Introducing madmin: An admin console for generating mock services with RESTful URIs.

January 29th, 2013 by Todd Anderson

Introduction

madmin is a node application that provides a means to construct RESTful URIs that are immediately accessible on the server. While URIs can be defined using the command line – using such CLI tools such as cURLmadmin also provides an admin console as a GUI to aide in defining the URI and JSON response data structure.

The github repo for madmin can be found at https://github.com/infrared5/madmin

Why?

madmin was born out of the intent to minimize time spent by front-end development teams building applications against a living spec for service requirements.

> The Problem

We found that our front-end developers were curating two service layers implementing a common interface during development of an application:

  • [Fake] One that does not communicate with a remote resource and provides _fake_ data.

    Used during development without worry of remote endpoint being available (either from being undefined or no network) and can be modified to provide different responses in testing application response.

  • [Live] One that does communicate with a remote resource, sometimes utilizing libraries that abstract the communication.

    Used for integration tests and QA on staging before pushing application to production.

This would allow the service layer dependency to easily be switched out during development and deployment while providing a common API for other components of the application to interact with.

Though these service layers are developed against the same interface providing a common API, the curation of both in tandem during development can be exhaustive timewise as specifications and requirements change. When we multiplied that curation time across the numerous applications being developed, it became clearer that the fake service layer needed to be eliminated from development – especially seeing as it is not part of the release or unit tests at all.

> The Solution

Instead of defining the service layer as a dependency between these two implementations, if we could define the endpoints that the service layer communicates with then we could eliminate the need to have a fake service layer.

Just as the service references are changed from staging to production, why couldn’t we provide a living service endpoint with URIs that are being discussed and hashed out between teams. As well, why can’t we deploy that service locally and eliminate the need for a network resource to boot – we could continue our front-end development while relaxing on some remote un-connected island!

That is what madmin sets out to do.

> The By-Product

Though the initial intent was to eliminate the curation of an unnecessary service layer from front-end development, by defining RESTful URIs using madmin we were actually providing useful documentation of the service layer and opened up comminication between the back-end and front-end teams with regards to requirements and data structure.

Opening channels for communication is always a plus, and the fact that it provided self-documentation just seemed like a winner!

:: What It is Not

madmin is not meant to replace writing proper unit tests for client-side applications that communicate with a remote service nor is it mean to stand in for integration testing.

How

The madmin application works by updating a target JSON source file that describes the RESTful URIs. This file is modified using a RESTful API of the madmin server application, itself. You can check out the schema for the source JSON file that defines the API at https://github.com/infrared5/madmin/blob/master/doc/madmin-api-schema.json.

While it is possible to interact with the madmin server-side applicaiton using the command line – with such CLI tools such as cURL – a client-side applicaiton is available that provides ease of use and self-documentation.

> Usage

Full instructions on how to clone and install dependencies for madmin can be found at the repository for the madmin project: https://github.com/infrared5/madmin.

Once installed, you can start the madmin server from the command line with the following options:

$> node index.js [port] [json]

The following example shows it’s usage and the default values:

The json source file provided will be read from and modified as you add URIs in madmin. The most common and easiest way to add URIs is to use the client-side console application available at http://localhost:<port> after starting the madmin node server.

> Client-Side Console

Once the server is started, you can access the GUI console for madmin at either: http://localhost:<port>/ or http://localhost:<port>/admin, with the <port> value wither being the default (8124) or the one specified using the --port command line option.

With an empty JSON API resource file, you will be presented with a console that provides an “add new” button only:
Empty madmin console

Upon adding a new route, you are presented with an empty editable console with various parameters:
Empty new route in console.

The following is a breakdown of each section from this route console UI:

– Method –

The Method dropdown allows you to select the desired REST method to associate with the URI defined in the Path field:
Route Method panel

– Path –

The Path field defines the URI to add to the REST service:
Path panel

The Summary field allows for entering a description for the URI. When input focus is lost on the Path field, the listing of Parameters is updated and allows for providing descriptions for each variable:
Route with multiple parameters

– Response –

The Response field allows for defining the JSON returned from the URI. As well, you can choose which response to provide:
Route Response panel

In reality it will return a 200 status with the selected JSON from either Success or Error. We often supply errors on a 200 and parse the response. This was an easy way for the team to coordinate the successful and error responses that come in JSON from the request.

Viewing Route URIs and Responses

When saved, the new route will be added to the supplies source JSON file and the client-side madmin console will change to the listing of URIs defined:
Saved Route to madmin

As well, the path and its proper response will be available immediately and available to develop against.

With Error selected from the Response field:
Defined Error Response

With Success selected from the Response field:
Defined Success Response

As mentioned previously, the source JSON file provided when launching the madmin server is updated while working on the URIs. If left to the default – or otherwise accessible from the server directory – you can point your web browser to that JSON resource file and check for validity:
Updated JSON route URIs

— note —

The default admin console location can be found at the http://localhost:<port>/admin location. As such, /admin is a reserved route and can not be defined as a valid URI in madmin.

It is on the TODO list to define a custom URI for the admin portal of madmin in order to allow the currently reserved /admin.

Requirements

> Server-Side

madmin server-side application has been tested against Node.js version >=0.8.4

> Client-Side

madmin client-side application utilizes some ES5 objects and properties – ie, Object.create and Array.prototype.indexOf – and does not load in an additional polyfills to provide support for non-modern browsers.

The madmin client-side application should work properly in the following:

  • Chrome 12+
  • Safari 4+
  • IE 9+
  • Opera 12+

Grunt Integration

The madmin repository has build files for grunt with support for <=0.3.x (grunt.js) and ~0.4.0 (Gruntfile.js) and tasks for linting and testing both the server-side and client-side code utilizing Jasmine.

To run the grunt build tasks simply run the following from the command line in the directory where you cloned the madmin repository:

Depending on your install version of grunt the proper build file should be run. To learn more about grunt and how to install, please visit the grunt project page.

Conclusion

We saw a need here at Infrared5 to cut out front-end development time in curating multiple service layer implementations in order to support development efforts when resources – including server-side and network – were unavailable. The madmin application is our effort in reducing that time and extra effort and code that never saw the light of staging or production.

While doing so, we hope madmin can open up the communication channels between server-side and client-side teams in discussion service requirements and JSON data structure, all while having a living document of the endpoint URIs.

Hopefully you will find it as useful as we have!

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