Do you test your tests?

Weird shapesThe first time I read about serious testing was in The Pragmatic Programmer. The book explains the usual (boring) benefits of testing, but a twisted detail rolled my eyes up: also test your tests. Testing is a net that helps you to change the code without breaking the logic, and as a real life net, you should verify it works as expected. Tests should be in a tight relation with the code.

When is a test good? Trying to find the differences between a good test and a bad one is not obvious, however. Looking for lacks or anti-patterns in our tests is a good option to improve them.

Thanks to PHPUnit and Xdebug, the PHP community started to care about testing years ago. Since then, the easiest way to show the quality of a test suite is the code coverage, that is, the percentage of the code the test stresses. That worked until programmers started to focus on a 100% coverage, creating artificial tests that doesn’t stress the logic correctly, but instead get a fake 100% line coverage. If a line is executed once, even if the subject was a different test unit that uses that class, the line “is tested”.

Are you really testing each class? Following the logic? Even if you use proper unit tests, you may be missing things.

Let’s start with a stupid example, a function that does an “AND”, and a tests that gets a 100% coverage:

class MyOperator
{
    public function doAnd($param1, $param2)
    {
        if ($param1) {
            if ($param2) {
                return true;
            }
        }
        return false;
    }
}

class MyOperatorTest extends \PHPUnit_Framework_TestCase
{
    public function testDoAnd()
    {
        $operator = new MyOperator();
        $this->assertEquals(true,  $operator->doAnd(true, true));
        $this->assertEquals(false, $operator->doAnd(true, false));
    }
}

The test is only stressing 2 cases! Actually an “AND” has 4 possible cases, so the 2 missing cases (false-true, false-false) were totally ignored, despite you get a 100% line coverage.

This was a basic example to show the difference between line coverage and path coverage (in this case, 4 possible paths). The good news is that Derick Rethans is working on it. I wonder how many programmers will get surprised while seeing their code’s path coverage is low.

Another way to test your tests is to change the source code and see if the test fails (it should!) or not. This is called Mutation Testing, and helps to detect when a test is not working perfectly. For instance:

    public function biggerThan5($number)
    {
        if ($number > 5) {
            return true;
        }
        return false;
    }
/* ... */
    public function testBiggerThan5()
    {
        $operator = new MyOperator();
        $this->assertEquals(true, $operator->biggerThan5(8));
        $this->assertEquals(false, $operator->biggerThan5(3));
    }

This test looks complete, but there is no test for the bound case, biggerThat5(5). This test is not really accurate.

In the PHP ecosystem there are 2 only available Mutation Testing tools: Humbug and Mutatesting. The second one, despite the author is also the creator of the excellent PHP-metrics, seems abandoned.

So the only real option is Humbug, developed by the author of Mockery. Unluckily it only works with PHPUnit for the moment. It basically finds places where the code can be easily changed, like a true for a false, or a number N for N+1, and runs the tests to see if that mutation is killed (that is, the test fails). For instance, in the previous example it changes 5 to 6, and the tests still work, so the mutation was not killed.

I just hope these tools become more popular, in order to improve the quality of our industry. And let’s hope soon Humbug will work in PHPspec too, as many companies are moving from PHPUnit to Behat-PHPspec.

The code of this post can be find at its github repo.


The most required PHP packages

composerComposer is the most used package dependency manager in PHP ecosystem since a few years. It manages complex dependecies with an easy syntax, and you can easily search among all available packages in packagist.org, where you can publish your own too.

It was interesting to find a list of the most required packages. Some of them are part of a framework, while others are lonely gems. As a person that values professionalism, it should be a must to have some experience, or at least know, the most popular packages. Here I’m having a look at some of them.

phpunitsThe absolute #1 is PHPUnit. If you are programming in PHP and have never used it, go and get a position as consultant, please. The PHP unit testing framework has been a popular choice since years ago (I’ve even posted about it in 2008). A must you should know.

The list contains other testing related packages too. #4 Mockery is an object mocking package widely used. In my personal case, I use Prophecy for mocking, which comes with #21 phpspec, a test framework that can complement or substitute PHPUnit. In the list also appears #44 behat, a tool for making scenario-oriented BDD that is rising popularity.

symfonyRegarding complete frameworks, the list includes lots of Symfony framework packages. #3 symfony/framework-bundle, #5 symfony/symfony, #8 symfony/console, #10 symfony/yaml, etc. Some of them are core to symfony framework, while others are so independent that are widely used, even without using this framework. A clear example of that is yaml package, which (obviously) processes yaml files.

Of course not only Symfony appears in the list, but also other popular frameworks like: Laravel (#2 illuminate/support, #47 laravel/framework), Zend (#13 zendframework/zendframework), Yii (#17 yiisoft/yii2) and Silex (#22 silex/silex).

doctrineApart from complete frameworks, the list comes with some other must-know packages. The DB-related Doctrine is the first to appear (#6 doctrine/orm, #31 doctrine/common, #38 doctrine/dbal). There are some code-quality related packages, like #7 PHP Coveralls, #11 PHP_CodeSniffer and #33 PHP Mess Detector. Finally some usual suspects, like #15 Guzzle (HTTP client), #19 Monolog (the standard way of logging, already included everywhere).

Finally, some packages in the list were a surprise to me, as I had no idea about them. For instance, #9 composer/installers (an multi-framework installer), #16 silverstripe/framework (a CMS) or #29 nette (another framework).

leagueLogoDefinitively it’s a great collection of packages, and if you combine them with the ones from The League of Extraordinary Packages, you will get a great stuff to learn from: 1st, know about them; 2nd, try to use them; and 3rd, read their source code.


General programming principles

This is just a list about programming principles that I’m making for myself. These should be instinctive to any developer.


How I looked for a new tech job

Sagrada Familia at nightBack in Barcelona after 3 years working remotely, I decided to look for a new in-office job. But following an uncommon way to search for a job.

First I had a look on jobs’ websites, but only to get an idea of what technologies are popular in Barcelona. Symfony was the most remarkable one. But I didn’t apply to any of the job offers I saw there.

I don’t want to work in a company just because they opened a job offer. I want to work in a company with great developers to learn from, and a product that passionates me. Actually I discovered that sometimes good companies need more developers but have no time to publish openings.

So I looked for a list of local companies. Regarding Barcelona, I found http://internetmadeinbcn.org/ (¹). And started to make a list with the interesting ones.

I also started to join programming events like conferences and talks, meeting people there. The idea was to find companies which technical level is a bit better than my skills(²). If you have the chance to join one of them, you’ll improve greatly.

Pretty Hot PeopleSend them your CV with a well prepared cover letter (email). Some of them will contact you back. And the real fun begins: TECH interviews! Usually the process starts with a tech test, where you have to program something in a short time (between 1 to 4 hours). By the way, if the company does not ask you to do a test, run away (read the reasons in Joel’s test); once I joined a company that didn’t ask me so, and 3 weeks later I quited because their code was not a good one to learn from.

True fact: you will do your first interview horribly.

However, you will learn a lot while having interviews and tech tests. Specially if you ask for FEEDBACK! From my experience, only half of them will send you some feedback (following Sergey Brin’s style, “make the candidate learn something”). Feedback is pure gold. It’s the best way to learn from other developers working in the industry.

In my case, while having interviews I learned some new code design ideas. Moreover I ended up reading about DDD and BDD. For instance, in the first interview (3 months ago) they asked me about the meaning of BDD, and I had no idea; but in the last tech test, totally based on behat, I was able to code comfortably.

I can only say thank you to the few companies that gave me valuable feedback, even if they didn’t hire me. Now I’m better thanks to them. Somehow they helped me to sharp my skills!

Summing up, the “always learn” mantra should be applied to the process of looking for a new job too.

AND I GOT A NEW JOB, yeah!

Notes:
(¹) For other cities in Europe, you may want to have a look at tyba.com.
(²) Actually this is a borrowed idea from my Korean classes in Seoul. The teacher always speaks using some more words and expressions that the students should know, so the students keep fighting all the time trying to get the level. However, students can get exhausted with that drowning feeling.


VIM plugins for web development

Recently I bought a new laptop, and while configuring my tools I noticed I haven’t cared about VIM plugins for years. It was the perfect time to have a look at the most interesting plugins.

Firstly I installed Pathogen to manage VIM plugins. It allows you to install other VIM plugins in separate directories. This way you avoid the mess the .vim directory can become.

vim plugins
Regarding general plugins, I installed NERDtree which is a directory tree explorer, ideal to keep a general view of your project. Also installed Airline, that shows an improved status bar with lots of information about the current file. However I couldn’t see it at first and I had to add the following line in my ~/.vimrc file.
set laststatus=2

If we speak about writing code, the most useful plugin you can install is SuperTab, which improves auto-completion with the tab key. This one works really well in pair with Ultisnips, that (as it name suggests) allows you to save snips of code and recall them later. I also added to my list the transparent Skeletons plugin. If you create a new file, this plugin gives you a template to start with, depending on the type of file you created.

Time to have a look at web development. In order to work with HTML, I installed matchit (a classic) but also HTML5, which adds omnicomplete funtion, indent and syntax for HTML 5 and SVG. As sometimes I use less to write improved CSS, I added Less, a single file with syntax.

The PHP programming section is based in the PIV (PHP integration for VIM), which includes various plugins. Actually I disabled some of them, just to meet my needs. Finally I added Syntastic: every time you save a PHP file, it automatically checks it with PHP’s lint (finds grammar errors), PHP Code Sniffer (alerts style errors) and PHP Mess Detector (suggests improvements), showing the results inline.

Am I missing any other basic plugin? I guess not, as with these tools I feel really backed to develop any project.

Update: I forgot to list xDebug (an interface for PHP’s xDebug).


Adminer, a compact database manager

tl;dr If you use phpMyAdmin, stop right now and give a try to Adminer.

If you have several customers with different hostings, you have experienced problems accessing to their MySQL databases for sure. The situation comes like this: you get a new support ticket and ask for hosting access, but usually you just get FTP access. So now you have to ask again about the phpMyAdmin URL. Or you get access to their hosting panel, but there is just a horrible DB manager.

What can you do? Trying to deploy phpMyAdmin yourself in a customer’s hosting is a nightmare, and can take several minutes. That makes no sense, specially if you just need to check a tiny detail.

adminerAdminer is the solution, as it is just one file. That means uploading it is just a couple of seconds. In a moment you are operating with the database. Magic.

I don’t really know how I discovered about Adminer, but as soon as I started using it, it became an everyday tool. Actually I don’t remember when was the last time I used phpMyAdmin. Adminer as a single file is perfect, but moreover it comes with a lot of features that surprass phpMyAdmin. And it has an active development, so each new version comes with new features, like more databases (PostgreSQL, SQLite, MS SQL, Oracle, SimpleDB, Elasticsearch and MongoDB).

Finally there is a cut-down version, Adminer Editor, that only allows simple CRUD operations. That’s perfect if you need to quickly provide your customer a way to edit the content while you develop a proper back-office.


Keeping on your daily routines

tl;dr Use Routinely (android app) to keep your routines. Or Coach Me if you want to be social.

While living in Korea I used everyday ankidroid (an android app for anki) to learn and retain Korean vocabulary. The key point is use it day after day so your don’t forget what you are learning. But after I came to Barcelona I noticed I didn’t keep that routine.

How can I keep a routine? I guessed there should be some kind of app that can help me. After asking about it on twitter and doing some research I listed 4 candidates: Habit Streak, Routinely and Coach Me.

Actually I got more suggestions, but I tried to find an app that perfectly matches my needs: small, with a list of routines (things I should do everyday) to tick, and some kind of alarm that alerts me when the day is over and I didn’t finish all my routines. I didn’t want just another ToDo app. So here goes the review…

routinelyI tried Habit Streak, but found out the UI is really bad (you need to go to a submenu to tick a routine!). So I discarded it and tried Routinely: surprisingly it matches my needs. It is visually clean, with an easy interface; and comes with alarms for every routine and a widget with the number of remaining routines to do.

As I found what I’m looking for, I didn’t review any other app and started using Routinely as soon as I installed it. It’s really helping me to improve my productivity.

Actually a friend suggested me Coach Me, and it looks quite similar to Routinely, but with a social layer (“share with friends”). I guess one or another will be better for you depending on your self-control skills. If you need to show people your skill as a way to force yourself to improve, choose Coach Me. Otherwise Routinely will be good enough.


Tracking your time while working

Years ago, when I started remote-working, I realized I needed to be extremely serious with my work-time. If you work at home it’s absurdly easy to get distracted with housework around you. Or open facebook again (but thanks to a firefox plugin, Leechblock, that never happens again).

hamsterI thought I needed to track my focused time somehow. Despite there are online tools for this task, like RescueTime, I wanted something in my desktop. So I first gave a chance to Hamster-time-tracker. It comes in all linux distros, so installing it is simple, but for the best results I suggest you to set it to run at startup.

The good thing of Hamster is that it’s simple. Choose the task and start tracking. It can show you summaries with all kind of information (useful to report to your boss), but if you need anything more elaborated you can even get the raw data yourself, as it saves the tracking details in an standard SQlite database (in linux, ~/.local/share/hamster-applet/hamster.db).

I used Hamster for years, in a sick detailed way: a kind of micro-tracking. For instance, if I go to the toilet, I stop the clock; if I go to the kitchen to brew some tea, I stop the clock. This way I started to understand how I really work. In my case, in blocks of 1~1.5 hours. Also I realized that getting more than 4~5 hours of real focused work per day is impossible. Finally I understand some days I’m really productive (5 hours) while others I’m not (30 minutes).

Recently I updated my laptop and wanted to test an even better time tracker. With Hamster I can’t create subtasks easily. When working in a project, all of us start defining tasks, and splitting them into subtasks. But it’s also very common to discover, while working on a subtask, that you need to split it again. Or create an extra one, or…

task coachI started using Task Coach, which allows you to split tasks anytime, while tracks the time. You can even track time for a particular subtask or for a task (sometimes useful when you are doing small stuff). You can set tasks as active, inactive or completed, and easily filter them to see the big picture or the detailed view.

Whatever you do, you may want to improve. And the better way is to track how you work, as a first step to have data (metrics) to analyze and improve. In my experience, tracking the time you are working focused helps you to see how well (or bad) are you doing and rewards yourself (or punish yourself) seeing the data.


Links about quality website development

Just for reference, here I’m writing down some interesting links I’ve recently seen about quality while developing and maintaining websites.

That’s enough to keep me busy for months. But these days I’m also trying ideas, using CSS3 and HTML5 features, so I’m using a lot what it could be the best website with compatibility features.


Deal with soft SPAM

Adverts are everywhere. And they try to get your focus at all prices. I hate that. Even these days, that in theory they send you proper tailored adverts matching your needs, I get annoyed… because actually you just get SPAM.

Moreover, in Internet we have something that I call “soft SPAM“, that basically doesn’t sell you anything but disturb your focus. I’m speaking, for example, about the “Who to follow” block in twitter or “Recommended pages” in facebook. It might be useful when you create a new account, but it is totally disturbing in your normal live activity.

Do you want to remove the “who to follow” block on Twitter? Just use Addblock (a plugin for Firefox, Chrome, etc that you MUST have) and create a new filter, with the following line:

twitter.com##div.js-recommended-followers

In case you want to remove Facebook’s “Recommended friends/pages” block, just use:

facebook.com##div.ego_section

After that, you live will be a bit easier ;-)