Containers And The Grumpy Tester

Even with my personal focus on promoting Test-Driven Development I still end up doing a lot of functional testing. For clarification purposes I want to define a functional test as one where I create an automated test that treats the system I'm testing as a black box.

In this case I needed to write some functional tests for Kinto. Kinto is a lightweight storage server that is designed to be distributed-friendly and is being used at Mozilla in production RIGHT NOW to handle the SSL certificate revocation list that Firefox uses.

Being a big fan of automation, I started to brainstorm ideas on what the ideal environment for running these tests would look like. So I set on the following ideas:

  • we should be able to easily start up however many instances of Kinto we need
  • the test script itself needs to know if it's own dependencies are all set
  • someone other than me needs to be able to easily use this tool

Docker as a new QA tool

Before we go any further, please go and buy Chris Tankersley's awesome book about Docker. Chris is a friend of mine (and current PHP Magic: The Gathering champion) and his help in going from knowing nothing about Docker to knowing enough to create something useful was invaluable.

For the uninitiated, I will give a gross over-simplification of what Docker is. Docker is a set of tools that allow you to create small containers inside which you can run applications. The theory behind this is that is allows you to run multiple applications on the same server. I'm not sure how it works it's magic on Linux-based systems but on OS-X the tools have you using a Vagrant VM to host all these containers for you. I'm not always comfortable with using tools that appear to be magical to me, but I'm okay with what Docker is doing.

In many ways this reminds me of a tool that FreeBSD provided called jails. Back in 2003-2004 the company I was working for gave us development boxes that worked on that used jails to simulate what our production environment looked like. I thought it was a very interesting bit of technology that solved a real problem -- how to provide developers with a solid development environment.

Lucky for me the Kinto project already has a Docker image we can use so it seems like a natural thing to try and use. After some conversations with Mr. Tankersley it appeared what I needed was to use Docker Compose. Docker Compose lets you start multiple containers at once, create links with them, and do all sorts of other interesting things with them.

Initially I had a grand plan for using Docker Compose. I was going to spin up containers for two different Kinto instances and then two PostgeSQL servers and then they can talk to each other and then it's going to be awesome and I will look like a goddamn genius!

Like so many of plans, things started off super complicated and then eventually got pared down to what I really needed. I ran into all sorts of problems with my initial scheme because I ended up with basically what amounted to a race condition happening.

I need to spin up the database containers FIRST and then run some database migrations and OH MY GOD WHY IS THIS ALL SO COMPLICATED.

After banging my head unsuccessfully against this problem, I took a step back and figured out what it was I really needed to create this environment. After calming down and telling imposter syndrome to hit the road, I took a closer look at what the Kinto containers were doing and realized it was fine to use the default of creating a small in-memory database for storing things.

This is a test that is designed to be run in a continuous integration environment so it doesn't really need any permanence. So with that issue out of the way, I tweaked my Docker Compose configuration file until I was happy with it:

  image: kinto/kinto-server
   - "8888:8888"
  image: chartjes/kinto-read-only
   - "8889:8889"

I created a custom Docker image for this. I suppose it has a terrible name because it's not really a read-only instance but it's playing the role of the "only read by Firefox" side of the testing environment.

Do when you run docker-compose in the directory with this docker-compose.yml file, it will spin up two containers that are running two different Kinto servers.

Semi-intelligent testing scripts

Next up was to write some tests. Right now we do our tests in Python using the awesome pytest testing tool. I wanted to make sure that the test would gracefully fail if our Docker containers weren't up and running so I hacked together some code that goes in the setup method for the test.

def setUp(self):
    # Figure out what the IP address where the containers are running
    f = os.popen('which docker-machine')
    docker_machine = str(

    if string.find(docker_machine, "/docker-machine") == -1:
        print("Could not find docker-machine in our path")

    f = os.popen('%s ip default' % docker_machine)
    ip = str(

    # Set our master and read-only end points and create our test bucket
    self.master_url = "http://%s:8888/v1/" % ip
    self.read_only_url = "http://%s:8889/v1/" % ip
    self.credentials = ('testuser', 'abc123')
    self.master = Client(server_url=self.master_url, auth=self.credentials)
    self.read_only = Client(server_url=self.read_only_url, auth=self.credentials)
    self.bucket = self.get_timestamp()

As with all code examples I put up here, I'm open to feedback and corrections.

Time for that test

The scenario I'm going to share is a very simple one that accurate duplicates a use case: someone alters the collection of data and those changes need to get replicated over to a different server.

The test should make sense because I made sure to add comments

def test_sync(self):
    # Generate some random records
    collection = self.get_timestamp()
    self.master.create_collection(collection, bucket=self.bucket)
    self.read_only.create_collection(collection, bucket=self.bucket)
    for x in range(10):

    # Pause and generate some more random records on the master end-point
    for x in range(5):

    # Get the timestamp of our last record by doing an HTTP query of the
    # read-only collection and grabbing the value from the header
    response = self.read_only.get_records(bucket=self.bucket, collection=collection)
    last_record = response[-1]
    since = last_record['last_modified']

    # Query the master using that value for all the records since that one
    new_records = self.master.get_records(bucket=self.bucket, collection=collection, _since=since)

    # Add those records to our read-only end-point
    for data in new_records:
        new_data = {'internal_id': data['internal_id'], 'title': data['title']}
        self.read_only.create_record(data=new_data, bucket=self.bucket, collection=collection)

    master_records = self.master.get_records(bucket=self.bucket, collection=collection)
    read_only_records = self.read_only.get_records(bucket=self.bucket, collection=collection)

    # We should have 5 records in master and 15 in read-only
    self.assertEquals(5, len(master_records))
    self.assertEquals(15, len(read_only_records))

    # Clean up our collections
    self.master.delete_collection(collection, bucket=self.bucket)
    self.read_only.delete_collection(collection, bucket=self.bucket)

Again, very straight forward. Like I've told people many times -- writing tests is just like writing code, and the test code doesn't need to be fancy. It just needs to accurate execute the test scenario you have in mind.

Always Be Evaluating

As a tester I'm always looking for tools that I think can provide real value to me and help with testing scenarios. It's still early days with Docker and it (along with associated tools) are only getting better. If you've been struggling with a way to try and build a reasonably-sandboxed environment to run functional tests in, I encourage you to take a look at what I've done here and copy it to your advantage.

The tests I've been working on can be found inside this GitHub repo