Faster & Cleaner Module Workflow

I’ve noticed when writing lots of small modules that the process of creating new modules and repositories can be a little tedious and error-prone. Automating the process makes things more efficient, produces consistent and clean repositories, and also forces me into the mindset of documenting and testing early on.

Here are some suggestions, tools and scripts that have improved my workflow. I’m going to presume OSX throughout this article, since I don’t use Windows.

readme
example readme for a small module

 terminal basics

The best way to improve efficiency when working with npm modules is to get more familiar with terminal commands. You might already know cd and ls, but here’s a few other goodies:

 terminal tools

There’s also some really handy utilities to improve efficiency in terminal. rupa’s z script is like a super-charged cd. It jumps to the given regex match, and remembers the most used patterns. So you could type z proj to jump to ~/Documents/projects.

Another one is opening your IDE at the current folder. Sublime users tend to use subl.

So a typical series might look like:

z proj
mkdir foobar
cd foobar
subl .

And, of course, there are lots of tools like iTerm2 that act as replacements.

 npm commands

Once you’re comfortable with jumping around your file system and creating new files/folders, you can start speeding up your module creation process.

The easiest thing you can do is learn which npm commands will create and modify package.json for you:

# setup a bare-bones package.json
npm init

# can be used to bump version number and git commit
npm version patch|minor|major

# remember to use a flag when installing! 
npm install foobar --save
npm install foobar --save-dev

With npm init you get a basic package.json, but not much more. Most modules will also want:

 module-generator

This is where module-generator comes into play (originally forked from hughsk). You can, of course, fork it yourself to meet your needs, or find/write another module generator. The idea is to automate the tedious boilerplate for new modules.

To install:

npm install module-generator -g

After setting up your config, the process looks like this:

mkdir my-module
cd my-module
module-generator

This prompts for package details and sets up the essential stuff (readme, MIT license, gitignores, etc). Most importantly, it gives your modules a consistent “look and feel” and ensures they have all the details needed for discoverability and SEO.

It also produces a stability badge, which can be a useful hint to those depending on your module:

badge

 unit testing

Unit testing your code is essential when you start working with small and re-usable modules; it will give other users more confidence in your code and also allow you to catch errors as you introduce new features and patches.

I use tape to support front- and back-end code. It’s much more light-weight and Unixy than jasmine/mocha/etc, requires less boilerplate, works in the browser, and integrates easily with other tools (like Git hooks).

Since I use it on almost all my modules, module-generator supports a --test or -t flag:

module-generator --test

This installs the latest verison of tape, saving it as a devDependency, creates an empty index.js, and generates basic test.js that looks like this:

var myFunkyModule = require('./')
var test = require('tape').test

test(/* description inserted here */, function(t) {

    t.end()
})

Which allows you to start developing immediately with your tools of choice:

#run once
node test

#run continuously
nodemon test

#run in browser on localhost:9966 with LiveReload
budo test --live

 pushing to GitHub

The next “tedious step” in the process of creating new modules is to push your module to GitHub. For this you can use the ghrepo tool, which pushes your folder to GitHub and pulls some details from your package.json.

#install tool globally first time around
npm install ghrepo -g

#push current folder to a new GitHub repo
ghrepo -m "first commit"

 more aliases

Two other common tasks worth automating is a readme update, and publishing an npm patch.

You can add these to .bash_profile to get them when you next login to terminal. Shell aliases are another way of automating tasks you find yourself repeating a lot.

alias gitreadme='git add README.md; git commit -m "udpating readme"; git push'
alias npmpatch='npm version patch;npm publish;git push;git push --tags'

 further thoughts

Hopefully we can continue to build more high-level tools that integrate all of these automations, improving efficiency and reducing human error.

To take the automation a step further, module tools could be integrated into an IDE, acting on a source file or even single function. Essentially it would “rip it out” of the application code, pushing it to its own npm folder and repo, and auto-document the readme based on code comments. Then, it would npm install the modularized version in place of where it was previously taken out.

 
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