes a function as an argument and evaluates it during the lifecycle as described above. This will be relative to the describe() block that the hooks are in. This makes it possible to execute multiple hooks depending if you have nested describe() blocks.


const { describe, it, before, beforeEach, afterEach, after } = require('node:test');

describe('some test suite', () => {
  before(() => {
    // Do some one-time set up, like opening a database connection

  beforeEach(() => {
    // Do some set up before each test, like resetting mocks

  afterEach(() => {
    // Do some tear down after each test, like cleaning up the database

  after(() => {
    // Do some one-time tear down, like shutting down a server


With the integrated test runner there is the ability to mock functions and object methods. Mocking can be a very handy tool, especially when testing error-handling code and external api code.

To get started with mocking, you need to import the mock object from node:test. Then you can use mock.fn() to mock a function. The first argument is the original function and the second argument is an optional implementation. Used without an implementation mock.fn() can be used to see if a function has been called (a “spy” in other testing frameworks). Used with an implementation and you can change the behavior of the original function.

The other function to know is mock.method(). mock.method() takes an object as its first argument, with the second being the name of the method. You can also provide a third argument as a replacement implementation function. As with mock.fn() having the implementation allows you to change the behavior and not having the implementation allows you to check if it has been called.

When you are done with a mock you can run mock.restoreAll() to restore the original functionality and resets the function call history for each mock. Use this in a beforeEach() or afterEach() hook to reuse mocks across multiple tests.

Example (Modified from the Node.js Docs):

const { test, mock } = require('node:test');
const assert = require('node:assert/strict');

test('spies on an object method', (t) => {
  const number = {
    value: 5,
    subtract(a) {
      return this.value - a;

  mock.method(number, 'subtract');
  assert.equal(number.subtract.mock.calls.length, 0);
  assert.equal(number.subtract(3), 2);
  assert.equal(number.subtract.mock.calls.length, 1);

  const call = number.subtract.mock.calls[0];

  assert.deepEqual(call.arguments, [3]);
  assert.equal(call.result, 2);
  assert.equal(call.error, undefined);
  assert.equal(call.target, undefined);
  assert.equal(call.this, number);

Mocking Timers

In addition to mocking function you can also test code that uses setTimeout() and setInterval(). This feature is new in v20.4.0, so make sure you have the latest version! You need to enable the function you want to mock by calling mock.timers.enable({ apis: ['setTimeout', 'setInterval'] }), then call mock.timers.tick(x) to simulate time passing.

Example (Modified from the Node.js Release Blog Post):

const { test, mock } = require('node:test');
const assert = require('node:assert/strict');

test('mocks setTimeout', () => {
  const fn = mock.fn();
  mock.timers.enable({ apis: ['setTimeout'] });
  setTimeout(fn, 100);


  assert.strictEqual(fn.mock.callCount(), 1);

Mocking Dates

As of Node.js version 20.11.0, you can also mock the Date.now() function.

The setup is similar to the timers mock. Enable it by calling: mock.timers.enable({ apis: ['Date'] }) and then mock.timers.setTime(1000). Alternatively, you can enable the mock and set the value all in one go: mock.timers.enable({ apis: ['Date'], now: 1000 }).

One thing to be aware of when working with both the mock timers and the mock date is dvancing the time via mock.timers.tick(x) will also advance the time produced by the mocked Date.now().

Test Reporters

When using the Test Runner, by default the tests are reported in a human-readable way. This is called the spec test reporter. There are two other test reporters in addition to spec. They are tap, which prints out a report in the “Test Anything Protocol”, and dot, which prints out successful tests as a dot and failures with an “x”.

To change between formats use the --test-reporter flag. For example: node --test --test-reporter dot

There is also the option of creating a custom test reporter. But that is outside of the scope of this blog post.

Watch Mode

If you want to automatically retry a test whenever a file is changed, you can use watch mode. It is currently experimental in Node.js 20, but you can use it with the --watch flag. For example: node --test --watch

Watch mode will continue running until you explicitly stop it, using the CTRL + C keyboard shortcut.

Test Concurrency

As of Node.js 21 you can also specify the maximum number of tests you want to run simultaneously. The default value is generally the number of CPUs available to your machine (see os.availableParallelism() for more details).

To change this from the detected default, pass --test-concurrency to Node when running the test runner. For example node --test --test-concurrency 4 path/to/tests/**/*.js.

Code Coverage

Another experimental feature (as of Node.js 20) that you can use today, is code coverage. Enable it via the --experimental-test-coverage flag. This will print out a summary of covered after printing the test results. For example: node --test --experimental-test-coverage

As of Node.js version 20.11.0, there is a “lcov” reporter included by default. to use it specify --test-reporter=lcov along with --experimental-test-coverage.


In conclusion, the new stable Test Runner in Node.js 20 is a valuable addition for developers who want to test without much overhead. By following this tutorial, you should now have a solid understanding of how to use the Test Runner to its full potential.

Happy testing!

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