Arduino programming using Ruby, Cucumber & rSpec

The project

This project serves as a sanity check that all is in order with the hardware, without the need to write on-board code using the IDE nor use the avr toolchain. What better tool than Ruby to do so?

The first thing we’ll do is to assure that the board and its built-in LED are responsive. Let’s define the behviour we would like, and implement it using Cucumber, in true BDD fashion:

  Assure board led is responsive

    Given the board is connected

  Scenario: Turn led on
    When I issue the led "On" command
    Then the led is "On"

  Scenario: Turn led off
    When I issue the led "Off" command
    Then the led is "Off"

The step implementation follows:

require 'driver'

Given(/^the board is connected$/) do
  @driver ||=

When(/^I issue the led "([^"]*)" command$/) do |command|
  value = string_to_val command
  expect(@driver.set_led_state value).to be value

Then(/^the led is "([^"]*)"$/) do |state|
  expect(@driver.get_led_state).to eq string_to_val state

def string_to_val state
  case state.downcase
    when 'on'
      my_state = ON
    when 'off'
      my_state = OFF

Some things to note:

  • We don’t have an assertion on @driver ||= because the driver will simulate a connection in case the phyical board is disconnected or unavailable due to disrupted communications.
  • The user communicates using the words “on” and “off”, which are translated to ON and OFF for internal use.

This test will fail, of course, as we have yet to define the Driver class and we drop to rSpec, in TDD fashion:

require 'driver'

describe "led functions" do
  before(:each) do
    @driver =

  it "turns the led on" do
    expect(@driver.set_led_state ON).to eq ON

  it "turns the led off" do
    expect(@driver.set_led_state OFF).to eq OFF

  it "blinks" do
    @driver.blink 3

This too fails, of course, and we implement Driver thus:

class Driver
  def initialize 
    @arduino ||= ArduinoFirmata.connect nil, :bps => 57600 
  rescue Exception => ex 
    puts "Simulating. #{ex.message}" if @arduino.nil?
  def set_led_state state 
    result = @arduino.digital_write(LED_PIN, state)
  rescue Exception => ex 
    @state = state 

  def get_led_state 
  rescue Exception => ex 

  def blink num 
    (0..num).each do 
      set_led_state ON 
      sleep 0.5 
      set_led_state OFF 
      sleep 0.5 


Some things to note:

  • I am using the arduino_firmata gem, please see the Gemfile for details.
  • The initialize method catches the exception thrown when the Arduino is not connected, as the other methods do, in order to simulate the board in such circumstances. The simulation is always succeeds, by the way, and was coded to allow development without the board connected.
  • arduino.output_digital_read is a monkey-patch to the gem, as I could not find a way to query the board if an output pin was on or off:
module ArduinoFirmata
  class Arduino
    def output_digital_read(pin)
      raise ArgumentError, "invalid pin number (#{pin})" if pin.class != Fixnum or pin < 0
      (@digital_output_data[pin >> 3] >> (pin & 0x07)) & 0x01 > 0 ? ON : OFF

All green

Having implemented the code, the tests should now pass and running rake again will run both Cucumber and rSpec, yielding:

~/Documents/projects/arduino (master)$ rake
/Users/ThoughtWorks/.rvm/rubies/ruby-2.2.1/bin/ruby -I/Users/ThoughtWorks/.rvm/gems/ruby-2.2.1/gems/rspec-support-3.3.0/lib:/Users/ThoughtWorks/.rvm/gems/ruby-2.2.1/gems/rspec-core-3.3.1/lib /Users/ThoughtWorks/.rvm/gems/ruby-2.2.1/gems/rspec-core-3.3.1/exe/rspec --pattern spec/\*\*\{,/\*/\*\*\}/\*_spec.rb

Finished in 7.56 seconds (files took 0.27749 seconds to load)
3 examples, 0 failures

/Users/ThoughtWorks/.rvm/rubies/ruby-2.2.1/bin/ruby -S bundle exec cucumber 
  Assure board led is responsive

  Background:                    # features/initial.feature:4
    Given the board is connected # features/step_definitions/initial_steps.rb:3

  Scenario: Turn led on               # features/initial.feature:7
    When I issue the led "On" command # features/step_definitions/initial_steps.rb:7
    Then the led is "On"              # features/step_definitions/initial_steps.rb:12

  Scenario: Turn led off               # features/initial.feature:11
    When I issue the led "Off" command # features/step_definitions/initial_steps.rb:7
    Then the led is "Off"              # features/step_definitions/initial_steps.rb:12

2 scenarios (2 passed)
6 steps (6 passed)


Make this better!

The project is here. Please feel free to fork and contribute.


How much is “good enough”? If you notice, the assertions are implemented using the data structure exposed by arduino_firmata, not with a call to the board itself. This is always a tradeoff in testing. How far should we go? For this project, testing via data structure is “good enough”. For a medical application, or something that flies a plane, it’s obviously not good enough and we would have to assert on an electric current flowing to the LED. And again, who is to assure us that the LED is actually emitting light?

There’s not much else we can do with a standalone Arduino without any periferals connected, but it’s enough to make sure that everything is set up correctly for future development.


This installment was to show a quick-and-dirty sanity check without bothering to flash the device.


The testing and writing of this installment were made while flying to Barcelona, hoping that fellow passengers would not freak out seeing wires and blinking lights mid-flight.

Happy Arduinoing!


Infrastructure as code using Vagrant, Ansible, Cucumber and ServerSpec

Designing and developing VMs as code is at last mainstream. This post is in fact a presentation I give to highlight that we can treat infrastructure code just as we would regular code.

We use TDD/BDD and monitors to spec, implement, test and monitor the resulting VM, keeping its code close to the app’s code and as an integral part of it.

infrastructure as code

What is the difference between TDD and BDD?

The short answer is: none.

All variants of Driven Development (henceforth the ‘xDDs’) strive to attain focused, minimalistic coding. The premise of lean development is that we should write the minimal amount of code to satisfy our goals. This principal can be applied to any development management methodology the team has, whether it be Waterfall, Agile or any other.

A way to ensure that code is solving a given problem over time and change is to articulate the problem in machine-readable form. This allows us to programatically validate its correctness.

For this reason, xDD is mainly used the context of testing frameworks. Goals, as well as the code to fulfil them, are run by a framework as a series of tests. In turn, these tests may be used in collaboration with other tools, such as continuous integration, as part of the software development cycle.

We’ve now established that writing tests is a Good Thing(tm). We now turn to answer “when”, “which” and “how” tests should be written, as we strive to achieve a Better Thing(tm).

Defining goals in machine-readable form in itself does not assure the imperative of minimalistic development. To solve this, someone had a stroke of genius: The goals, now viewed as tests, are to be written prior to writing their solutions. Lean and minimalistic development is attained as we write just enough code to satisfy a failing test. As a developer I know, from past experience, that anything I write will ultimately be held against me. It will be criticised by countless people in different roles over a long period of time, until it will ultimately be discarded and rewritten. Hence, I strive to write as little code as possible, Vanitas vanitatum et omnia vanitas.

However, the shortcomings of this methodology are that we need a broad test suite to cover all the goals of the product along with a way to ensure that we have implemented the strict minimum that the test required. I’ll be visiting these two points later, but would like to primarily describe the testing pyramid and enumerate the variants of DD and their application to the different layers.

Having established when to write the tests (prior to writing code), we now turn to discuss “which” tests we should write, and “how” we should write them.

The Testing Pyramid

The testing pyramid depicts the different kinds of tests that are used when developing software.

A graphically wider tier depicts a quantitatively larger set of tests than the tier above it, although some projects may be depicted as rectangles when there is high complexity and the testing technology allows for them.

The testing pyramid


Unit Tests

Although people use the term loosely to denote tests in general, Unit Tests are very focused, isolated and scoped to single functions or methods within an object. Dependencies on external resources are discounted using mocks and stubs.


Using rSpec, a testing framework available for Ruby, this test assures that a keyword object has a value:

it “should not be null” do
  k1 = => ”)
  k1.should_not be_valid

This example shows the use of mocks, which are programmed to return arbitrary values when their methods are called:

it “returns a newssource” do
  news_source = NewsSource.get_news_source
  news_source.should_not == nil

NewsSource is mocked out to return an empty set of active news sources, yet the test assures that one will be created in this scenario.

By virtue of being at the lowest level of the pyramid, Unit Tests serve as a gatekeeper to the source control management system used by the project: These tests run on the developer’s local machine and should prevent code at the root of failing tests to be committed to source control. A counter-measure to developers having committed such code is to have a continuous integration service revert those commits when the tests fail in its environment. When practicing TDD (as a generic term), developers would write Unit Tests prior to implementing any function or method.

Functional or Integration Tests

Functional or integration tests span a single end-to-end functional thread. These represent the total interaction of internal and external objects expected to achieve a portion of the application’s desired functionality.
These tests too serve as gatekeepers, but of the promotion model. By definition, passing tests represent allegedly functioning software, hence failures represent software that does not deliver working functionality. As such, failing tests may be allowed to source control yet will be prevented from being promoted to higher levels of acceptance.


Here we are assuring that Subscribers, Articles and Notifications work as expected. Real objects are used, not mocks.

it “should notify even out of hours if times are not enabled” do
  @sub.times_enabled = 0
  @notification = Notification.create!(:subscriber_id =>, :article_id =>
  @notification.subscriber.should_notify(Time.parse(@sub.time2).getutc + 1.hour).should be_true

A “BDD” example is:

Feature: NewsAlert user is able to see and manage her notifications

  Given I have subscriptions such as “Obama” and “Putin”
  And “Obama” and “Putin” have notifications
  And I navigate to the NewsAlert web site
  And I choose to log in and enter my RID and the correct password

Scenario: Seeing notifications
  When I see the “Obama” subscription page
  Then I see the notifications for “Obama”

This is language a BA or Product Owner can understand and write. If the BAs or POs on your project cannot write these scenarios, then you can “drop down” to rSpec instead, if you think the above is too chatty.

Performance and Penetration Tests

Performance and penetration tests are cross-functional and without context. These test performance and security across different scope of the code by applying expected thresholds to unit and functional threads. At the unit level, they will surface problems with poorly performing methods. At the functional level poorly performing system interfaces will be highlighted. At the application level load/stress tests will be applied to selected user flows.


A “BDD” example is:

Scenario: Measuring notification deletion
When I decide to remove all “1000” notifications for “Obama”
Then it takes no longer than 10 milliseconds

User Interface and User Experience Tests

UI/UX tests validate the user’s experience as she uses the system to achieve her business goals for which the application was originally written.
These tests may also validate grammar, layout, style and other standards.
Of the testing framework, these are the most fragile. One reason is that their authors do not separate essence from the implementation. The UI will likely have the greatest rate of change in a given project as product owners are exposed to working software iteratively. Having UI tests that rely heavily on the UI’s physical layout will lead to their rework as the system undergoes change. Being able to express the essence, or desired behaviour, of the thread under test is key to writing maintainable UI tests.


Feature: NewsAlert user is able to log in

  Given I am a Mobile NewsAlert customer
  And I navigate to the NewsAlert web site
  Then I am taken to the home page which has “Log in” and “Activate” buttons

Scenario: Login
  When I am signed up
  When I choose to log in and enter my ID and the correct password
  Then I am logged in to my account settings page

BDD or ATDD may be used for all these layers, as it is more convenient to use User Story format for integration tests in some instances than low-level Unit Test syntax. ATDD is put to full use if the project is staffed with Product Owners that are comfortable using the English-like syntax of Gherkin (see example below). In their absence or will, BAs may take on this task. If neither are available nor willing, developers would usually “drop down” to a more technical syntax such as used in rSpec, in order to remove what they refer to as “fluff”. I would recommend writing Gherkin as it serves as functional specifications that can be readily communicated to non-technical people as a reminder of how they intended the system to function.

Exploratory Testing

Above “UI Tests”, at the apex of the pyramid, we find “Exploratory Testing”, where team members perform unscripted tests to find corners of functionality not covered by other tests. Successful ones are then redistributed down to the lower tiers as formally scripted tests. Since these are unscripted, we’ll not cover them further here.

Flavours of Test Driven Development

This author thinks that all xDDs are basically the same, deriving from the generic term of “Test Driven Development”, or TDD. When thinking of TDD and all other xDDs, please bear in mind the introductory section above: we develop the goals (tests) prior to developing the code that will satisfy them. Hence, the the “driven” suffix: nothing but the tests drives our development efforts. Given a testing framework and a methodology, we can implement a system purely by writing code that satisfies the sum of its tests.

The dichotomy of the different xDDs can be explained by their function and target audience. Generically, and falsely, TDD would most probably denote the writing of Unit Tests by developers as they implement objects and need to justify methods therein and their implementation. Applied to non-object oriented development, Unit Tests would be written to test single functions.

The reader may contest to this being the first step in a “driven” system. To have methods under test, one must have their encapsulating object, themselves borne of an analysis yet unexpressed. Subscribing to this logic, I usually recommend development using BDD. Behaviour-driven development documents the system’s specification by example (a must-read book), regardless of their implementation details. This allows us to distinguish and isolate the specification of the application by describing value to its consumer, with the goal of ignoring implementation and user interactions.

This has great consequences in software development. As one writes BDD scripts, one shows commitment and rationale to their inherent business value. Nonsensical requirements may be promptly pruned from the test suite and thus from the product, establishing a way to develop lean products, not only their lean implementation.

A more technical term is Acceptance Test Driven Development (ATDD). This flavour is the same as BDD, but alludes that Agile story cards’ tests are being expressed programatically. Here, the acceptance criteria for stories are translated to machine readable acceptance tests.

As software development grows to encompass Infrastructure as Code (IaC), there are now ways to express hardware expectations using MDD, or Monitor-driven Development (MDD). MDD applies the same principles of lean development to code that represents machines (virtual or otherwise).


This example will actually provision a VM, configure it to install mySQL and drop the VM at the end of the test.

Feature: App deploys to a VM

  Given I have a vm with ip “”

Scenario: Installing mySQL
  When I provision users on it
  When I run the “dbserver” ansible playbook
  Then I log on as “deployer”, then “mysql” is installed
  And I can log on as “deployer” to mysql
  Then I remove the VM

The full example can be viewed here.

ServerSpec gives us bliss:

describe service(‘apache2’) do
  it { should be_enabled }
  it { should be_running }

describe port(80) do
  it { should be_listening }

For a more extreme example of xDD, please refer to my blog entry regarding Returns-driven Development (RDD) for writing tests from a business-goal perspective.

Tools of the trade

.net: nUnit | SpecFlow

Java: jUnit | jBehave

Ruby: rSpec | Cucumber | ServerSpec


The quality of the tests is measured by how precisely they test the code at their respective levels, as well as how they were written with regards to the amount of code or spanning responsibility and the quality of their assertions.

Unit tests that do not use stubs or mocks when accessing external services of all kinds are probably testing too much and will be slow to execute. Slow test-suites will, eventually, become a bottleneck and may be destined to be abandoned by the team. Conversely, testing basic compiler functions will lead to a huge test-suite, giving false indication of the breath of the safety-net it provides.

Similarly, tests that lack correct assertions or have too many of them, are either testing nothing at all, or testing too much.

Yet there is a paradox: The tests’ importance and impact are proportionally inverse to their fragility in the pyramid. In other words, as we climb the tiers, the more important the tests become, yet they become less robust and trustworthy at the same time. A major pitfall at the upper levels is the lack of application or business-logic coverage. I was on a project that had hundreds of passing tests, yet the product failed in production as external interfaces were not mocked, simulated nor tested adequately. Our pyramid’s peak was bare, and the product’s shortcomings were immediately visible in production. Such may be the fate of any system that interacts with external systems across different companies; Lacking dedicated environments, one must resort to simulating their interfaces, something that comes with its own risks.

In summary, we quickly found that the art and science of software development is no different than the art and science of contriving its tests. It is for this reason that I rely on the “driven” methodologies to save me from my own misdoings.


Write as little code as you can, using TDD.

Happy driving!

From Zero to Deployment: Vagrant, Ansible, Capistrano 3 to deploy your Rails Apps to DigitalOcean automatically (part 0)


Use Cucumber to start us off on our Infrastructure as code journey.



Part 1 of this blog series demonstrates some Ansible playbooks to create a VM ready for Rails deployment using Vagrant. This is a prequel in the sense that, as a staunch believer in all that’s xDD, I should have started this blog with some Cucumber BDD!
Please forgive my misbehaving and accept my apologies with a few Cucumber scenarios as penance. Hey, it’s never too late to write tests…

The Cucumber Scenarios

As BDD artefacts, they should speak for themselves; write to me if they don’t as it means they were not clear enough!


Feature: App deploys to a VM
Given I have a vm with ip ""
Scenario: Building the VM
When I provision users on it
Then I can log on to it as the "deploy" user
And I can log on to it as the "root" user
And I can log on to it as the "vagrant" user
Then I remove the VM
Scenario: Adding Linux dependencies
When I provision users on it
When I run the "webserver" ansible playbook
And I log on as "deploy", there is no "ruby"
But "gcc" is present
Then I remove the VM
Scenario: Installing mySQL
When I provision users on it
When I run the "dbserver" ansible playbook
Then I log on as "deploy", then "mysql" is installed
And I can log on as "deploy" to mysql
Then I remove the VM

The Cucumber Steps

Given(/^I have a vm with ip "(.*?)"$/) do |ip|
@ip = ip
output=`vagrant up`
assert $?.success?
When(/^I provision users on it$/) do
output=`vagrant provision web`
assert $?.success?
Then(/^I can log on to it as the "(.*?)" user$/) do |user|
output=`ssh "#{user}@#{@ip}" exit`
assert $?.success?
When(/^I run the "(.*?)" ansible playbook$/) do |playbook|
output=`ansible-playbook devops/"#{playbook}".yml -i devops/webhosts`
assert $?.success?
When(/^I log on as "(.*?)", there is no "(.*?)"$/) do |user, program|
@user = user
output = run_remote(user, program)
assert !$?.success?
When(/^"(.*?)" is present$/) do |program|
output = run_remote(@user, program)
assert $?.success?
Then(/^I log on as "(.*?)", then "(.*?)" is installed$/) do |user, program|
output = run_remote(user, program)
assert $?.success?
Then(/^I remove the VM$/) do
output=`vagrant destroy -f`
assert $?.success?
Then(/^I can log on as "(.*?)" to mysql$/) do |user|
`ssh "#{user}@#{@ip}" 'echo "show databases;" | mysql -u "#{user}" -praindrop'`
def run_remote(user, program)
`ssh "#{user}@#{@ip}" '"#{program}" --version'`