Pure RSpec JSON API testing

In this article we will have a look how to test JSON API in Ruby on Rails or in plain Ruby application with nothing more than RSpec 3.x

Entire source code of Dummy applicaion can be found here

Ruby on Rails example

Let say we have Article model and ArticlesController

# app/models/article.rb
class Article < ActiveRecord::Base
  def as_json
    {
      id: id,
      title: title
    }
  end
end
# app/controllers/articles_controller.rb
class ArticlesController < ActionController::Base
  before_action :find_article

  def show
    render json: @article.as_json
  end

  private
    def find_article
      @article = Article.find(params[:id])
    end
end

In order to test this we can write a RSpec test like:

# spec/controllers/articles_controller_spec.rb
require 'rails_helper'

RSpec.describe ArticlesController, type: :controller do

  describe "GET #show" do
    before do
      get :show, id: article.id
    end

    let(:article) { Article.create(title: 'Hello World') }

    it "returns http success" do
      expect(response).to have_http_status(:success)
    end

    it "response with JSON body containing expected Article attributes" do
      hash_body = nil
      expect { hash_body = JSON.parse(response.body).with_indifferent_access }.not_to raise_exception
      expect(hash_body).to match({
        id: article.id,
        title: 'Hello World'
      })
    end
  end
end

So in the last it statement we are evaluating single logical assertion whether response body is parsable JSON format. JSON.parse will throw an exception if this is not true. The result of this is a parsed Hash that we convert to Rails HashWithIndifferentAccess and we store this to local variable hash_body.

HashWithIndifferentAccess is typo of hash that in which symbol keys and string keys are considered same ( key :id is == key "id")

Then we are using built in RSpec match matcher that compares the the hash elements. Unlike eq matcher you can pass other matchers as arguments.

This is also true to custom matchers you define ! Custom RSpec Matchers

      # ...
      expect(hash_body).to match({
        id: be_kind_of(Integer),
        title: match(/ello/)
      })
      # ...

Of course you don't want to repeat this part in every controller:

      hash_body = nil
      expect { hash_body = JSON.parse(response.body).with_indifferent_access }.not_to raise_exception

Let's introduce a custom matcher and some helpers for this:

# spec/spec_helper.rb
# ...
Dir["./spec/support/custom_matchers/**/*.rb"].each { |f| require f}
# ...

def body_as_json
  json_str_to_hash(response.body)
end

def json_str_to_hash(str)
  JSON.parse(str).with_indifferent_access
end
# spec/support/custom_matchers/json_matchers.rb
RSpec::Matchers.define :look_like_json do |expected|
  match do |actual|
    begin
      JSON.parse(actual)
    rescue JSON::ParserError
      false
    end
  end

  failure_message do |actual|
    "\"#{actual}\" is not parsable by JSON.parse"
  end

  description do
    "Expects to be JSON parsable String"
  end
end

Now you can write:

# spec/controllers/articles_controller_spec.rb

    # ...
    it "response with JSON body containing expected Article attributes" do
      expect(response.body).to look_like_json
      expect(body_as_json).to match({
        id: article.id,
        title: 'Hello World'
      })
    end
    # ...

Are you asking yourself: "Shouldn't expect(body).to look_like_json and expect(body_as_json).to match be in separate it blocks?". Well yes and no, we are testing two things (that's true) but both are there to ensure one logical assertion: "Is the body expected JSON ?" The look_like_json is just a safety check for the case when response.body changes to some "non-json" (e.g. someone changes the render :json with render :html, this give you meaningful message what went wrong before the comparison of JSON body even starts.

If you want to learn more on this Test practices I'm recommending Bob Martins Clean Code: Advanced TDD

This is enough for a basic JSON APIs in a small applications with tiny API usage or in application where controllers specs test every scenario.

Going Plain Ruby - Serializer Objects

No matter if you're using Rails, Sinatra or Volt once it goes to complex JSON APIs sticking all the JSON structure logic to Model or Controller is a bad idea. This should be responsibility of some Serializer object and Controller spec would just make sure it's called correctly.

Most used Rails solution is gem ActiveModel Serializer but in this tutorial we are going to build our own Serializer object just to prove a point that you don't need anything fancy.

Let say we want to build your API to comply jsonapi.org specification and the result should look like:

{
  "article": {
    "id": "305",
    "type": "articles",
    "attributes": {
      "title": "Asking Alexandria"
    }
  }
}
# spec/serializers/article_serializer_spec.rb

require 'rails_helper'

RSpec.describe ArticleSerializer do
  subject { described_class.new(article) }
  let(:article) { instance_double(Article, id: 678, title: "Bring Me The Horizon") }

  describe "#as_json" do
    let(:result) { subject.as_json }

    it 'root should be article Hash' do
      expect(result).to match({
        article: be_kind_of(Hash)
      })
    end

    context 'article hash' do
      let(:article_hash) { result.fetch(:article) }

      it 'should contain type and id' do
        expect(article_hash).to match({
          id: article.id.to_s,
          type: 'articles',
          attributes: be_kind_of(Hash)
        })
      end

      context 'attributes' do
        let(:article_hash_attributes) { article_hash.fetch(:attributes) }

        it do
          expect(article_hash_attributes).to match({
            title: /[Hh]orizon/,
          })
        end
      end
    end
  end
end
# app/serializers/article_serializer.rb

class ArticleSerializer
  attr_reader :article

  def initialize(article)
    @article = article
  end

  def as_json
    {
      article: {
        id: article.id.to_s,
        type: 'articles',
        attributes: {
          title: article.title
        }
      }
    }
  end
end

When we run our "serializers" specs everything passes. That's pretty boring let's introduce a typo to our Article Serializer. Instead of type: "articles" lets return type: "events" and rerun our tests

rspec spec/serializers/article_serializer_spec.rb

.F.

Failures:

  1) ArticleSerializer#as_json article hash should contain type and id
     Failure/Error:
       expect(article_hash).to match({
         id: article.id.to_s,
         type: 'articles',
         attributes: be_kind_of(Hash)
       })

       expected {:id=>"678", :type=>"event",
:attributes=>{:title=>"Bring Me The Horizon"}} to match {:id=>"678",
:type=>"articles", :attributes=>(be a kind of Hash)}
       Diff:

       @@ -1,4 +1,4 @@
       -:attributes => (be a kind of Hash),
       +:attributes => {:title=>"Bring Me The Horizon"},
        :id => "678",
       -:type => "articles",
       +:type => "events",

     # ./spec/serializers/article_serializer_spec.rb:20:in `block (4
levels) in <top (required)>'

It's pretty easy to spot the error. Let's fix this error and introduce a different error, tell the Serializer to return title with 3 l

rspec spec/serializers/article_serializer_spec.rb 

..F

Failures:

  1) ArticleSerializer#as_json article hash attributes should match
{:title=>(be a kind of String)}
     Failure/Error:
       expect(article_hash_attributes).to match({
         title: be_kind_of(String),
       })

       expected {:titllle=>"Bring Me The Horizon"} to match {:title=>(be
a kind of String)}
       Diff:
       @@ -1,2 +1,2 @@
       -:title => /[Hh]orizon/,
       +:titllle => "Bring Me The Horizon",

     # ./spec/serializers/article_serializer_spec.rb:31:in `block (5
levels) in <top (required)>'

The point of serializer objects is to make sure you deal with all the various scenarious in this test layer:

  • maybe some attributes are lowercase is some scenarios
  • maybe the serializer includes some nested resources (like Authors)
  • maybe you can pass Article-alike object to serializer (Duck-type) "BlogPost" and you want to test the output behavior.

Hooking Serializer to Controller

So far Serializer is just a Ruby object that is not doing anything useful from application point of view. Lets tell our Controller to use it:

# app/controllers/v2/articles_controller.rb
module V2
  class ArticlesController < ApplicationController
    def show
      render json: serializer.as_json
    end

    private
      def article
        @article ||= Article.find(params[:id])
      end

      def serializer
        @serializer ||= ArticleSerializer.new(article)
      end
  end
end

As you can see we will just render the JSON hash via serializer and pass it to render json: ...

Production code is the easy part, but in order to test this you need to ask yourself what test philosophy is your team following. Do you like Stubbed Controller tests or Integration Controller tests?

"Controller spec as an Integration test" version:

require 'rails_helper'

RSpec.describe V2::ArticlesController do
  describe "GET #show" do
    def trigger
      get :show, id: article.id
    end

    let(:article) { Article.create(title: 'Hello World') }

    it "returns http success" do
      trigger
      expect(response).to have_http_status(:success)
    end

    it "respond body JSON with attributes" do
      trigger
      expect(response.body).to look_like_json
      expect(body_as_json).to be_kind_of(Hash)
    end

    it "correct article attributes are rendered" do
      # we are not stubbing we will just make sure the Serializer is
called
      expect_any_instance_of(ArticleSerializer)
        .to receive(:as_json)
        .and_call_original  # this will ensure the return value
                            # is called as it would normaly do

      trigger

      article_id = body_as_json
        .fetch(:article)
        .fetch(:id)
        .to_i

      expect(article_id).to eq article.id
    end
  end
end

In this kind of approach we just want to be sure our Serializer was called but we don't need to test every attribute returned by JSON Body. That is already tested by Serializer test !.

We just want to be sure that correct Article JSON is rendered and we do that by checking the id.

"Stubbed Controller internals test" version:

If you are followers of Mockists test philosophy school. Your concern is not to call something that we know is already working. All you care is that the ArticleSerializer object was constructed with correct article and as_json was called in order to render json: ...

require 'rails_helper'

RSpec.describe V2::ArticlesController do
  describe "GET #show" do
    def trigger
      get :show, id: article.id
    end

    let(:article) { Article.create(title: 'Hello World') }

    it "returns http success" do
      trigger
      expect(response).to have_http_status(:success)
    end

    context 'upon call' do
      before do
        serializer_double = instance_double(ArticleSerializer)

        expect(ArticleSerializer)
          .to receive(:new)
          .and_return(serializer_double)

        expect(serializer_double)
          .to receive(:as_json)
          .and_return({ article: 'stubbed hash by ArticleSerializer'})

        trigger
      end

      it "uses ArticleSerializer to render body JSON" do
        expect(body_as_json).to match({article: 'stubbed hash by ArticleSerializer'})
      end
    end
  end
end

if you are hardcore Mockist you would probably want to do expect(controlller).to receive(:render).with(json: serialization_hash_double).

Request test vs Controller specs

RSpec Rails provides Request Specs which are really great as they hit the actual endpoint all way through router as if you were hitting real server (unlike Controller specs that are just ensuring given route is defined in config/routes and you are just testing Controller / request / response object)

So as user bascule pointed out in Reddit discussion for this article, some developers may prefer them over Controller tests.

I fully agree. It's really up to you which one you choose. Same rules apply for evaluating rendered body JSON.

Way how I understand it that main purpose of Controller specs should just help you do during your TDD session, and you can mock anything you want there (current_user, DB calls, Serializer calls,... for various scenarios).

Request spec should be the real "smoke test" / full integration test and you not necessary want many of them as they are slow and when errors are raised from Request test they are harder to track down as the error output is not that straight forward.

Therefore I personally recommending both but it's really up to your team to decide how do you do the tests. Some teams don't have time to write both or mock stuff in Controllers and therefore rather do the Integration testing in Controllers. I agree that "Good test practices fairies" are crying at that point but stuff needs to be pushed and deployed.

Why ?

Why even bother, why not to use JSON API testing gem like Airbourne ?

One of the benefits of Ruby on Rails community is the endless source of libraries for various usecases and test cases. When you're building JSON API using Ruby you have many choices of gems how you going to test this.

Now this is all true and it is all awesome, but with every gem introduced our application/team rely on it. With every gem we introduce there is a promise developers will never allow gem to get out-dated in your application, otherwise in few years hell starts. More gems you introduce more this promise is harder to keep up with. Each time a gem version decides to change DSL there is a pressure to refactore code/tests.

Now this is not as that bad if you are maintaining 1 monolith application but more and more microservice architecture is becoming popular and you don't necessary want/need to introduce 50 gems you are using everywhere else. Or let say you are building a gem yourself for JSON API you not necessary need to install gem like Airbourne

Airbourne gem is pretty good I'm not trying to trashtalk it I just want to show you that RSpec on it's own is providing quite robust tool set that an cover some common scenarios.

If you using Airbourne to test controllers that's fine, just consider using RSpec match({}) testing for your serializer objects. The point is that try to split JSON structure logic to Serializer object and use whatever you like on controller.

Published August 22, 2016
Become a Patron!