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New web app to test redirects

10:50 pm on Oct 6, 2010 (gmt 0)

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Last week I discovered that my personal blog had gone from PR4 to PR0. The problem was my redirect configuration (I was giving people a 404 in one certain case instead of redirecting them with 301).

So this past weekend I wrote a web app that applies "test-driven development" (TDD. This is a really popular programming technique) to website configuration and testing. It's fairly simple and can use some more features, but here's how I use it:

    *I write "test cases" for new pages or redirects I need.
    *The new test cases initially fail.
    *Then, I edit the Apache config files until all tests pass.

I'm grateful for any feedback.

1:30 am on Oct 7, 2010 (gmt 0)

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Hi dogweather,

I guess your assertion in the post is that it's a good idea to test before you deploy, and that indeed testing should be an automated part of any reasonable software development process, and further, development should start with a test proving that what you want works, then the code to do it.

I'm with you so far. It's an admirable goal.

But I have been managing software development teams since my 13 year old son was -13, and we have had some variant of this notion in our heads all during this time. In my experience, it common sense, but not common.

For example, if I had a test run for all of the conditions in rewrites for all of the pages on my site, I would have full coverage.

But doing this would negate the value of a fine logic machine attached to the top of my neck that tells me I could do better things with my time than creating tests for things "I already know" will work. The problem with the thing on the top of my neck is that it's not a perfect logic machine, and occasionally makes assumptions that are wrong. (OK, much of the time)

So in looking at your site, I like the concept, but think good software development frameworks like Ruby on Rails have this concept baked in to their very cores (others as well). Tests come nearly for free, are written in the same language as the code, and they get run automatically, and ... even then few developers actually write tests without having had the hard lesson you had.

(And instead of learning the lesson, I have had several developers say, I kid you not, "I am going to write a tool that writes tests for me automatically", which is simply an amusing anecdote revealing how deluded and grandiose us engineers can be).

(several decades of having been beaten down by reality ... sorry.)

But what would be cool in your tool is if we could more simply declare a few examples of URLs to run without saying what should happen quite yet, for example:


Rather than having the TDD approach, having a really clear output that said what actually did happen when the test was run could give me a simple second chance to say "Yep, that's what I expected", or not.

For example, if your tool told me that I got a single 301 redirect to http://www.example.com/ in 10ms, that would be good and I could bless the result -- your tool would then record the details as a saved test. Now you have a simple way of building a test suite.

Better yet, write a firefox plugin or Greasemonkey script that let me click once do that process on a URL I just submitted.

Oh, and I should be able to invoke my tests from whatever environment I happened to be working in, getting a response that could be integrated into normal compile/build output.

Now that would be cool. For me (and 26 years of development teams), your tool as it stands is a few steps too many.

But on the right track!

That's my feedback.

(Except for one other thing: my first reaction was that you were using WebmasterWorld forums to promote your product. I dissuaded myself that this was the case. But (believe it or not) I am a lot less cynical than some others here.)

So welcome to the embittered, curmudgeonly WebmasterWorld :-)

6:19 pm on Oct 7, 2010 (gmt 0)

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Hi Tom,

Thanks for the thoughtful reply and the benefit of the doubt that I'm not spamming the site. I agree that it seems wrong to write tests that cover (i.e. duplicate) a web server's functionality. I've had this feeling in the past: while working in software dev shops where the other devs spent *tons* of time writing intricate tests for their code.

So in looking at your site, I like the concept, but think good software development frameworks like Ruby on Rails have this concept baked in . . . Tests come nearly for free . . .

Yep; I use Rails for 90% of my sites. But the standard tests and assert methods don't cover web server config. Especially for a complex site (100,000 pages, several domains & subdomains, partially https). So I first extended the Rails assertion library so that I could write Rails tests that look like this:

 test 'News blog 1' do
assert_200 'https://www.oregonlaws.org/blogs/news_and_commentary/247'

test 'News blog 2' do

Those were *extremely* helpful. I wouldn't really create tons of tests that duplicate functions ... I'd add tests when I discovered a broken page. This was the precursor to the web app that I'm now working on.

I decided to make this into a web app when I wanted to write tests for some Wordpress-generated sections. I was debating creating a new Rails project simply to act as a container for the tests when I realized that an independent web app that serves as a front-end to these assertions would be perfect. And then of course, I figured that if it'd be useful to me, it'd be useful to others.

You've got some good ideas for improving the user interaction: I'm first working on making this as useful as the code version. But then it'd be great to leverage the ability of the app to (e.g.) show the user a result and ask if a new test should be created based on it.

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