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Buzzwords! Specification & Examples

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So if phpspec is all about helping you design your classes - helping you ask: how do I want this class to look and behave? - how... does it actually do that? The idea is cool: instead of jumping straight into your code and hacking until something works... or you get sleepy... stop... step back... and instead, first, describe how you want your class to behave.

We do that by creating a class called a... specification. That's a fancy... or maybe boring word that means that, before coding, we will first create a class where we simply describe how our future class will work and act.

Generating the Specification

Let's see this in action. Remember the two commands of the phpspec executable? The first is describe - run it with -h:

./vendor/bin/phpspec describe -h

I'm passing -h to see the help details. Basically, each time you want to create a new class, you should first use this command to create a corresponding specification class. Oh, notice that forward slashes are used for the namespaces, that's just to avoid escaping problems.

Anyways, because we're building a dinosaur park, the first class we need is... Dinosaur! So let's run:

./vendor/bin/phpspec describe App/Entity/Dinosaur

I could have chosen any namespace starting with App - that's up to how you want to organize your code. But, if you're used to Doctrine in Symfony, this will feel familiar.

What are Examples?

Ok! One new file: DinosaurSpec.php. Let's go check it out! Ok - so phpspec creates a spec/ directory, which is meant to have the same file structure that our classes will eventually have in src/.

Open the new file. Ok... these spec classes look a little weird at first - and we're going to talk a lot about them. The purpose of this class is for us to describe the behavior of our future Dinosaur class. On a philosophical level, we do this by writing example code: using our Dinosaur class as if it already existed and was finished.

16 lines | spec/Entity/DinosaurSpec.php
// ... lines 1 - 8
class DinosaurSpec extends ObjectBehavior
function it_is_initializable()

On a more concrete level: we describe the behavior through examples. Every function in this class that starts with it_ or its_ will be read by phpspec as an "example". They are the key to phpspec, and also the most complex part.

There are two very important things to understand about the code inside these example methods. First, and this is truly magic, you're supposed to use the $this variable as if we were inside of the Dinosaur class itself. Literally: you treat $this like a Dinosaur object - showing examples of how you want it to work by calling methods on that class - like $this->getLength() if the Dinosaur class had a getLength() method.

Hello Matchers

In addition to using $this to call methods that exist - or should exist - inside Dinosaur, the second important thing to know is that you can also call a huge number of methods that start with should or shouldNot. These are called "matchers" - and they are the way you assert that things are working correctly in phpspec.

In the one generated example function, because we're pretending to be inside the Dinosaur class, we pretend that $this is a Dinosaur object. When we call ->shouldHaveType(Dinosaur::class), this asserts that the object is an instance of that class... which, by the way, doesn't even exist yet! It's a pretty pointless test - but I usually keep it.

Oh, and the last strange thing about this class is that... it violates coding standards! Did you notice the missing public before the functions? That's totally legal in php - methods are public by default. And the method names are written using snake-case instead of camel case. Both of these things are done on purpose for one important reason: readability. We're writing PHP - but this class is meant to be a human-readable description of our future Dinosaur class. And right now, our specification says nothing more than a Dinosaur object should be... a Dinosaur object.

Generating the Class with run

Ready to execute the other phpspec command? It's called run - let's show the help details on this one too:

./vendor/bin/phpspec run -h

This is the main command in phpspec. Its job is to look at all of our spec files - just one right now - and all of the example methods inside - and verify whether or not the actual class behaves like we've described with that example code.

Now... you might think that's a bit crazy. After all, how can phpspec look to see if our Dinosaur class has the correct "behavior"? The Dinosaur class doesn't even exist yet! Heck, there's nothing in our src/ directory at all! Well... let's see what happens:

./vendor/bin/phpspec run

At first, it does fail because App\Entity\Dinosaur does not exist. That's expected. But check this out: it's asking: do you want me to create it for you? This is what makes phpspec so fun! When it sees that you've described some behavior that's missing, it can create it for you! Let's choose yes, of course!

8 lines | src/Entity/Dinosaur.php
// ... lines 1 - 4
class Dinosaur

Cool! Go look - in src/... there it is! It doesn't do anything, but... actually... our new class now has the behavior described in our spec. To prove it, re-run phpspec:

./vendor/bin/phpspec run

Woh! It works! That... does make sense. Even though we don't understand much about how the "examples" work yet, after generating the code, if you try to create an instance of a Dinosaur class..... you do get a Dinosaur object! Eureka!

Next: let's start creating some meaningful examples of how our class should behave and see how phpspec can help us build that.