What I've been up to recently, tech first:
- I've been coordinating (in the loosest sense of the word) a project at Talis to build a library-specific layer (written in Java) over the Talis Platform. It's the first project I've coordinated which involves several other people, and it's been challenging but worthwhile to do. We try to follow agile practices, and are currently doing mini-sprints, a week at a time with planning on Monday, using a traditional story board plus Jira for issue tracking through the week. We do some pair programming, which has been really good fun (initially I was a bit daunted by it, but the team is very supportive of each other and includes lots of talented individuals with different strengths - I'm learning a lot).
What we're doing: basically we store lots of RDF in the Platform, then our OPAC (Prism) fetches it through our library-specific layer, which talks to the platform, which returns stuff to the OPAC. So we've been putting functionality into our library-specific layer to support Prism. I've been keen to make sure everything is solid, so we've invested a lot of effort in a thorough suite of unit and functional tests. I've probably spent about 2 weeks out of the last three doing testing.
To be honest, the whole testing terminology confuses me; but I have come across a useful continuum to describe different types of testing:
- White box testing covers unit testing, testing individual components in isolation with an awareness of the application's internal structure. We do a lot of this in development, mainly using JUnit and EasyMock, to test pretty much every class and its methods.
- Black box testing treats the application as something you put stuff into and get stuff out of; it doesn't require any knowledge of the internals, just the public API. For this, we've been using Canoo WebTest. I half like WebTest: it's marginally better than writing Java code to do tests, and does mean that you can write the tests without having to be a Java programmer (providing you understand Ant a bit). I'm still not sure it's quite right, but it just about does the job. We use this to send HTTP requests to a running instance of the application, and verify aspects of the responses (e.g. status codes, XML tags, text). Because we're testing a RESTful app., we don't really need something like Selenium, which pretends to be a human user: we just want to send one-off requests and check responses.
- Grey box testing is in-between the two above. Basically, I think of it as testing against real objects which the application has to integrate with (e.g. databases, network sockets, threads, start/stop scripts, filesystem). While you can mock a lot of this in unit tests, this isn't a great replacement for testing against the real thing. Our tests in this region do things like checking whether files get moved around properly by certain processes and checking whether the web interface starts and responds correctly. We've been doing this with JUnit, the Apache HttpClient, Jetty, custom Java code, etc.. This, to my mind, is the messiest sort of testing. We've also explored interesting ways to isolate these tests from the real platform, currently by creating our own mock HttpClient and HttpMethod extensions, which do the trick.
- I've had a bit of time to think about Jangle, a more generic library API/HTTP proxy tool written in Ruby, as discussions about it have got more interesting recently. I've been using it as a generic HTTP proxy to sit between a client and a REST service, and also to try out some ideas about how to structure this type of application in a simple, flexible way. I've put together some playground code which is in no way tested, runnable or even intelligible, but is fun. I'm hopeful I'll get more time to work on it before too long.
- Moving house. Sorting things out for that has taken up quite a bit of time, e.g. cleaning the house, sorting out the garden a bit, ringing people up, sending email.
- Child care. Nicola has had a nasty stomach bug, so I spent most of the weekend and Monday looking after Madeleine. These days we end up playing Uno a lot (she is very good at it), pretending to be on treasure hunts, dancing (Hot Chip, Cabaret Voltaire and "The King of the Swingers" have been recent faves), and going to the park. Madeleine is quite argumentative at the moment; Nicola says it's because she's a Smith, and that we're all like it (Chloe, are you reading this?).
For instance, we spent a good 10 minutes a couple of days ago arguing about her Fifi and the Flowertots plate, with Madeleine claiming that Poppy is holding a melon, while I pointed out it must be a gooseberry as the nearby strawberry would otherwise be the same size as a melon. Madeleine claimed it must be a small melon and/or giant strawberry. (Here is a picture of the plate.) Then I stopped myself, realising that I'm a full-grown adult and she's only 4. And that I was simply being petty. That's what Nicola's talking about.