racing · software · open-source

Refactoring CSS

Published on April 8, 2018 · 448 words · about 2 min reading time

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:

Tablet reference image for sample post


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.

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