Integration tests are advertised as the best choice if you are to have only one type of tests. They are a powerful tool that can test the full scope of application, but keeping them clean and easy-to-read can bring challenges. One of which is how to keep the test database state clean.

The problem overview

Integration tests serve the purpose of examining how an entire application functions, which includes various inputs and outputs. Since databases are commonly used in most programs, testing against them is crucial. To make these tests informative like documentation, the test data needs to be set up before each execution. Once the testing and confirming part is done, it’s important to clean up the data, otherwise the next test in sequence would be polluted with residue from the previous one.

Keeping test setup clean may introduce additional overhead when reverting database to its initial state. It can be done manually with truncating tables or simply deleting the data added at the beginning of the test, but this adds a lot of boilerplate code and tedious work. Someone has to put in the time and effort to write code that takes care of the cleanup process after each test.


Jimmy Bogard struggled with this problem and decided to help us all. He developed a solution which cleans a database state on demand - Respawn. The repository’s readme explains pretty well how to use it when with standard ADO.NET connection, but things get a bit more complicated when it comes to widely used Entity Framework.

In the example for database I used PostgreSQL hosted with Testcontainers. This tool enables to spin up Docker container automatically from any given image on test application startup. There are also specific database modules available, but in my example I used PostgreSQL with PostGIS extension. For this configuration there is no module available, thus I used Docker image explicitly.


Let’s begin with defining the WebApplicationFactory that will be used with xUnit’s CollectionFixture. The primary step involves setting up the database. It couldn’t be easier. All you need is to build the container and define a wait strategy. After the container is ready the execution moves on to launch the test application fixture. The CustomWebApplicationFactory implements IAsyncLifetime, which has 2 methods: InitializeAsync and DisposeAsync. As their names suggest, the former is responsible for initialization, which takes place shortly after the constructor is called. During initialization, the Testcontainer is initiated. Upon completion of collection fixture lifetime the container is stopped and removed.

public class CustomWebApplicationFactory<TStartup> : WebApplicationFactory<TStartup>, IAsyncLifetime where TStartup : class
    public string DbConnectionString { get; private set; } = string.Empty;

    private struct DatabaseAccess
        public const string Username = "root";
        public const string Password = "password";
        public const string DatabaseName = "integration_tests";
        public const int Port = 5432;

    private readonly IContainer _dbContainer;

    public CustomWebApplicationFactory()
        _dbContainer = new ContainerBuilder().WithImage("postgis/postgis:latest")
                                            .WithPortBinding(DatabaseAccess.Port, true)
                                            .WithEnvironment("POSTGRES_USER", DatabaseAccess.Username)
                                            .WithEnvironment("POSTGRES_PASSWORD", DatabaseAccess.Password)
                                            .WithEnvironment("POSTGRES_DB", DatabaseAccess.DatabaseName)
                                            .WithEnvironment("PGPORT", DatabaseAccess.Port.ToString())

    public async Task InitializeAsync()
        await _dbContainer.StartAsync().ConfigureAwait(false);
        DbConnectionString = $"Host={_dbContainer.Hostname};Port={_dbContainer.GetMappedPublicPort(DatabaseAccess.Port)};" +
                             $"Database={DatabaseAccess.DatabaseName};Username={DatabaseAccess.Username};Password={DatabaseAccess.Password};" +
                              "Pooling=true;Maximum Pool Size=1024;";"

    async Task IAsyncLifetime.DisposeAsync()
        await _dbContainer.StopAsync();
        await _dbContainer.DisposeAsync();

The fixture will take the same setup as our main application. It is after all the same program, only slightly modified for testing purposes.

The first thing is to remove existing ApplicationDbContext, which takes connection string to real database from configuration (at least it should take if from there). Immediately after the slightly modified infrastructure is set up. The only difference from original application is database replacement. If necessary more modules can be modified, eg. communication with external APIs.

Following this, a ServiceScope is built allowing us to access the context added a few lines earlier. The DatabaseFacade is stored in a private property, since it is used inside GetOpenedDbConnectionAsync method, which ensured that the connection to database is open. It will provide us the connection to the database, so it doesn’t have to be passed from each test’s scope. At this point Entity Framework migrations can be executed to setup the database schema. Last but not least is Respawn initialization, this must be done only after database is seeded with completed schema.

protected override void ConfigureWebHost(IWebHostBuilder builder)
    private DatabaseFacade _databaseFacade = default!;
    builder.ConfigureTestServices(services =>
        var descriptor = services.SingleOrDefault(d => d.ServiceType == typeof(DbContextOptions<ApplicationDbContext>));
        if (descriptor != null)
        string connectionString = $"Host={_dbContainer.Hostname};Port={_dbContainer.GetMappedPublicPort(PostgresPort)};Database=integration_tests; Username=root; Password=mypassword;Pooling=true;Maximum Pool Size=1024;";

        var provider = services.BuildServiceProvider();
        using var scope = provider.CreateScope();
        var context = scope.ServiceProvider.GetRequiredService<ApplicationDbContext>();

        _databaseFacade = context.Database;


Respawner itself is set up only once. Using an opened connection it can be instantiated, additionally in the RespawnerOptions I pass adapter for the database (adjust to the one you use) and define which tables should be excluded from cleanup. For Entity Framework its the __EFMigrationHistory, which is used to track if the database schema is up to date with code. In my case there is one more table, but this is specific for the PostgreSQL flavor I’m using - PostGIS.

The other method will be called after test execution. It will instruct Respawner to clean the database.

private Respawner respawner = default!;

public async Task InitRespawner()
    DbConnection conn = await GetOpenedDbConnectionAsync();
    respawner = await Respawner.CreateAsync(conn, new RespawnerOptions
        SchemasToInclude = new[] { "public" },
        TablesToIgnore = new Table[]
        DbAdapter = DbAdapter.Postgres

public async Task ResetDatabaseAsync()
    DbConnection conn = await GetOpenedDbConnectionAsync();
    await respawner.ResetAsync(conn);

private async Task<DbConnection> GetOpenedDbConnectionAsync()
    var conn = _databaseFacade.GetDbConnection();
    if (conn.State != System.Data.ConnectionState.Open)
        await conn.OpenAsync();
    return conn;

To limit code duplications the IntegrationTest abstraction is defined. Similarly to CustomWebApplicationFactory it implements IAsyncLifetime. On the DisposeAsync method ResetDatabaseAsync from CustomWebApplicationFactory is called to restart the database to initial state.

One more important thing is that new ApplicationDbContext is created. The main purpose is not to use the same context in tested application and test itself. It provides more separation and simulates real life situation better. Additionally QueryTrackingBehavior is set to NoTracking so the test won’t care that much about the data mocked before calling application’s endpoint.

To test QueryTrackingBehavior impact try UpdateCity test with NoTracking and without the line changing it commented out.

public abstract class IntegrationTest : IAsyncLifetime
    public readonly CustomWebApplicationFactory<Program> WebApplicationFactory;
    public readonly IServiceScope Scope;
    public readonly ApplicationDbContext Db;
    public readonly HttpClient HttpClient;

    public IntegrationTest(CustomWebApplicationFactory<Program> webApplicationFactory)
        WebApplicationFactory = webApplicationFactory;
        Scope = webApplicationFactory.Services.CreateScope();
        HttpClient = webApplicationFactory.CreateClient();

        var builder = new DbContextOptionsBuilder();
        Db = new ApplicationDbContext(builder.Options);
        //Disable tracking enables reads on updated entities (UpdateCity tests)
        Db.ChangeTracker.QueryTrackingBehavior = QueryTrackingBehavior.NoTracking;

    public virtual Task InitializeAsync() => Task.CompletedTask;

    public virtual async Task DisposeAsync()
        await WebApplicationFactory.ResetDatabaseAsync();

The test is attributed with Collection of name IntegrationTestCollection, meaning it will use this collection unless otherwise instructed. The derived class will inherit this attribute, but it can also have its own with different collection called, which may use another CustomWebApplicationFactory.

The CollectionDefinition is an empty class, which only implements interface ICollectionFixture<WebApplicationFactory<TProgram>. This part bounds CustomWebApplicationFactory with IntegrationTest and passes the factory in the test constructor.

The test parallelization is disabled, otherwise multiple tests might try to access database at the same time and/or restart it while other test runs.

[CollectionDefinition(nameof(IntegrationTestCollection), DisableParallelization = true)]
public class IntegrationTestCollection : ICollectionFixture<CustomWebApplicationFactory<Program>>

Test the test!

Finally sample test utilizing previously made setup:

public class UpdateCity : IntegrationTest
    public UpdateCity(CustomWebApplicationFactory<Program> webApplicationFactory) : base(webApplicationFactory)

    public async Task Ok()
        var city = new City("Klagenfurt") { Location = new NetTopologySuite.Geometries.Point(46.62472, 14.30528) };
        await Db.Cities.AddAsync(city);
        await Db.SaveChangesAsync();

        var payload = new Presentation.Model.City.UpdateCity
            Name = "Klagenfurt am Wörthersee"

        var response = await HttpClient.PatchAsJsonAsync($"/api/cities/{city.Id}", payload);


        var updated = await Db.Cities.FirstOrDefaultAsync(c => c.Id == city.Id);


Nothing fancy in the test itself. There are 3 steps:

  • arrange - setup everything prior testing the system: write necessary data into database, define mocks, prepare inputs
  • act - execute SUT (system under test); in this case call API endpoint
  • assert - verify outcome: response, database state

After test method is finished IDisposeAsync from derived IntegrationTest is called and database is restarted to clean state.

Continuous integration

The tests can be used locally, mainly during refactoring or bug fixing, but it’s even more important to implement proper CI workflow. For the example I used Github Action with only 2 steps.

    runs-on: ubuntu-latest
    - uses: actions/checkout@v3
    - name: Setup .NET Core SDK
      uses: actions/setup-dotnet@v3
        dotnet-version: '7.0.x'
    - name: Test
      run: |
        cd tests/CitiesApp.IntegrationTests
        dotnet test

The Testcontainer worked without any additional setup. The case may be a bit different when using self-hosted runner, but it all narrows up to set correct permission for docker socket access.

You can find the complete project and further details in the repository. It contains a sample CQRS application and series of tests for entity addition, listing, and removal. Without clearing the database each time most of them would fail due to data inconsistency.