I guess this is my belated ApacheCon blog. I had a lot of fun as usual, and I got a chance to meet a few new people and hang out with old friends. The talk that Geoff and I gave went really well, and it ended up being as funny as we had hoped. More exciting than the talk is the project behind it. I think we've created a really nice testing framework for PHP applications, and I'm going to try to describe it for those who missed the talk.
There are a couple of resources available for download:
What's so great? Apache-Test - a testing framework for Apache that adheres closely to strict testing ideologies. Geoff and I have added features to Apache-Test that let you use it to test PHP applications. In addition, we have provided a PHP implementation of Test::More - a popular CPAN module that has some very simple functions that make writing tests easy.
The idea for this project began at OSCON, where Geoff and I were discussing testing tools and methodologies. The Perl community has embraced testing as a key component of a developer's skillset, whereas the PHP community still relies heavily upon echo and manual testing with a browser. Since Geoff is a Perl guy, I'm a PHP guy, and we happen to be good friends, we decided to create a way to let PHP developers benefit from Perl's mature testing tools and methodologies. Since Geoff is really a mod_perl guy and interested in all things Apache, he is a big fan of the Apache-Test framework. This seemed like a great tool to provide to PHP developers, so we proposed a talk about it. Once the talk was accepted, we had to deliver.
What makes Apache-Test so great for PHP developers? It provides several key features not available (to my knowledge) with any other testing framework:
- You don't have to write any Perl. This certainly isn't a unique feature, but one problem with our attempt at being funny in the naming of the talk is that people tend to think that using this framework requires you to know Perl, and that's just not true.
- You don't have to write any tests in your application. One thing that bugs me about several of the testing approaches I have seen is the necessity of including tests within the application itself. Thus, your tests can affect the behavior of your application, which totally ruins the concept of testing. You see, testing an application should be an example of a control experiment, where there is only one thing that changes - your application. If all tests pass, you make changes to your application, then some tests fail, you want to be assured that the cause of the problem is the changes you made to your application, not tests that you have written. In fact, a test shouldn't even affect any of the other tests, much less the actual application you're testing. I think this flaw in existing approaches has stymied our adoption of testing as a necessary skill.
- Writing tests is easy. I think this is a key feature. If writing tests is a hassle, no one will want to do it. Let's be honest - developers are lazy. In fact, we take pride in being lazy. The PHP implementation of Test::More that is now included in Apache-Test provides simple functions for writing tests. You can use these with any programming paradigm, which means you don't have to use an object-oriented design, but you can if you want.
- The tests are repeatable. This means that you can repeat your entire test suite as many times as you want, and running the tests doesn't affect the environment (or future iterations of the same tests) in any way.
- The tests are automatic. You don't have to manually browse your application or execute tests. You just type make test, and Apache-Test takes care of everything else.
- You get a self-contained and pristine Apache environment. Not including tests in your code isn't enough - you want to have as much consistency in your environment as possible. Apache-Test gives you a separate Apache environment with its own configuration (including a pristine httpd.conf and php.ini) using your build. You augment the default configuration in a separate file, so that every change must be deliberate (it is also a good practice to keep your changes to the real Apache and PHP in a separate file, so that you can be sure that it has the exact same configuration as your testing environment). When you type make test, Apache-Test starts the server, runs your test suite, generates a report, and stops the server.
- Your application is executed with the real PHP. You can now also choose to run tests with the command line client.
- It's very mature and stable. Major companies and open source projects have been using Apache-Test for years. It's a proven tool.
These are the major features (that I can think of) that I find particularly appealing. I'm sure there are others. Perhaps a nice side-effect is the potential for cross-pollination between the Perl and PHP communities.
If you're interested in learning more, please download the demo and the slides from our talk. To run the demo, you'll need Apache-Test 1.16 or greater. You can find the most recent version from search.cpan.org.
This testing framework is only available for Apache.