So whether you are using JUnit or SuiteRunner, you have the same four basic approaches to testing private methods:
- Don't test private methods.
- Give the methods package access.
- Use a nested test class.
- Use reflection.
Approach 1: Don't Test Private Methods
As I mentioned in the introduction, I first heard the advice to suppress my occasional urges to test private methods from Daniel Steinberg. But Daniel is not only source of this advice that I have encountered. It seems to be a common attitude in the Java community. For example, the JUnit FAQ  states:
Testing private methods may be an indication that those methods should be moved into another class to promote reusability.
Charles Miller expressed a similar point of view in his weblog :
If you have a thorough suite of tests for a class's exposed (non-private) interface, those tests should, by their nature, verify that any private method within the class also works. If this isn't the case, or if you have a private method so complex that it needs to be tested out of the context of its public callers, I would consider that a code-smell.
And Dave Thomas and Andy Hunt, in their book Pragmatic Unit Testing , write:
In general, you don't want to break any encapsulation for the sake of testing (or as Mom used to say, "don't expose your privates!"). Most of the time, you should be able to test a class by exercising its public methods. If there is significant functionality that is hidden behind private or protected access, that might be a warning sign that there's another class in there struggling to get out.
I believe all this advice. Most of the time, private methods can be most effectively tested via approach 1, indirectly by testing the package-level, protected, and public methods that call them. But inevitably, some people in some situations will feel that directly testing a private method is the right thing to do.
In my case, I tend to create many private utility methods. These utility methods often do nothing with instance data, they just operate on the passed parameters and return a result. I create such methods to make the calling method easier to understand. It is a way to manage the complexity of the implementation of the class. Now, if I extract the private method out of a method that already works and has good unit test coverage, then those existing unit tests will likely suffice. I needn't write more unit tests just for the private method. But if I want to write the private method before its calling method, and I want to write the unit tests before writing the private method, I'm back to wanting to directly test the private method. In the case of private utility methods, I don't feel my urge to directly test the methods is, as the JUnit FAQ put it, "an indication that those methods should be moved into another class to promote reusability." These methods are really only needed in the class in which they reside, and in fact are often only called by one other method.
Another reason I sometimes feel the urge to test private methods directly is that I tend to think of unit testing as helping me achieve a robust system by building that system out of robust parts. Each part is a "unit" for which I can write "unit tests." The unit tests help me ensure each unit is functioning correctly, which in turn helps me build a system that functions correctly as a whole. The primary unit I think in terms of when programming in Java is the class. I build systems out of classes, and unit tests give me confidence that my classes are robust. But to some extent I also feel the same way about the private methods out of which I compose package-access, protected, and public methods. These private methods are units that can be tested individually. Such unit tests give me confidence that the private methods are working correctly, which helps me build package-access, protected, and public methods that are robust.