Shipping code from the iPhone
After traveling abroad for more than two weeks and then spending two days laying by the pool I naturally got a bit of a tech craving. To spend the afternoon I set myself the challenge of fixing a small bug on this blog, having nothing more than some Hotel WiFi™ and my iPhone at hand. But that must be enough, right? Let‘s see how it went.
In this blog I display a permalink hash next to the blog posts title, which is a link to view the post separately as well. When using e.g. Safari‘s „Reader“ mode, this hash symbol is of no use and should not be there.
So how can we get started on this? First we need access to the repo of course. I had come across an app called Working Copy, and looking that up in the App Store was promising: I can check out the repo to my iPhone. What a time to be alive!
Not only can I check out the source code, but it comes with text editing capabilities as well. Making the change was pretty easy it seemed. I first browsed for the test that verifies the permalink, and removed the expected hash symbol from there.
Which lead to the first realization: I cannot run the tests on my iPhone. While that definitely kills the quick feedback loop I so much long for, it is fine for very simple changes (because CI will save me) and the occasional holiday-deploy. Alas I made the change, committed and pushed, and opened the PR. Opening the PR can be done on github.com, however strangely only via the desktop version. This triggers the continuous integration build on circleci.com, and duly notified me that I forgot to make the production code change to go with the test change! Oh well, another commit and push and I was looking good, build passing. At least concerning the crystal code. But what about the CSS? For now I had only removed the hash symbol, but we still want it to be there through CSS. So that‘s limitation two: I have no way to play around with the CSS on the blog. Firstly because of the lack of an actual dev environment on the phone, but also because I don’t yet run visual regression testing on CI. My way out of this was to fire up codepen.io and use that as a playground. Again, because the change was pretty trivial and I just needed to confirm one assumption I had. That proved true and with it I was ready to merge the PR, using GitHub's website. As continuous deployment was already set up as well this was actually all there was to it. The build job passed as expected, sending off the deploy job straight after it and after 5 minutes or so I could visit the live page and confirm that indeed everything still looks the same, but the hash symbol is not showing up in Reader mode. Cool ✅
Switching between GitHub's mobile and desktop version was kind of clunky and still didn't allow me to upload any screenshots. I then realized that my twitter feed had mentioned Ryan Nystroms GitHawk in the past. One more trip to the App Store and yes yes yes, that is much more pleasant than the website!
Editing issues / PRs is way more comfortable and image upload works as intended. That will be a much better combo I think, I am looking forward to using that for the next exercise.
- Making trivial code changes directly from within @WorkingCopyApp
- Pushing that change to GitHub
- Opening a pull request via the desktop version of github.com
- Updating issues/PRs in @githawk
What didn‘t work
- Building/pushing a new docker image. I could have tried to install via the Dockerfile, but without building and pushing the new image this still gets me nowhere
- Uploading screenshots to issues on the github.com website
- Quickly seeing the effects of both crystal code as well as CSS changes. Waiting on CI works for the code, CSS is still push and pray (working on it)
- Publishing a blog post about this journey. I can only create new posts locally and sync the dev database to production from my development environment. I guess that needs to change!? (Might be the excuse to build a json api powered endpoint and an iPhone app to go with it 😎)
Of course this exercise was purely recreational. I was in no way forced to write or deploy code from halfway across the world on my iPhone, but I kind of wanted to.
One shortcoming of this permanently-work-in-progress blog of mine was the rendering on mobile devices. The experience of browsing the blog on a phone or tablet was less than ideal: text touching the borders of the screen, images overflowing the main section, social media links being out of place, and many more. It was a long standing issue. So I set off on fixing this. While digging straight into the first CSS changes and fiddling in the developer console of Chrome, I remembered what I wrote in the Snapshot TDD post:
Things of visual nature are not unit-tested easily, which is why they are often simply untested. We usually don't test stylesheets, colors, images etc. However we can't say those things are unimportant.
Unhappy about the workflow I just started and taking into account the above thought, I typed some words into google and emerged with this awesome tool: BackstopJS. It's headlined with "Visual regression testing for web apps" and was exactly what I was looking for. It provides a safety net for changing the visual nature of something rendered in a browser by taking and comparing screenshots. Basically exactly what I manually and crudely setup for the e-ink dashboard, just so much more awesome.
Setup and usage
Both setting up and using BackstopJS is dead simple and can be explained in this short snippet:
You will get a really nice page telling you that the tests were failing. Why? Because you have not approved any reference images yet. Once you look at those images and assert that this is currently the way things are looking, go ahead and
backstop approve those. Now you are golden and able to make changes to your pages CSS without having to fear to a) break thinks if you are refactoring, or b) having a super quick way to get an overview of the changes you made across multiple pages of your blog in different viewports.
With my page being a blog, the content obviously will continuously change, making the comparison of the current look against reference images unfeasable. Luckily this is an easy fix: I created a new database containing exactly one sample post, which uses all the usual tags like h1-h6, lists, blockquotes to showcase most of the styles coming into play.
This is how the current reference image looks in tablet mode:
As always, you can follow along to the PR on github. One example of a change to the reference image can be seen here. I must say I am mega impressed with BackstopJS and will try to use that again in the future. One open task is to get that running on CircleCI as well.
One of my recent weekend side projects, an e-ink / raspberrypi driven build status dashboard, was a great playground for doing TDD powered by visual snapshots. But let's rewind a bit.
What I actually wanted to achieve was the following: Build a semi-decent python class to draw a dashboard type interface, which I can feed to my e-ink display. I had already prototyped such a script, but it was a "make it work in the quickest possible way in 1 hour" mess. Nothing I wanted to maintain or even look at for even five more minutes. I also didn't want to start completely from scratch regarding the output, because I was happy enough with the result this script produced, which is shown here:
So how could I develop the code from scratch, while making sure I got the exact same output in the end? Right, creating myself a feedback loop that will quickly compare the reference image to the current output. To quote from jest:
Snapshot tests are a very useful tool whenever you want to make sure your UI does not change unexpectedly.
A typical snapshot test case for a mobile app renders a UI component, takes a screenshot, then compares it to a reference image stored alongside the test.
This is powerful, because how else would I test this? Things of visual nature are not unit-tested easily, which is why they are often simply untested. We usually don't test stylesheets, colors, images etc. However we can't say those things are unimportant. So I set out to do TDD with snapshots and iterate myself toward the reference result.
Lot of work left to do, sure, but that set myself up for about a two second feedback cycle. The process, which I packaged into a simple
npm test bound to
<leader>t in VIM so I can invoke it in one keystroke, is this:
- Run unit tests in python (This is just one dumb test for the constructor, I should remove it)
- Render current image to
actual.png in an "integration" test
- Create image diff with pixelmatch
- Open this diff in Preview so it jumps into my face
See the process encoded here, and yes, the irony of having a node based test invocation for a python script is not lost on me. Computers 🤷🏼♂️
Let's walk through one of my commits together. I really enjoyed working like this. A few minutes in, I had the rendering of the header, header title, project text to the left all fleshed out with minimal differences to the reference. I assume something regarding the font-rendering on the raspberrypi/debian vs. my mac is to be blamed for the tiny deviations around the text. No clue though. So here I was:
Lets add some code to render the badge text on the right:
<leader>t, and see this:
So obviously I got the alignment wrong. Lets fix it:
Re-run the tests, see this:
Less red! That's basically what I did over and over again. Feel free to have a look at the commits for more examples.
- Fast feedback is gold
- Even visual feedback is good
- I wouldn't have wanted to unit test this, so quick visual feedback is way better than no feedback. Let's remember that coding this up, syncing the code to the rasbperrypi, actually running the code and see the output on the e-ink display is a multi-minute process!
- Keep snapshot tests in your toolbelt, there is a place and time for them, and it's not only react!
- Updating the reference image is displayed really nicely in github
Danger-todoist celebrates 200k downloads
Danger-todoist is a plugin for the excellent Danger ecosystem. More specifically for the ruby variant of Danger. What does Danger do? It is basically a kind of automated code / pull request review system. You create a pull request on github, and a bot account will recommend changes to the pull request. The changes it suggests are based on a freely configurable set of rules and suggestions, as codified per your
Dangerfile. The beauty comes as always through the flexibility of just plain ruby code and a set of plugins.
One of those plugins is danger-todoist, which I first published in September 2016. A things that makes me cringe is leaving
TODO: fix me comments all over our code, and of course then never fixing them. Makes one wonder if there really was something to do ... 🤓.
Danger-todoist helps you with this! It will duly notify you if you were to leave an unadressed todo comment in your changes. You can decide whether this is a show stopper (YES!) or if you want to leave it as a warning. Either way, this makes it much harder to let many of those pesky comments sneak into your codebase.
Since its first release more than a year ago, it has now amassed 200.000 downloads as shown on rubygems. This likely makes it my most successful peace of open-source software to date 🖖🏽, which I hereby celebrate.
Hack on, and keep that code clean, and check it out on github.
In 2017 I have likely listened to hundreds of hours of podcasts. Out of interest, lets do the math real quick:
50 weeks until now * 5 podcasts * 1h average length = 250h. So yeah, hundreds of hours it is. But I definitely don't consider that to be wasted time, but sometimes great entertainment, time spent learning, or a soothing tone to fall asleep to. Without much further ado, here's what I have been listening to in 2017, in no particular order:
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- 2 Dope Queens: Phoebe Robinson and Jessica Williams are two friends hosting a hilarious live comedy show. They literally crack me up each episode and easily brighten my mood for quite a while. Funniest podcast I know.
- Scrum Master Toolbox Podcast: Each episode is around eleven minutes long and is a concise discussion about the daily work and struggle of the scrum master trade. Vasco Duarte does a great job in keeping those episodes short and to the point. Great way to learn some useful tips from more experienced agile coaches/scrum masters.
- Missed Apex Podcast: This was a new discovery for me in 2017 and made the formula 1 season so much more enjoyable. The f1 race reviews are both funny and informative. The host Spanners Ready leads a crew of journalists and f1 fans to produce these reviews but also more technical shows and interviews with people of f1 fame. A must listen!
- The Bike Shed: This has nothing to do with bikes, but is a semi-random conversation between Derek Prior, Sean Griffin, Amanda Hill and various guests on IT topics such as Ruby on Rails, Active Record, Diesel, mixed with stories on consulting work, rockets and anything else that might come up. I find it provides a nice mix of interesting technical discussions and light-hearted banter.
- Accidental Tech Podcast: The trio of Casey Liss, Marco Arment and John Siracusa do a great job of endlessly discussing the world of Apple and related surrounding topics. This is definitely the podcast I have been following for the longest time.