Testing client side javascript

I’ve recently had to look at writing some client-side javascript for an application I’m developing. Since I love testing, I had to have a look at what testing framework I should use. Javascript is not Java, there are lots and lots of testing frameworks. After browsing the most popular projects I decided on using Mocha to handle test running and suite generation with Chai which is used to provide a rich library of assertions.

These tools can be run on the browser and manipulate the DOM to show outputs. I personally think this method is quite ugly and slow so I looked into running things headlessly. A few immediate choices came to mind:

These projects all run javascript off the browser and hence some don’t support DOM manipulation (e.g. Rhino).

PhantomJS supports DOM manipulation which is quite a nice feature if you are eventually going to run your javascript client-side.

Having recently used node for a university project, I thought I’d try something else that isn’t built on an asynchronous model since I found this made testing quite difficult. In the end I chose PhantomJS as I running Rhino regularly sounded quite unpleasant given the time it takes the JVM to start.

Mocha is well supported under PhantomJS and already has a runner availabe. I’ll give a few examples of how to get all these libraries cooperating.

First up you’ll need node installed to give you access to the npm package manager. It seems like most js projects have adopted it as a package manager irrespective of whether they target Node.js or the browser.

$ sudo npm install -g mocha-phantomjs phantomjs

will pull in PhantomJS, Mocha and the PhantomJS Mocha runner that we’ll use to run our tests in the command line.

Start a new project somewhere and add a source and tests directory.

$ mkdir tests src

Since we’re PhantomJS we need an HTML page that will be run in the headless browser, this is mainly just a shell that will include all the javascript code that we wish to run. The advantage of using a platform like Node.js or Rhino means you can skip this extra step, but then you also lose the ability to perform DOM manipulation.

$ touch tests.html

This file will be used to included all your test suites, this might get pretty ugly/slow if you’ve got many and large test suites, but you can always break them up, or you could use python and jinja2 to dynamically create HTML pages based on the js files you have in your tests directory (I’m sure you could do this in js as well, but I’m not really familiar with the ecosystem).

$ cat > tests.HTML << EOF
    <meta charset="utf-8">
    <link rel="stylesheet" href="../node_modules/mocha/mocha.css" />
    <div id="mocha"></div>
    <script src="../node_modules/mocha/mocha.js"></script>
    <script src="../node_modules/chai/chai.js"></script>
      assert = chai.assert;
    <script src="src/fibonacci.js"></script>
    <script src="tests/fibonacci"></script>
      if (window.mochaPhantomJS) { mochaPhantomJS.run(); }
      else { mocha.run(); }

This is just a simple document that will include the necessary libraries, setup Mocha appropriately:

Evidently this HTML has some dependencies that need to be installed before the code can be run.

$ npm install --save mocha chai

will install the necessary testing libraries and the --save flag will produce a package.json file that can be distributed with your project for other users to automate downloading dependencies.

The HTML sources tests/test_file.js which needs to be created, this is simply an example test file:

$ cat > tests/fibonacci.js << EOF
suite('Recursive fibonacci tests', function() {
    test('fib(0) = 0', function() {
        assert.equal(0, fib(0));
    test('fib(2) = 1', function() {
        assert.equal(1, fib(1));

$ cat > src/fibonacci.js << EOF
function fib(n) {
    if (n < 2) { return n; }
    return fib(n - 1) + fib(n - 2);

Now everything is set up you can run your tests:

$ mocha-phantomjs tests.html

Quite nice really. Look into Sinon.js for a nice mocking framework