CasperJS for Java developers

Why CasperJS

Being a Java developer is kinda hard these days. Java may not be dead yet, but when keeping in sync with all the hipster JavaScript frameworks could make us feel a bit outside the playground. It’s even hard to list JavaScript frameworks with latest releases on one website.

In my current project, we are using AngularJS. It’a a nice abstraction of MV* pattern in frontend layer of any web application (we use Grails underneath). Here is a nice article with an 8-point Win List of Angular way of handling AJAX calls and updating the view. So it’s not only a funny new framework but a truly helper of keeping your code clean and neat.

But there is also another area when you can put helpful JS framework in place of plan-old-java one - functional tests. Especially when you are dealing with one page app with lots of asynchronous REST/JSON communication.

Selenium and Geb

In Java/JVM project the typical is to use Selenium with some wrapper like Geb. So you start your project, setup your CI-functional testing pipeline and… after 1 month of coding your tests stop working and being maintainable. The frameworks itselves are not bad, but the typical setup is so heavy and has so many points of failure that keeping it working in a real life project is really hard.

Here is my list of common myths about Selenium: * It allows you to record test scripts via handy GUI - maybe some static request/response sites. In modern web applications with asynchronous REST/JSON communication your tests must contain a lot of “waitFor” statements and you cannot automate where these should be included. * It allows you to test your web app against many browsers - don’t try to automate IE tests! You have to manually open your app in IE to see how it actually bahaves! * It integrates well with continuous integration servers like Jenkins - you have to setup Selenium Grid on server with X installed to run tests on Chrome or Firefox and a Windows server for IE. And the headless HtmlUnit driver lacks a lot of JS support.

So I decided to try something different and introduce a bit of JavaScript tooling in our project by using CasperJS.


CasperJS is simple but powerful navigation scripting & testing utility for PhantomJS - scritable headless WebKit (which is an rendering engine used by Safari and Chrome). In short - CasperJS allows you to navigate and make assertions about web pages as they’d been rendered in Google Chrome. It is enough for me to automate the functional tests of my application.

If you want a gentle introduction to the world of CasperJS I suggest you to read: * Official website, especially installation guide and API * Introductionary article from CasperJS creator Nicolas Perriault * Highlevel testing with CasperJS by Kevin van Zonneveld * grails-angular-scaffolding plugin by Rob Fletcher with some working CasperJS tests

Full example

I run my test suite via following script:

casperjs test --direct --log-level=debug --testhost=localhost:8080 --includes=test/casper/includes/,test/casper/includes/ test/casper/specs/


casper.test.on "fail", (failure) ->

testhost   = casper.cli.get "testhost"
screenshot = 'test-fail.png'

    .log("Using testhost: #{testhost}", "info")
    .log("Using screenshot: #{screenshot}", "info")

casper.waitUntilVisible = (selector, message, callback) ->
    @waitFor ->
        @visible selector
    , callback, (timeout) ->
        @log("Selector [#{selector}] not visible, failing")
        withParentSelector selector, (parent) ->
            casper.log("Output of parent selector [#{parent}]")
        @echo message, "RED_BAR"
        @capture(screenshot)"Wait timeout occured (%dms)", timeout))

withParentSelector = (selector, callback) ->
    if selector.lastIndexOf(" ") > 0
       parent = selector[0..selector.lastIndexOf(" ")-1]


x = require('casper').selectXPath

class EditDocumentPage

    assertAt: ->
        casper.test.assertSelectorExists("div.customerAccountInfo", 'at EditDocumentPage')

    templatesTreeFirstCategory: 'ul.tree li label'
    templatesTreeFirstTemplate: 'ul.tree li a'
    closePreview: '.closePreview a'
    smallPreview: '.smallPreviewContent img'
    bigPreview: 'img.previewImage'
    confirmDelete: x("//div[@class='modal-footer']/a[1]")

casper.editDocument = new EditDocumentPage()

End a test script:

testhost = casper.cli.get "testhost" or 'localhost:8080'

casper.start "http://#{testhost}/app", ->
    @test.assertHttpStatus 302
    @test.assertUrlMatch /\/fakeLogin/, 'auto login'
    @test.assert @visible('input#Create'), 'mock login button'
    @click 'input#Create'

casper.then ->
    @test.assertUrlMatch /document#\/edit/, 'new document'
    @waitUntilVisible @editDocument.templatesTreeFirstCategory, 'template categories not visible', ->
        @click @editDocument.templatesTreeFirstCategory
        @waitUntilVisible @editDocument.templatesTreeFirstTemplate, 'template not visible', ->
            @click @editDocument.templatesTreeFirstTemplate

casper.then ->
    @waitUntilVisible @editDocument.smallPreview, 'small preview not visible', ->
        # could be dblclick / whatever
        @mouseEvent('click', @editDocument.smallPreview)

casper.then ->
    @waitUntilVisible @editDocument.bigPreview, 'big preview should be visible', ->
        @test.assertEvalEquals ->
        , '1/1', 'page counter should be visible'
        @click @editDocument.closePreview

casper.then ->
    @click 'button.cancel'
    @waitUntilVisible '.modal-footer', 'delete confirmation not visible', ->
        @click @editDocument.confirmDelete ->

Here is a list of CasperJS features/caveats used here:

  • Using CoffeeScript is a huge win for your test code to look neat
  • When using casper test command, beware of different (than above articles) logging setup. You can pass --direct --log-level=debug from commandline for best results. Logging is essential here since Phantom often exists without any error and you do want to know what just happened.
  • Extract your helper code into separate files and include them by using --includes switch.
  • When passing server URL as a commandline switch remember that in CoffeeScript variables are not visible between multiple source files (unless getting them via window object)
  • It’s good to override standard waitUntilVisible with capting a screenshot and making a proper log statement. In my version I also look for a parent selector and debugHTML the content of it - great for debugging what is actually rendered by the browser.
  • Selenium and Geb have a nice concept of Page Objects - an abstract models of pages rendered by your application. Using CoffeeScript you can write your own classes, bind selectors to properties and use then in your code script. Assigning the objects to casper instance will end up with quite nice syntax like @editDocument.assertAt().
  • There is some issue with CSS :first and :last selectors. I cannot get them working (but maybe I’m doing something wrong?). But in CasperJS you can also use XPath selectors which are fine for matching n-th child of some element (x("//div[@class='modal-footer']/a[1]")).
    Update: :first and :last are not CSS3 selectors, but JQuery ones. Here is a list of CSS3 selectors, all of these are supported by CasperJS. So you can use nth-child(1) is this case. Thanks Andy and Nicolas for the comments!

Working with CasperJS can lead you to a few hour stall, but after getting things working you have a new, cool tool in your box!

Using WsLite in practice


There is a example working GitHub project which covers unit testing and request/response logging when using WsLite.

Why Groovy WsLite ?

I’m a huge fan of Groovy WsLite project for calling SOAP web services. Yes, in a real world you have to deal with those - big companies have huge amount of “legacy” code and are crazy about homogeneous architecture - only SOAP, Java, Oracle, AIX…

But I also never been comfortable with XFire/CXF approach of web service client code generation. I wrote a bit about other posibilites in this post. With JAXB you can also experience some freaky classloading errors - as Tomek described on his blog. In a large commercial project the “the less code the better” principle is significant. And the code generated from XSD could look kinda ugly - especially more complicated structures like sequences, choices, anys etc.

Using WsLite with native Groovy concepts like XmlSlurper could be a great choice. But since it’s a dynamic approach you have to be really careful - write good unit tests and log requests. Below are my few hints for using WsLite in practice.

Unit testing

Suppose you have some invocation of WsLite SOAPClient (original WsLite example):

def getMothersDay(long _year) {
    def response = client.send(SOAPAction: action) {
       body {
           GetMothersDay('xmlns':'') {

How can the unit test like? My suggestion is to mock SOAPClient and write a simple helper to test that builded XML is correct. Example using great SpockFramework:

void setup() {
   client = Mock(SOAPClient)
   service.client = client

def "should pass year to GetMothersDay and return date"() {
      def year = 2013
      def date = service.getMothersDay(year)
      1 * client.send(_, _) >> { Map params, Closure requestBuilder ->
            Document doc = buildAndParseXml(requestBuilder)
            assertXpathEvaluatesTo("$year", '//ns:GetMothersDay/ns:year', doc)
            return mockResponse(Responses.mothersDay)
      date == "2013-05-12T00:00:00"

This uses a real cool feature of Spock - even when you mock the invocation with “any mark” (_), you are able to get actual arguments. So we can build XML that would be passed to SOAPClient's send method and check that specific XPaths are correct:

void setup() {
    engine = XMLUnit.newXpathEngine()
    engine.setNamespaceContext(new SimpleNamespaceContext(namespaces()))

protected Document buildAndParseXml(Closure xmlBuilder) {
    def writer = new StringWriter()
    def builder = new MarkupBuilder(writer)
    return XMLUnit.buildControlDocument(writer.toString())

protected void assertXpathEvaluatesTo(String expectedValue,
                                      String xpathExpression, Document doc) throws XpathException {
            engine.evaluate(xpathExpression, doc))

protected Map namespaces() {
    return [ns: '']

The XMLUnit library is used just for XpathEngine, but it is much more powerful for comparing XML documents. The NamespaceContext is needed to use correct prefixes (e.g. ns:GetMothersDay) in your Xpath expressions.

Finally - the mock returns SOAPResponse instance filled with envelope parsed from some constant XML:

protected SOAPResponse mockResponse(String resp) {
    def envelope = new XmlSlurper().parseText(resp)
    new SOAPResponse(envelope: envelope)

Request and response logging

The WsLite itself doesn’t use any logging framework. We usually handle it by adding own sendWithLogging method:

private SOAPResponse sendWithLogging(String action, Closure cl) {
    SOAPResponse response = client.send(SOAPAction: action, cl)
    log(response?.httpRequest, response?.httpResponse)
    return response

private void log(HTTPRequest request, HTTPResponse response) {
    log.debug("HTTPRequest $request with content:\n${request?.contentAsString}")
    log.debug("HTTPResponse $response with content:\n${response?.contentAsString}")

This logs the actual request and response send through SOAPClient. But it logs only when invocation is successful and errors are much more interesting… So here goes withExceptionHandler method:

private SOAPResponse withExceptionHandler(Closure cl) {
    try {
    } catch (SOAPFaultException soapEx) {
        log(soapEx.httpRequest, soapEx.httpResponse)
        def message = soapEx.hasFault() ? soapEx.fault.text() : soapEx.message
        throw new InfrastructureException(message)
    } catch (HTTPClientException httpEx) {
        log(httpEx.request, httpEx.response)
        throw new InfrastructureException(httpEx.message)
def send(String action, Closure cl) {
    withExceptionHandler {
        sendWithLogging(action, cl)

XmlSlurper gotchas

Working with XML document with XmlSlurper is generally great fun, but is some cases could introduce some problems. A trivial example is parsing an id with a number to Long value:

def id = Long.valueOf(edit.'@id' as String)

The Attribute class (which edit.'@id' evaluates to) can be converted to String using as operator, but converting to Long requires using valueOf.

The second example is a bit more complicated. Consider following XML fragment:

<edit id="3">
      <param value="label1" name="label"/>
      <param value="2" name="param2"/>
<edit id="6">
      <param value="label2" name="label"/>
      <param value="2" name="param2"/>

We want to find id of edit whose label is label1. The simplest solution seems to be:

def param = doc.edit.params.param.find { it['@value'] == 'label1' }
def edit = params.parent().parent()

But it doesn’t work! The parent method returns multiple edits, not only the one that is parent of given param

Here’s the correct solution:

doc.edit.find { edit ->
    edit.params.param.find { it['@value'] == 'label1' }


The example working project covering those hints could be found on GitHub.