Caius Theory

Now with even more cowbell…

#to_param and keyword slugs

Imagine you've got a blogging app and it's currently generating URL paths like posts/10 for individual posts. You decide the path should contain the post title (in some form) to make your URLs friendlier when someone reads them. I know I certainly prefer to read vs (That's a fun blog post if you're into (ab)using ruby occasionally!)

Now you know all about how to change the URL path that rails generates—just define to_param in your app. Something simple that generates a slug consisting of hyphens and lowercase alphanumerical characters. For example:

# 70-abusing-ruby-1-9-json-for-fun
def to_param
  "#{id}-#{title.gsub(/\W/, "-").squeeze("-")}".downcase

NB: You might want to go the route of storing the slug against the post record in the database and thus generating it before saving the record. In which case the rest of this post is sort of moot and you just need to search on that column. If not, then read on!

Now we're generating a nice human-readable URL we need to change the way we find the post in the controller's show action. Up until now it's been a simple @post = Post.find(params[:id]) to grab the record out the database. Problem now is params[:id] is "70-abusing-ruby-1-9-json-for-fun", rather than just "70". A quick check in the String#to_i docs reveals it "Returns the result of interpreting leading characters in str as an integer base base (between 2 and 36)." Basically it extracts the first number it comes across and returns it.

Knowing that we can just lean on it to extract the id before using find to look for the post: @post = Post.find(params[:id].to_i). Fantastic! We've got nice human readable paths on our blog posts and they can be found in the database. All finished… or are we?

There's still a rather embarassing bug in our code where we're not explicitly checking the slug in the URL against the slug of the Post we've extracted from the database. If we visited /posts/70-ruby-19-sucks-and-python-rules-4eva it would load the blog post and render it without batting an eyelid. This has caused rather a few embarrassing situations for some high profile media outlets who don't (or didn't) check their URLs and just output the content. Luckily there's a simple way for us to check this.

All we want to do is render the content if the id param matches the slug of the post exactly, and return a 404 page if it doesn't. We already know the id param (params[:id]) and have pulled the Post object out of the database and stored it in an instance variable (@post). The @post knows how to generate it's own slug, using #to_param.

So we end up with something like the following in our posts controller, which does all the above and correctly returns a 404 if someone enters an invalid slug (even if it starts with a valid post id):

def show
  @post = Post.find(params[:id].to_i)
  render_404 && return unless params[:id] == @post.to_param

def render_404
  render :file => Rails.root + "public/404.html", :status => :not_found

And going to an invalid path like /posts/70-ruby-19-sucks-and-python-rules-4eva just renders the default rails 404 page with a 404 HTTP status. (If you want the id to appear at the end of the path, alter to_param accordingly and do something like params[:id].match(/\d+$/) to extract the Post's id to search on.)

Hey presto, we've implemented human readable slugs that are tamper-proof (without storing them in the database.)

(And bonus points if in fact you spotted I used my blog as an example, but that it isn't a rails app. (Nor contains the blog post ID in the pretty URL.) It's actually powered by Habari at the time of posting!

Adding XHTML output validation to Cucumber stories

At the 2009 Barcamp Leeds I attended a talk by Neil Crosby where he talked about automated testing, and about how he felt there was a gap in everything that people were testing. Everyone has unit tests, and people are doing full stack testing too, but no-one (so he feels) does XHTML/CSS/JS validation as part of their automated test suite. And certainly from what I've seen on the mainstream Ruby site's about testing, I agreed with him.

So after his talk I had a quick look at his frontend test suite, and started wondering where exactly I would fit frontend validation testing into my workflow. Would it be part of my unit tests (RSpec), or part of the full stack tests (Cucumber)? As you've probably guessed by the title of this post, its ended up going into my cucumber tests. Since the initial play its been something I've mused about occasionally, but not something I've actively looked into how to implement as part of my test workflow.

Fast-forward a few weeks from Barcamp Leeds and I see a news article in my feed reader entitled "Easy Markup Validation" which gets me hopeful someone's solved this frontend validation thing easily for Rubyists. A quick read through and I'm sold on it and installing the gem. Opened an existing project I'm working on which has a fairly extensive test suite (both unit tests & full stack tests) and tried to slot the validation into my controller unit tests.

Problem with doing this is by default RSpec-rails doesn't generate the views in your controller specs. At that point I realised I was already generating the full page when I was doing a full stack test using culerity and cucumber. So why not just add a cucumber step in my stories to validate the HTML on each page I visit? Mainly because its not enough of a failure for this app to have invalid XHTML markup. Having valid markup would be nice, but I'd rather have it as a separate test to my stories in some way.

Currently I just do that by only validating if ENV["VALIDATION"] is set to anything, so a normal run of my cucumber stories will just test the app does what its supposed to do. If I run them with VALIDATION=true then it will check my markup is valid as well.


require "markup_validity" if ENV["VALIDATION"]


Then %r/the page is valid XHTML/ do
  $browser.html.should be_xhtml_strict if ENV["VALIDATION"]


Feature: Logging in
  In order to do stuff
  As a registered user
  I want to login

  Scenario: Successful Login
    Given there is a user called "Caius"

    When I goto the homepage
    Then the page is valid XHTML

    When I click on the "Login" link
    Then I am redirected to the login page
    And the page is valid XHTML

    When I enter my login details
    And I click "Login"
    Then I am redirected to my dashboard
    And the page is valid XHTML

Now when I run cucumber features/logging_in.feature, it doesn't validate the HTML, it just makes sure that I can login as my user and that I am redirected to the right places. But if I run VALIDATION=true cucumber features/logging_in.feature, then it does validate my XHTML on the homepage, the login page and on the user's dashboard. If it fails validation then it gives you a fairly helpful error message as to what it was expecting and what it found instead.

From a quick run against a couple of stories in my app I discovered that I've not been wrapping form elements in an enclosing element, so they've been quickly fixed and now they validate. Now I realise this gem is only testing XHTML output, and doesn't include CSS or JS validation, but from a quick peek at the gem's source it should be fairly easy to add both of those in I think, although again they aren't major errors for me yet in this app.