Repeated stubbings with Mockito

I’ve used Mockito for almost two years - it has always been (and is) a pleasant experience. The library is well thought-out, has close to zero bugs and, I believe, became a de-facto standard for mock/stub/verification based testing in Java-land.

Today I’ve encountered a use case when Mockito couldn’t help me reduce boilerplate for the first time (well, maybe I am exaggerating, but only a tiny bit).

The Use Case

Consider the following interface:

interface Repository<G> {

     * @return true if the value with the given name exists in the
     *         repository
    boolean has(String name);

     * @return true if the value with the given type exists in the
     *         repository
    boolean has(Type type);

     * @return the value of the given name
     * @throws IllegalArgumentException if value with the given
     *         name doesn't exist
    G get(String name);

     * @return the value of the given type
     * @throws IllegalArgumentException if value with the given
     *         type doesn't exist
    G get(Type type);

And the test:

class FinderTest {

    private Repository<Object> repo;

    public void before() {
        repo = mock(Repository.class);

    public void shouldGetTheValueByTypeIfNotFoundByName() {
        Type t = Object.class;
        Object value = new Object();

        Object result = new Finder("x", t).findIn(repo);

        assertThat(result, sameInstance(value));


The test is very simple. We’re testing a Finder which is a strategy of searching in the repository. First, we stub the Repository#has(Type) and Repository#get(Type) methods so that they would produce results, then we create a Finder and let it use our mock.

You can see, that we didn’t mock the Repository#has(String)/#get(String) methods as the default behaviour for has methods (specifically return false) is provided by Mockitos’ default stubbing behaviour. You don’t need to specify it explicitly in your tests.

The default behaviour for the methods returning non-void values is to return nulls. That’s what our mock is going to do when the #get(String) method is called.

Off topic

Purists might argue that one should specify all of the conditions and leave nothing implicit in the test. This is usually true and I’m all for following this practice. Having said that, in this case - a case of well defined behaviour imposed by a framework - I allow the default behaviour to remain implicit and rely on the reader to know what’s happening in between the lines.

The problem

At this point an astute reader might notice that the test doesn’t honour the contract declared by the interface of the Repository. As stated in javadoc for the get methods, they should be throwing exceptions (unchecked ones) when the results are impossible to acquire (when corresponding has methods return false).

By default Mockito returns null for method calls with non-void return values on mocked objects. So, the code in the following snippet would actually pass our test. However, when given a well-behaved Repository, the same code would fail with an IllegalArgumentException thrown in the first line of the findIn method.

public class Finder {
    private final String name;
    private final Type type;

    public Finder(String name, Type type) { = name; this.type = type;

    public <G> G findIn(Repository<G> repo) {
        G byName = repo.get(name);
        return byName == null ? repo.get(type) : byName;

It’s obvious that we should consider the behaviour specified in the contract (in our case - javadoc) superior to the non-specified one; when mocking a Repository, we should be throwing IllegalArgumentExceptions as the default behaviour, instead of returning nulls.

The solution

So, what’s the hassle? Just create a @Before method in the test case, put the common stubbing inside of it, and be done with the task!

public void before() {
    repo = mock(Repository.class);
    given(repo.get(anyString())).willThrow(new IllegalArgumentException());
    given(repo.get(any(Type.class))).willThrow(new IllegalArgumentException());

However, there’s one significant problem with this approach - there’s no way to override the behaviour of mocks after they have been stubbed with exceptions. This is contrary to the Mockito documentation which states that the stubbings are overridable:

Stubbing can be overridden: for example common stubbing can go to fixture setup but the test methods can override it. Please note that overridding stubbing is a potential code smell that points out too much stubbing.

Now, having the above code in place you can’t write any meaningful tests as you can’t restub the Repository#get methods to return values instead of throwing exceptions.

I’ve also tried another approach to providing default behaviour to mocks described here. It didn’t work as the internal stubbing mechanism is the same as in the previous example. Once you’ve told a mock to throw an exception - it is going to throw it no matter what.

Why, oh why?

The problem lies in the way restubbing (or stubbing “override”) works in Mockito. Or, to be exact, how it doesn’t. Basically, there’s no special support for “overrides” - when you say

1 given(repo.get(anyString())).willReturn(1);
2 given(repo.get(anyString())).willReturn(2);

a call to repo.get on the second line will actually return 1 and the mocked repo object will be restubbed with 2. There’s no magic happening behind the scenes.

It’s quite natural if you think about it - how should Mockito know that the call on the second line happens during a restubbing and not inside of the code under test?

I didn’t go too deep into Mockito internals to figure out the state it keeps when matchers like anyString get called. I can only speculate that it might have been possible to make the restubbing work in the above case by relying on some internal state of the ongoing matcher invocations. However, when faced with the following:

1 given(repo.get("a")).willReturn(1);
2 given(repo.get("a")).willReturn(2);

we lose even the information we could have had about matchers. repo.get("a") will be the first call on the second line (unlike the previous example where the call to anyString() was the first one).

It works! Kind of

The only scenario where overriding #willThrow/#thenThrow is possible is when

It’s logical, but don’t get surprised by the following:

1 given(repo.get("a")).willThrow(new IllegalArgumentException());
2 given(repo.get(anyString())).willReturn(2);

The above example works, and you might think that the call to anyString() on the second line means something special in the context of repeated stubbing.

It doesn’t. The call to anyString() returns "" which is different to "a" and doesn’t trigger the first stubbing. If you change the argument provided to repo.get on the first line to "", the second line will fail with an IllegalArgumentException thrown by the mock, like in the following snippet:

1 given(repo.get("")).willThrow(new IllegalArgumentException());
2 given(repo.get(anyString())).willReturn(2);


I had to resort to stubbing all of the #get methods in-place (inside of the tests) which led to some duplication (there were more #get methods in the real code, than in the snippets I’ve posted here).

One more thing to know


You can’t override stubbing of Mockito mocks if you’ve already stubbed them with #willThrow/#thenThrow, because stubbed invocations will produce the result they were stubbed with when called with the arguments matching those declared while stubbing.


You can override the ‘throw’ stubbing using the alternative Mockito syntax involving doThrow/doReturn which completely escaped me when I wrote this post.