Archive for February, 2009

When Broken Toys Impact your Friends

Friday, February 6th, 2009

This sure was an interesting morning! I woke up to find that I’d unintentionally sent direct messages to all of the followers on my personal Twitter account. And I’d sent them out at 1a PST, which means that anyone who (a) uses SMS capabilities, and (b) has some text message notification sound set up would have been rudely interrupted in the middle of the night.

Fortunately, I haven’t lost any followers (yet). But this was a perfect case of how mixing business with pleasure can have unintended consequences.

What Have I Learned

Or rather, what have I re-learned

Soft-disable features in Production at Launch Time
My Twitter engines are built with both an :enable_tweet and :enable_greeting config setting. In the git repo, they’re both true. When I did my local testing, I’d disabled them correctly. When I launched in Production, I neglected to make the quick-and-dirty changes; after all, everything worked great. And once started, my scripts correctly responded to the no-initial-state condition, and greeted everybody.

Launch preparation is critical, even for little projects. The start-up mentality is to move fast and lean, but there’s such as thing as too fast, and probably as too lean too. Gradual uptake migration is a wise strategy even for the ‘little things’.

Mock and Integration Testing Only Gets You So Far
I used rspec to mock out the full capabilities of the engine. Found some real-world issues, resolved them. I also wrote some core integration tests, ran them locally. Immediate failures. I had mocked documented features that didn’t actually exist. Fixed, re-mocked, re-tested, fixed again, etc .

Another great reminder that you can only mock something you trust, and how can you trust something you haven’t actually run under integration conditions to start with! Re-tested integration, and everything passed with flying colors. Sure, the features worked great now! And when I launched them, they did exactly what I asked.

So, as if we haven’t heard it enough times, be careful what you ask for!

All of this is familiar to anyone who has made a mistake in the software industry. It’s not like I haven’t successfully executed dozens of critical launches in the past, and most with virtually no issues at all. But what’s interesting is what happens when these mistakes happen in a public forum, and whom you expose them to — say, your friends :)

And who can say when two ounces of caution is more deserving than one … without the benefit of hindsight.

Just ask anyone who has a stringent backup policy how much time & effort they invest to avoid an event that may never actually happen. That stringency usually comes from that one unforgettable experience, and from there is born an extra layer of caution, and an additional time-sink (eg. mock & integration testing)

Heh. KISS. So, what exactly is simple? DRY. Isn’t that supposed to be a time-saver? Well, it depends on what you’re not trying to repeat. Strange how these cuddly and liberating acronyms can have more than one interpretation.

Experience taints everything.

Twitter4R shifts RSpec onto my Front Burner

Thursday, February 5th, 2009

As usual, my day did not pan out as expected. But, also as usual, I learned a lot!

Coming Up To Speed on Rspec

So, learning rspec has been on my list for a while. I finally got around to it. Nice framework. I am familiar with EasyMock, and am aware of JMock. I never had an opportunity to get into Mockito, but I’d give it a glance next time I put on my Java hat.

There is some decent documentation on it out there. I found these links particularly helpful:

During my ramping-up, I took the usual meta-approach of creating a test suite — and yaaay, that’s what rspec is meant for! — which I then used to test out its own range of capabilities. The Modules in the rdoc which I’ve found to provide the most value are:

  • Spec::Expectations::ObjectExpectations for conditionals (eg. should & should_not)
  • Spec::Matchers for expectations (eg. equal(value), be_a(class), respond_to(method_sym), raise_error)
  • Spec::Mocks::Methods for mock method definition (eg. should_receive(method_sym))
  • Spec::Mocks::MessageExpectation for mock behaviour (eg. with(*args), once, exactly(n).times, any_number_of_times)
  • Spec::Mocks::ArgumentConstraints for mock arguments (eg. an_instance_of(class), anything)
  • Spec::Mocks::BaseExpectation for mock responses (eg. and_return(value), and_yield(&block))

I won’t got into the deep details, but here are some examples of conditionals and expectations that I paraphrased into my meta-test:

And here’s a little bit of silly mocking:

These are just ways I thought of to exercise the width and breadth of the library. Very nice. I hope that these are useful examples for people new to this gem.

I recommend the other references from above for filling in the missing details. Once you have a context / specify or a describe / it specification set up, you’ll be good to go. There’s much more to the library — Stories, for instance — but that’s for another day.

An Informative Walk through Twitter4R

No, I didn’t really want to spend time learning rspec — I mean heck, I’m busy — but I had a personal need to expand the Twitter4R gem. Specifically, I wanted to add on some Twitter search features, and I was very impressed with how this library has been built. Contribution-wise, the final step that Susan Potter recommends is to craft up some rspec tests.

Of course, mock testing is only as good as the framework you’re built upon. The assumption is that Net::HTTP is going to do it’s job, so mock it up and you can even test your Twitter features offline. When I built Bitly4R (given that name, my thinking has clearly been influenced), I did everything as full-on functional tests. It was easy; has both shorten and expand commands, so I could reverse-test real values without having any fixed expectations.

However, Twitter is live and user-generated, so who knows what you’ll find. Mocking covers that for you. And of course not having to hit the service itself shortest testing time dramatically.

Here’s one of my tests, again foreshortened:

Plus a little mocking of Net::HTTPResponse:

Nothing like having some good inspiration to get you thinking about maintainability. I’m a not a strong adherent to any of the TDD or BDD denominations, but testability itself is close to my heart. Just ask the folks who’ll be looking at the micro-assertion Module that I wrote for my Facebook Puzzle submissions (which work locally under test conditions but fail miserably once thrown over their wall). Then again, I won’t need to write that (and test that) from scratch again.

So, back to talking glowingly about the Twitter4R architecture. Yes, I used that word. Yet regardless of that term’s heavyweightedness, it’s simply the result of carefully thinking out the formalization of a complex design. And once a non-author delves into extending an existing implementation, that impl’s demeanor becomes readily clear :)

Some of the interesting things I saw:

  • An inner bless-ish strategy, to inject the Twitter::Client into instanciated result classes. I’ve seen blessing as an OO-Perl-ism, for self-ication, and that metaphor carries over very nicely to this context.
  • Generous use of blocks / lambdas / closures in methods, for contextual iteration (eg. iterate through each Twitter::Message in a timeline response). Unnecessary, but an excellent convenience for a language that offers that optional capability in a very disposable fashion (from the caller’s perspective).
  • Retroactive sub-object population after construction. Twitter4R relies upon the json gem, which deals primarily in Hashes. Post-injection, the library itereates through Arrays of Hashes and transforms them into suitable Twiltter::User containers, etc. A great place to put such logic in the construction chain, and it doesn’t take long to get really tired of Hash hierarchies.

Good stuff, and learning with in a Ruby-centric mindset was invaluable for me. We all have to start somewhere, eh.

The Acute Long-Term Pain of Staticness

There was one issue that I ran into; static configuration. During my years of using the Spring Framework, my IOC-addled brain started thinking of everything in terms of instances — Factory Beans, POJOs, Observers & Listeners, Chain-of-Responsibility wrappers. Static configuration is a common metaphor, and in this case, there’s a static Twitter::Config instance. Convenient and centralized. Makes perfect sense.

I mean, the fact that it was a configurable library at all was awesome. I was able to easily set up a Twitter::Client to reference However, of course as soon as I did that, I whacked the ability for clients to talk to in the process. Oops!

On GPs, I refused to modify the original code. And I wanted to make sure that my superficial tweaks to the library would be thread-safe — temporarily swaping out the global Twitter::Config in mid-operation would be an issue. Using Mutex.synchronize seemed like the perfect choice. After finding that the same thread can’t lock a Mutex instance twice — grr!, that’s a great trick if you can work it — I overrode the one method that cared the most about @@config:

It works like a charm. Please, everyone just line up to tell me how I could have done it better. And I don’t mean quicker or cheaper, I mean better. Believe me, I would not have sunk the time into this end-around approach, if not for the fact that:

  1. I don’t want to maintain a local gem code modification (even though my impl is closely coupled to the gem impl already)
  2. I intend to follow that practice, so every opportunity to pull and end-around is a Valuable Learning Experience.

So, now my local Twitter4R has search capability gracefully latched onto it (and implemented much in the flavor of the library itself). I have a mass of rspec examples to work off in the future.

Now, I haven’t spent a great amount of time testing the thread-safeness — no one in their right mind wants to do that — but my sundry Twitter::Client instances play nicely together in between searches and normal status operations.

And I had something useful to blog about!