You need to sing that title along to this tune but it struck me as a great idea for a post.

As you probably all know, I code the Mail library for Ruby. When I announced my intentions to the TMail mailing list last year, I had a bunch of people say “Don’t bother, it’s too big a job” or “just wrap the libmime library”. But I decided to try it out, I mean, how hard could it be?


No really. It’s a real pain covering all the edge cases. Email is probably one of the most abused specifications out there, actually. No. I think it is THE most abused specification out there. Even the worst HTML pages are better put together than your average spam email. And there are millions of spam emails.

But when I started on Mail, I made a conscious decision to spec first the entire library, and as it stands today, there are over 1300 specs in Mail.

The first spec I wrote was actually this one (which is still in the library):

describe "mail" do
  it "should be able to be instantiated" do
    doing { Mail }.should_not raise_error

One of the more narly ones is:

it "should handle |Pete(A wonderful ) chap) <pete(his account)@silly.test(his host)>|" do
  address ='Pete(A wonderful \) chap) <pete(his account)@silly.test(his host)>')
  address.should break_down_to({
      :name         => 'Pete',
      :display_name => 'Pete',
      :address      => 'pete(his account)@silly.test',
      :comments     => ['A wonderful \\) chap', 'his account', 'his host'],
      :domain       => 'silly.test',
      :local        => 'pete(his account)',
      :format       => 'Pete <pete(his account)@silly.test> (A wonderful \\) chap his account his host)',
      :raw          => 'Pete(A wonderful \\) chap) <pete(his account)@silly.test(his host)>'})

What has this got to do with being lazy? Easy, if you have a full spec (or test) suite and you change something, you can track the impact there is on the entire library.

So when I get an email that breaks mail, I load it into the spec suite, and run it, get a failure, then go ahead and change code with aplomb, each time running the specs.

There is a huge sense of security knowing you have thorough spec coverage.

I have another application, consisting of over 50,000 lines of code (combined specs, features and code itself) which I wrote for a client. I had to go back to it 7 months after I wrote it (having basically not touched it for this time) and add a new feature.

The first thing I did was make sure the spec suite was running. It was, mostly, another coder had made some changes and not updated the specs and features, so there were a few failures. So I got to work and got it green.

Then making the change was trivial, I didn’t have to worry too much about unintended consequences as I know the spec and feature set was very thorough. The client is also rewarded with a highly maintainable application that is mostly error free and has been running happily along.

The point is, that if you are not thorough writing test / specs / features with your Rails app. Then you are not doing your job in a professional manner, simple as that.

But the good point is, if you like being lazy (and not having to spend HOURS trying to debug the latest problem with your code), write your specs and features as you go. You will save yourself (and your client / boss / life) countless hours of frustration.