[rspec-users] unusual challenges speccing external software

Daniel Tenner daniel.ruby at tenner.org
Thu Jan 17 11:15:46 EST 2008

At the risk of sounding a bit silly, what's your question? I couldn't  
find a question mark in the whole email...?


On 17 Jan 2008, at 07:20 17 Jan 2008, Giles Bowkett wrote:

> This is something I've come up against twice. First, I have an
> interactive editor which calls vi, emacs, or TextMate (etc.) via Unix,
> and then loads the file handed to the editor back into IRB after it's
> edited and saved. I guess that makes it a special case of a more
> general question, which is how do you spec external processes, with a
> slightly more complicated version of the standard answer, mocks.
> The second instance is more complicated. I'm writing a MIDI code
> generator and using it to drive Propellerhead Reason, which is
> third-party closed-source commercial software which will run on my OS
> X box but which is not actually transparent to Unix in any meaningful
> way that I'm aware of. (The code generator can very probably also
> drive any arbitrary MIDI consumer.) I'm using code from Topher Cyll's
> book "Practical Ruby Projects" to create Ruby wrappers to C methods in
> Apple's CoreMIDI library. The trap here is I'm calling those C methods
> to generate MIDI elsewhere in the OS in some unknown way. That makes
> speccing weird.
> I've been able to refactor this code in a kind-of spec-first way. I
> write scripts which use the API successfully and actually generate
> music I can hear. Then I change the internals of the API and run the
> scripts again to ensure they still generate the same music. In that
> sense I'm basically doing the right thing, even though it's not
> particularly systematic or automated. I'm comparing the output with my
> ears rather than in a way that code can grok, but it still has the
> feel of a spec-first workflow.
> For developing the API itself, especially the parts which generate
> MIDI, I set up a layer of abstraction. Instead of directly driving the
> code which sends MIDI to external software, the code which generates
> the music drives an output adapter, and the output adapter sends MIDI
> to external software - or, in the case of the TextOutputAdapter, just
> text-dumps the music. Since it all comes back as text, it's very easy
> to write specs against.
> But I've ended up with three artifacts that are *either* byproducts of
> bad design *or* bad products of a compromised spec process. I created
> three mock *classes* (as opposed to mock objects). For example, one is
> the ArrayGenerator. In this system Generators return notes. The
> ArrayGenerator "generates" an array of notes. It's a silly
> implementation, but it's useful if you want to spec that some code can
> take an arbitrary generator, which generates arbitrary notes, and then
> process those notes correctly.
> Sometimes I think my design has too many abstract parts. Sometimes I'm
> happy with it. I want to improve my speccing approach so I can operate
> with greater certainty. I think probably this approach is a good
> direction, and that I should change the specs by making them more
> specific. (For instance, there are places where I check that a
> Generator subclass can do stuff, even though Generator itself isn't
> fully specced.) I'm not quite sure though.
> -- 
> Giles Bowkett
> Podcast: http://hollywoodgrit.blogspot.com
> Blog: http://gilesbowkett.blogspot.com
> Portfolio: http://www.gilesgoatboy.org
> Tumblelog: http://giles.tumblr.com
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