The Power of the BrowserProxyMob

At work I have been involved with an effort to put some automated front-end testing in place. The combination of Behat, Mink running tests using PhantomJS is a good one for this. Open source, easy to configure, handles JavaScript-heavy pages reasonably well.

There was just one wrinkle in our plans: our use of local host files.

Somewhere back in the mists of time it was decided that in order to properly test our web applications without pummelling our production assets (like image farms, content servers, API end points) that a "hostfile generator" would be created and is accessible on every machine in our development VM network.

You hit /hosts and it spits out a file that you can use on your laptop to alias production assets / resources / whatever to things on your development server. I use a program on my MacBook called Gas Mask that lets me quicky switch between host files when testing out sites on various development boxes. I am sure a similar tool exists for Windows and Linux users.

So, initially the only way to make Behat play nicely with the host files was to manually over-write the /etc/hosts file on the development server with the host-specific one the generator gives us. That way all the host aliases in place.

This is fine and all, but I am pretty sure our sysadmins would never allow the user that runs our continuous integration jobs have the proper permissions to overwrite the host files. If a test run were to crash and generate fatal errors, we would end up with a machine with a bad host file in place.

So clearly what was needed was a proxy. After doing a little bit of digging around I found a solution: BrowserMobProxy. While it bills itself as a tool for helping web developers "watch and manipulate network traffic from their AJAX applications" it also has a feature that is of great interest to our problem: it supports the ability to create aliases to hosts...oddly enough just like we do with our host files at work.

So, BrowserMobProxy is great in that you can send requests to REST-style but I didn't want to mess around with manual calls, so I was happy to find that my friend Adam Goucher had written a PHP library for interacting with it. I forked his code, cleaned it up a little and it's now available via Packagist and ready to install via Composer.

So, let's get started with what I did.

Here's my composer.json file for the project

    "require": {
        "behat/behat": "2.4.*@stable",
        "behat/mink": "1.4@stable",
        "behat/mink-extension": "*",
        "behat/mink-goutte-driver": "*",
        "behat/mink-selenium2-driver": "*",
        "chartjes/php-browsermob-proxy" "dev-master",
        "sauce/connect": ">=3.0",
        "sauce/sasuage": ">=0.5",
    "config": {
        "bin-dir": "bin/"

We are experimenting with using SauceLabs for testing our sites on mobile devices (in case you were wondering).

With that stuff installed, I next downloaded a copy of BrowserMobProxy (herafter referred to as BMP) and copied the CLI runner and JAR files into the 'bin' directory. Next, I installed PhantomJS in /usr/local/bin on my server.

Next, we setup our Behat configuration file to point to PhantomJS when doing our tests using Selenium2's web driver capabilities:

        class: "FeatureContext"
            default_session: selenium2
            javascript_session: 'selenium2'

Now, we get to the tricky part.

BMP requires you to connect to it first to get it to start a proxy connection running on a different port than the one the main service runs on. In my Behat test runner script I use the PHP BMP library to create a connection, and it assigns it to the first available port in a range you can specify at run time.

Because I can count on this value to be the same all the time, I then start up an instance of PhantomJS telling it to run in "accept requests like I am WebDriver compatible" proxy all requests through BMP

/usr/local/bin/phantomjs --webdriver=4444 --proxy=http://localhost:9091

In my Behat context class I add in a step that reads in the host file via our host file generator and assigns the host aliases to BMP so that when Behat uses PhantomJS to load web pages, it will use the host aliases set within BMP.

I know that it's pretty convoluted, but I know with 100% certainty that it works.

If you spot anything here that doesn't make sense, let me know and I will update the post.