Overview of Microsoft IntelliTest

Last Update: 3/6/2017

Visual Studio 2017 | Visual Studio 2015

IntelliTest enables you to find bugs early, and reduces test maintenance costs. Using an automated and transparent testing approach, IntelliTest can generate a candidate suite of tests for your .NET code. Test suite generation can be further guided by correctness properties you specify. IntelliTest will even evolve the test suite automatically as the code under test evolves.

Characterization tests
IntelliTest enables you to determine the behaviour of code in terms of a suite of traditional unit tests. Such a test suite can be used as a regression suite, forming the basis for tackling the complexity associated with refactoring legacy or unfamiliar code.

Guided test input generation
IntelliTest uses an open code analysis and constraint solving approach to automatically generate precise test input values; usually without the need for any user intervention. For complex object types, it automatically generates factories. You can guide test input generation by extending and configuring the factories to suit your requirements. Correctness properties specified as assertions in code will also be used automatically to further guide test input generation.

IDE integration
IntelliTest is fully integrated into the Visual Studio IDE. All of the information gathered during test suite generation (such as the automatically generated inputs, the output from your code, the generated test cases, and their pass or fail status) appears within the Visual Studio IDE. You can easily iterate between fixing your code and re-running IntelliTest, without leaving the Visual Studio IDE. The tests can be saved into the solution as a Unit Test Project, and will be automatically detected afterwards by Visual Studio Test Explorer.

Complement existing testing practices
Use IntelliTest to complement any existing testing practices that you may already follow.

If you want to test:

  • Algorithms over primitive data, or arrays of primitive data:
  • Algorithms over complex data, such as compiler:
    • let IntelliTest first generate an abstract representation of the data, and then feed it to the algorithm
    • let IntelliTest build instances using custom object creation and data invariants, and then invoke the algorithm
  • Data containers:
  • An existing code base:

The Hello World of IntelliTest

IntelliTest finds inputs relevant to the tested program, which means you can use it to generate the famous Hello World! string. this assumes that you have created a C# MSTest-based test project and added a reference to Microsoft.Pex.Framework. If you are using a different test framework, create a C# class library and refer to the test framework documentation on how to set up the project.

The example below creates two constraints on the parameter named value so that IntelliTest will generate the required string.

using System;
using Microsoft.Pex.Framework; 
using Microsoft.VisualStudio.TestTools.UnitTesting; 

public partial class HelloWorldTest {
    public void HelloWorld([PexAssumeNotNull]string value) {
        if (value.StartsWith("Hello")
            && value.EndsWith("World!")
            && value.Contains(" "))
            throw new Exception("found it!");

Once compiled and executed, IntelliTest generates a set of tests such as the following:

  1. ""
  2. "\0\0\0\0\0"
  3. "Hello"
  4. "\0\0\0\0\0\0"
  5. "Hello\0"
  6. "Hello\0\0"
  7. "Hello\0World!"
  8. "Hello World!"

Go here to understand where the generated tests are saved. The generated test code should include a test such as the following:

public void HelloWorldThrowsException167()
    this.HelloWorld("Hello World!");

It's that easy!


This section describes the limitations of IntelliTest:


IntelliTest assumes that the analyzed program is deterministic. If it is not, IntelliTest will cycle until it reaches an exploration bound.

IntelliTest considers a program to be non-determistic if it relies on inputs that IntelliTest cannot control.

IntelliTest controls inputs provided to parameterized unit tests and obtained from the PexChoose. In that sense, results of calls to unmanaged or uninstrumented code are also considered as "inputs" to the instrumented program, but IntelliTest cannot control them. If the control flow of the program depends on specific values coming from these external sources, IntelliTest cannot "steer" the program towards previously uncovered areas.

In addition, the program is considered to be non-determistic if the values from external sources change when re-running the program. In such cases IntelliTest loses control over the execution of the program and its search becomes very inefficient.

Sometimes it is not obvious when this happens. Consider the following examples:

  • The result of the GetHashCode() method is provided by unmanaged code, and is not predictable.
  • The System.Random class uses the current system time to deliver truely random values.
  • The System.DateTime class provides the current time, which is obviously not under the control of IntelliTest.


IntelliTest does not handle multithreaded programs.

Native code, .NET code that is not instrumented

IntelliTest does not understand native code, such as x86 instructions called through P/Invoke. It does not know how to translate such calls into constraints that can be passed to the constraint solver. Even for .NET code, it can analyze only code it instruments. IntelliTest cannot instrument certain parts of mscorlib, including the reflection library. DynamicMethod cannot be instrumented.

The suggested workaround is to have a test mode where such methods are located in types in a dynamic assembly. However, even if some methods are uninstrumented, IntelliTest will try to cover as much of the instrumented code as possible.


IntelliTest is supported only on the X86, 32-bit .NETframework.


In principle, IntelliTest can analyze arbitrary .NET programs, written in any .NET language. However, in Visual Studio it supports only C#.

Symbolic reasoning

IntelliTest uses an automatic constraint solver to determine which values are relevant for the test and the program under test. However, the abilities of the constraint solver are, and always will be, limited.

(Slightly) incorrect stack traces

Because IntelliTest catches and "rethrows" exceptions in each instrumented method, the line numbers in stack traces will not be correct. This is a limitation by design of the "rethrow" instruction.

Further reading

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