Thursday, December 13, 2012

Pinning Rails 3.2 to a specific time zone

I've been wrestling with some issues of dates and times in Rails. Being that I'm still pretty new to Rails, I been soaking up knowledge about this platform and today was no different. ActiveRecord, by default, converts timestamps and dates to UTC and interacts with them that way. UTC is also the format that the values will be stored in the database. If this is not what you want, you can pin your Rails system to a specific time zone by setting the following two configuration options in config/application.rb:
    config.time_zone = 'Central Time (US & Canada)'
    config.active_record.default_timezone = :local
Hope this helps others that discover that the default behavior of UTC is not what is desired. Official documentation on these configuration items can be found at and

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Resolving connectivity issues with Verizon 4G LTE JetPack 4510L MiFi and your Apple devices

I've been dealing with the fact that my iPhone 4S and my first generation iPad could not connect to my Verizon 4G LTE JetPack 4510L MiFi hotspot. They did connect to it when I got this Mifi hotspot back in September 2011, but now they seem to flake out and ultimately never connect to it. Not sure if it was a MiFi issue or a device issue. I was getting to point of just returning the hotspot but thought a last ditch effort to resolve the issue may do the trick. Luckily, it seems to. Here's what I did.
  1. Make sure the firmware on the hotspot is up-to-date. Update if not.
  2. Changed the radio protocol to 802.11n. It was set to 802.11g.
  3. Changed the network key on the hotspot.
  4. Forget the network on the Apple device.
  5. Connect to other network, selecting your MiFi hotspot network. When prompted for network key, enter the new network key.
  6. Done!

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Adding HTTP headers to AJAX calls in Backbone.js

Just a quick note about setting custom header in the HTTP request that Backbone.js manages. This is super easy to do. In the example code below, I have a Backbone.Collection assigned to messagesCollection variable and I'm triggering a fetch on that collection: messagesCollection.fetch({ headers: { 'x-my-custom-header-1':'foobar', 'x-my-rest-api-version':'1.0' } });

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Potential issue when mocking in Groovy

The groovy.mock.interceptor.MockFor and grails.test.GrailsMock allow for mock objects in Groovy and Grails, respectively. I've been using both of these classes with good success for a long time. But recently, a small refactoring involving the the removal of a parameter from a method signature has caused me to re-evaluate the mock object usage in a dynamic language like Groovy.

As I said, there was a refactoring done on the public contract of a service, where the method name stayed the same, but a parameter was removed from the method signature. The contract unit tests for this service were changed to drive the refactoring ("test-driving the refactoring"). However, the collaboration unit tests, where this service is now acting a dependency, were not changed and they continued to pass successful. I tried cleaning the old .class files and compiling the Groovy tests, but to no avail, the unit tests which mocked this service continued to pass successfully, even though the method signature no longer existed on the real service implementation. After perusing the javadoc documentation, there does not seem to be any functionality in either of these classes to verify that the type that is being mocked has a method signature that matches the method signature being mocked. Therefore, these classes can mock methods which are non-existent on the real dependency implementations. Fixing the issue involved finding the method signature using a text search.

The whole episode was a bit unsettling; we have a lot of unit tests and we may be testing scenarios which are not representative of the real world. In my case, the real world scenario manifested itself as a runtime exception stating that the method was missing. In the case of Java and Mockito, the method signature change would result in a compilation error where the changed method signature was mocked in unit tests. My takeaway was to be more diligent with my refactoring and really ensure that I have changed all places in the code where a particular method is referenced.

Friday, May 04, 2012

Allocating business logic in Grails

The dilemma

I've been on a couple of larger Grails projects in the past year and half and I'm witnessing a disturbing phenomenon. The allocation of business logic responsibility across the abstractions that Grails provides today is causing considerable pain. Grails provides controllers, services and domain objects where business logic can reside. I'll contend in this blog entry that these abstraction categories work well for small- to medium-sized Grails projects, but thing quickly start to unravel once your application gets to be large.


I see a lot of business logic code in controllers these days. Controllers shouldn't contain any business logic whatsoever. The controller's responsibility is to handle the web request and response. Anything else should be delegated to a collaborator. Don't do it!

Domain objects

The next logical place to put business logic is in the domain class. Allocating responsibility here works to a point, but you will quickly encounter issues when you need business logic that resides in services. I'm not a fan of injecting Grails services into domain classes. This situation quickly spirals out of control and makes unit testing very difficult to perform. For simple per-domain business logic, free free to allocate to the domain class. Anything more, and it belongs in a service (or something else, which we'll discuss in a bit).


So most business logic seems to end up in Grails services these days. That's what the creators of Grails intended. I have no qualms about that. The beef I have with services is that a method is a crappy abstraction for representing business logic in the system. On larger Grails projects, the service approach seems to break down, as services seem to take on more and more responsibility, making them more difficult to test. I'm also witnessing a lot of code duplication; in it's current incarnation, there is no delineation of public API services versus private services which the public API services compose larger sets of business logic with. What we end up with is large, hard-to-test service methods that collaborate with too many dependencies and do too much.

The desire

I want an abstraction in Grails that promotes proper factoring of business logic into unit-testable abstractions. These abstractions can be composed into larger abstractions to provide the necessary logic to fulfill the requirements of the system. The chain of responsibility design pattern may offer some value here. Individual commands that have a singular responsibility can be created, unit tested, and finally composed into "chains" of commands that provide the necessary functionality of the system. The command chains can be integration tested to ensure that the individual commands composition provides the functionality required by the customer/business. When new functionality is needed, a new command chain is created, reusing existing commands where appropriate and creating new commands where functionality does not exist. Spring Batch has a similar concept that is core to its design.


I hope to blog a bit more around this in the coming weeks. I really like Grails and would love to see its usage increase in the coming months and years. I think it has some really cool features that allow you to get up and running very quickly. The plugin system alone is a huge advantage to using Grails, because features like a Chain of Responsibility executor can easily be added to the core Grails system.

Monday, April 30, 2012

Using Apache Commons Net FTPClient on AWS EC2 instances

Just a quick note about using the FTPClient from an EC2 instance. You need to change to passive mode on the client. To do that, immediately after connecting to the remote FTP server but before logging in, invoke the enterLocalPassiveMode() method on the FTPClient instance. This had me confused for a while, which isn't difficult to do and seems to happen often.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Understanding the power of isolated object testing

I spent some time last night watching J.B. Rainsberger's excellent InfoQ presentation entitled "Integration Tests are a Scam". I've been recently contemplating why I favor unit testing (or as J.B. calls it, isolated object testing) over integration testing and I found his presentation particularly relevant. I highly recommend watching it. He also has a series of blog entries that support the presentation (Parts 1, 2, and 3). I also recommend reading those. They're truly gems.


Testing to prove basic correctness

I find many developers using integrated tests as a way to prove the basic correctness of the class or system under test. J.B. writes that "While integration tests offer value in other contexts, too many programmers use them to show basic correctness, and when they do that they waste a tremendous amount of time and effort." Integrated testing can be used within a project (I'm personally fond of acceptance testing), but integrated testing should not be used to prove basic correctness of your code. Focused, isolated object tests (aka unit tests using test doubles) should be used for this endeavor. If you discover behavior that a collaborator demonstrates and you have not accounted for in your isolated object tests, you should mimic this behavior in your test doubled collaborator contracts. You want to cover as much of your code with isolated object tests. We'll talk more about contract tests later.

J.B. mentions using an integrated test to learn about how a collaborator might support its contract, but that this integrated test is not included in the basic correctness test suite. I'm wondering if there isn't some other test suite here that we could use to keep integrated tests that support our learning the runtime and external dependencies. This test suite would be run periodically, but is not part of the whole continuous integration process of building a software system. Need to noodle on this more.


Isolated object testing

J.B. states in his aforementioned presentation that he does not use the term "unit testing" and instead favors a more focused term of "isolated object testing". He makes a point to call out the isolated word; these tests isolate the class under test by using test doubles to stub or mock the collaborators of the class under test. These tests focus on a single object and a singular behavior. Any collaborations are realized using test doubles.

I tend to agree that the phrase "unit testing" is a weak phrase describing the type of testing that we use to drive design of a single class and a single method. These tests focus on the responsibility of a single method of a single class. These tests also help you focus on understanding the contracts of collaboration between this class under test and its collaborators. This is really where the design part of the equation comes in. Classes that are hard to test are screaming out that the design is wrong. The tests are saying you have too much responsibility in the class under test or there are too many collaborators. Using your fast isolated object tests, you can engage in a reactive design activity, moving responsibilities out of the class under test, create new collaborators, and other design changes to make .


The collaboration contract

J.B. rightfully makes a big deal about contracts (aka interfaces) to explicitly specify collaboration protocols between objects. He mentions that in Domain-Driven Design, popularized by the Eric Evans book of the same name, three concepts can be used to express a domain-driven model: Values, Entities, and Services. All Services should have contracts and those contracts manifest themselves as interfaces. By specifying interfaces, we explicitly declare the protocol supported by each interface implementation. Constraining ourselves to interface types when specifying collaborations results in looser coupled systems, which is considered a "Good Thing". When engaging in isolated object testing, J.B. details the concept of collaboration tests and the closely associated contract tests. This concept of collaboration tests and contract tests is something new to me and is a big reason the presentation was so valuable in my eyes.


Collaboration tests and contract tests

After watching the presentation, I seem to be doing a pretty good job of using collaboration tests, but I'm not making the association to contract tests. Collaboration tests prove that the client interacts with its collaborators correctly; the client sends the correct messages and message arguments to the collaborator and appropriately handles all outputs from the collaborator. This is traditionally what I have used mock objects for and that seems to be what J.B. is arguing one should do for collaboration testing.

Contract testing, on the other hand, deals with testing that an interface implementation accurately respects the interface it is implementing. Does the implementor support the contract it declares to support? I haven't typically written these types of tests, but I'm going to start. Interestingly, I don't see a lot of this sort of testing in the wild. The part I really dig about contract tests as Rainsberger explains them is that they can be reused across interface implementations. He uses the List interface and two of its implementations, ArrayList and LinkedList, and details how to use implementation inheritance in the tests to DRY up your contract tests.

It really gets interesting when he declares that for every collaboration test that implies that a test double behavior, there better be a corresponding contract test that demonstrates that the interface implementation(s) actually does support that behavior. Same goes for values returned: if a test double returns a value in a collaboration test, there should be a contract test that demonstrates that the real implementation(s) does actually return that value. This is where I think selective, integrated learning tests can help you discover how your classes on the edges of a system may act when integrated to real external dependencies. But again, those integrated tests are not providing basic code correctness semantics. They're in your project to help you learn, but are not part of the isolated object tests suite. Don't lump them with your isolated tests and don't run them as part of your code/update repos/run tests/commit cadence.  This learning test suite should be run periodically during the day, but not part of the CI build process.

The death spiral of integrated testing for proving basic code correctness

Both Rainsberger's tutorial presentation and his blog postings go into great detail to the fallacy of using integrated testing to prove code correctness. I won't rehash what he has to say about it. My conclusions that I draw from his material are:

  • Focus on isolated object tests and isolation techniques and learn how to do collaboration and contract testing.
  • If you need to learn, by all means, write an integrated test. If you need to reproduce a defect, initially write it as an integrated test. However, in all cases, take what you have learned and replicate that in your isolated object test suite.  Replicate the behavior you discovered in the integration test(s) with test doubles.  This will ensure that your isolated object tests stay true to the behavior of the integrated system.
  • Don't get sucked into the downward death spiral of using integrated testing to guide your test-driven design efforts. It will only cause you pain.

J.B.'s series on Integrated Tests are a Scam can be found here.