Never miss one of my articles: Readers of my newsletter get my articles before anyone else. Subscribe here!

So I am working on “exampilistic” again… Some time ago (actually a looooong time), I wrote about some some ideas how one could improve “Specification by Example tools (especially FitNesse) and how I would implement such a tool. Even though I had working code back then, my approach didn’t really work the way I wanted it to. So I put my code on Github and stopped working on it.

Now I am playing around with those ideas again, but I want to do some things quite differently. In this post, I want to tell you about the design goals for the new tool and what I want to do differently this time.

Side Note: I think that “Specification by Example” (or Behavior Driven Development or Agile Acceptance Testing) is a really useful and important technique. If you want to know more, try one of the existing tools, like FitNesse or Contact Me.

Major Design Goals

  • Wiki. I like the "Wiki" part of FitNesse - This works very well for me. I can click through the documentation and move stuff around. I can create living documentation that everyone can read, browse and edit - Even non-technical users. I think the reading and browsing part is harder with tools like SpecFlow or Cucumber, where your specifications are in source files...
  • Separation of tests and pages. I don't like the fact that in FitNesse, a page is a test. I want a page to include one or more tests. This will enable me to move tests around and link them from multiple pages. First, the test is only linked from a user story. Then, when the functionality is complete, we write the documentation and link the test there too...
  • Generators for the glue code. With FitNesse (and some other BDD / Specificaiton by Example tools), the tests and the glue code can easily get out of sync. So I want to generate all the glue code. This will be quite hard, because the generators need some refactoring capability.
  • No test runner. FitNess is a test runner. You can click a button, and it will run all your tests. In exampilistic, you will not be able to do this. It will generate language specific test code for you: For Java, it will generate JUnit tests, for Clojure it will generate clojure.test tests, and so on.
  • Specialized editors for the tests. The table syntax in FitNesse is a bit hard to get right. As is the format for cucumber. SpecFlow and Jnario, OTOH, have great editors for the tests. So, exampilistic will also have specialized editors for different kinds of tests, that support you to get the syntax right.
  • Test refactoring support. This is related to the generators: When someone does a minor change to a test (like, re-naming a column), it should be possible to just generate the glue code and run the test again, without intervention from a developer. Many current tools don't support this.

Minor Design Goals

  • Clojure / ClojureScript. Actually, when I started again, I didn't want to create a new BDD tool at first. I only wanted to get better with Clojure and ClojureScript. And I wanted to try Re-Frame. But I don't really like Code Katas or example projects - I always have the feeling that I don't learn much from them. So I decided to work on a larger project for some time, and "exampilistic" came to my mind.
  • Markdown. Well, everyone knows it. And it's easy to learn. And I found a markdown parser library that's easy to use from Clojure and ClojureScript.
  • Interactivity. For the specialized editors, I need a lot of interactivity. During my first try (some years ago), I was using AJAX for this. That didn't work too well. Now I want to try with a "Single Page Application" using Re-Frame and React.
  • Search engine optimization. Despite the interactivity, I want to be able to render static pages on the server using the same code I use on the client. For search engine optimization and because it is a nice challenge (That I have already solved).

Differences to Last Time

  • Clear separation of responsibilities. In my last attempt, I tried to do too much in the Wiki itself. It would be a test runner (like FitNesse). And I would store all content as Java Classes (to ensure the test code is always in sync with the wiki). This time I want to do it differently: The wiki is just there for the test definition. The glue code will be generated by a separate code generator. And the test runner is whatever test runner you use in your language (e.g. JUnit when you use Java).
  • Probably no automatic feedback from code to wiki. In my last attemt, when you would refactor the code (e.g. rename a class), you would also see that change in the Wiki (because the wiki stored all pages as java classes). I don't think this is really needed. And if I need it, I will create a separate tool that will feed back information from the code to the Wiki. Because: Clear separation of responsibilities.


“exampilistic” is, so far, only a toy project. But so far it also looks very promising. My progress is better than I would have expected. I also think I learned a lot from my first attempt, and this time, the design goals are mostly sound (But I’m sure some of them will change when I learn more during developing functionality).

It is still to early to show you some code or screenshots, but if I manage to get to a point where some core functionality (like editing a single wiki page) is fully usable, I will make the project open source. And also show you some screenshots.

Are you interested in managing IT and software projects or teams? Are you in Europe in Autumn 2016? We are preparing a great conference for you: Advance IT Conference