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Erlang Common Test Continuous Integration

Common Test is a well thought out integration testing framework for Erlang. If you
are not using it you probably should be. However, it has one fault. It
does not return non-negative exit status’ to the caller when the tests
fail. This is a major oversight, and it makes it difficult to use as
part of a continuous integration scheme or in a make based build

The long term fix is for the OTP folks to resolve the issue in the
ct_run command. To that end I have filed a bug report with the
Erlang folks. In the short term, though, we need this behaving
correctly. After much twiddling around with different solutions and
conversions on the erlang-questions list. This solution finally popped
out of a conversation with Lukas Larsson. Basically, we use the old
unix standby of awk.

    ct_run -dir tests  ... | awk "/FAILED/{exit 1;}/failed/{exit 1;}/SKIPPED/{exit 1;}"

Where ... is replaced with your additional options. Its not the best
solution on the planet, but it is the simplest one that I found that
works consistently.

Sinan Releases and Being Right

Fred, of Learn You Some Erlang for Great Good, today posted on his blog about the problems around how rebar handles releases, Rebar Releases and Being Wrong. The problems he mentions and a few others are why, despite giving it a legitimate shot, I have found rebar unusable for my workflow to be efficient and stable while adhering to OTP standards at the same time.

I suggest first reading his post, if you already use rebar, and then continuing on with the rest of this.

I’ll start with an example on the generation of a project containing two applications and a dependency from one of those applications of cowboy. Next, I’ll create a release (and in the process a deployable target system) to show the difference in how sinan handles this process.

TL;DR Sinan does OTP the right way, rebar does not.

First, you can download the latest version sinan from this link, it is simply an executable escript, so ‘chmod +x sinan‘ and put it in your PATH and you are good to go.

Sinan provides a ‘gen’ command to create your project. I include the output of the steps I took to build this project. Sinan assumes this is a multiple application project, but if you give “y” instead it will create a directory structure similar to rebars default structure with a src/ directory instead of a lib/ directory.

$ sinan gen
Please specify your name 
your name> Tristan Sloughter
Please specify your email address 
your email>
Please specify the copyright holder 
copyright holder ("Tristan Sloughter")> 
Please specify name of your project
project name> rel_example
Please specify version of your project
project version> 0.0.1
Please specify the ERTS version ("5.9")> 
Is this a single application project ("n")> 
Please specify the names of the OTP apps that will be developed under this project. One application to a line. Finish with a blank line.
app> app_1
app ("")> app_2
app ("")> 
Would you like a build config? ("y")> y
Project was created, you should be good to go!

We now have a project named rel_example and can see the generated contents.

$ cd rel_example/
$ ls
config  doc  lib  sinan.config

Before going further I add the line {include_erts, true}. to sinan.config so that a generated tarball of the release contains erts and can be booted on a machine without Erlang installed.

$ cat sinan.config
{project_name, rel_example}.
{project_vsn, "0.0.1"}.

{build_dir,  "_build"}.

{ignore_dirs, ["_", "."]}.

{ignore_apps, []}.

{include_erts, true}.

A tree structure view of the generated project is below:

├── config
│   └── sys.config
├── doc
├── lib
│   ├── app_1
│   │   ├── doc
│   │   ├── ebin
│   │   │   └── overview.edoc
│   │   ├── include
│   │   └── src
│   │       ├── app_1_app.erl
│   │       ├──
│   │       └── app_1_sup.erl
│   └── app_2
│       ├── doc
│       ├── ebin
│       │   └── overview.edoc
│       ├── include
│       └── src
│           ├── app_2_app.erl
│           ├──
│           └── app_2_sup.erl
└── sinan.config

You’ll see we have a lib directory with two applications containing their source files under a src directory. Now in order to boot the release we’ll create, we need to remove a couple tings from each supervisor. Instead of creating something for them to supervise just remove the variable AChild and replace [AChild] with [].

Next, so we have a third party dependency in the example, add cowboy to the applications in nano lib/app_1/src/

{applications, [kernel, stdlib, cowboy]},

Sinan provides a depends command to show the depenedencies of the project and where they are located:

$ sinan depends -v
starting: depends
Using the following lib directories to show resolved dependencies and where it found them:


compile time dependencies:

runtime dependencies:

    kernel                    2.15       : /home/tristan/.kerl/installs/r15b/lib/kernel-2.15
    stdlib                    1.18       : /home/tristan/.kerl/installs/r15b/lib/stdlib-1.18
    cowboy                    0.5.0      : /home/tristan/.kerl/installs/r15b/lib/cowboy-0.5.0

project applications:

    app_1                     0.1.0      : /home/tristan/Devel/rel_example/_build/rel_example/lib/app_1-0.1.0
    app_2                     0.1.0      : /home/tristan/Devel/rel_example/_build/rel_example/lib/app_2-0.1.0

Now lets build a release and target system.

$ sinan dist

After running the dist command we have a _build directory that we find the following structure. I removed the files/dirs under each app to shorten the listing.

├── rel_example
│   ├── bin
│   │   ├── rel_example
│   │   └── rel_example-0.0.1
│   ├── erts-5.9
│   │   ├── 
│   ├── lib
│   │   ├── app_1-0.1.0
│   │   │   ├── 
│   │   ├── app_2-0.1.0
│   │   │   ├── 
│   │   ├── cowboy-0.5.0
│   │   │   ├── 
│   │   ├── kernel-2.15
│   │   │   ├── 
│   │   └── stdlib-1.18
│   │       ├── 
│   └── releases
│       └── 0.0.1
│           ├── rel_example.boot
│           ├── rel_example.rel
│           ├── rel_example.script
│           └── sys.config
└── tar
    └── rel_example-0.0.1.tar.gz

Sinan has created a lib directory containing all necessary applications for our release as well as the needed files for booting the release. Additionally the dist command creates a tar.gz for easy deployment. But if we simply want to run our release where we are we can:

$ _build/rel_example/bin/rel_example
Erlang R15B (erts-5.9)

[64-bit] [smp:4:4] [async-threads:0] [hipe] [kernel-poll:false]

Eshell V5.9  (abort with ^G)

This is only the tip of the iceberg of what sinan is capable of. I can’t go into all of it here but I’ll mention that you are able to define multiple releases for a project to generate and which of your project apps to include in each. Additionally you are able to provide a custom rel file if you require tweaks.

The important part to take away from this post is the structure of what you are working with when using sinan and how it is based on OTP standards, both for the source you work on and the results of the build process under _build/.

Cowboy and Batman.js for Erlang Web Development

Why Cowboy and Batman.js

There are a lot of Erlang web frameworks out there today. Not all are modeled after the MVC model (see Nitrogen), but I think all of them are addressing the problem the wrong way. I recently gave a presentation, slides here and the code for this example here, describing my perferred method for using Erlang for web development and why I think it is the best way to go. In this post, I’ll go into more details on how to build the Erlang backend for the TodoMVC clone I did with Batman.js. I will not spend time on Batman.js but instead only give a quick list of reasons I prefer it to other Javascript frameworks.

Batman.js advantages:

  • Automatic URL generation based on model
  • HTML data-bind templates
  • Coffeescript

Cowboy is a newer Erlang web server that provides a REST handler based on Webmachine. Both of these are perfect for developing a RESTful API, because they follow the HTTP standard exactly and when you are building an API based on HTTP, being able to properly reason about how the logic of the application maps to the protocol eases development and eases getting REST “right”.


Any non-dynamic content should be served by Nginx since there is no logic needed and it is something Nginx is great at, so why have Erlang do it? The snippet below configures Nginx to listen on port 80 and serve files from bcmvc’s priv directory. Each request is checked to see if it is a POST or any other method with a JSON request type. If either of those are true, the request is proxied on to a server listening on port 8080, in our case the Cowboy server.

server {
  listen 80;
  server_name localhost;

  location / {
    root   <PATH TO CLONE>/bcmvc/lib/bcmvc_web/priv/;

    if ($request_method ~* POST) {
      proxy_pass        http://localhost:8080;     }

    if ($http_accept ~* application/json) {
      proxy_pass        http://localhost:8080;     }


Batman.js knows what endpoints to use and what data to send based on the name of the model we created and the encoded variables, code here. This results in the following API:

Method Endpoint Data Return
POST todos {todo : {body:”bane wants to meet, not worried”,isDone:false}}
PUT /todos/33e93b30-2371-4071-afc5-2d48226d5dba {todo : {body:”bane wants to meet, not worried”,isDone:false}}
GET todos [{todo : {id:"33e93b30-2371-4071-afc5-2d48226d5dba", body:"bane wants to meet, not worried", isDone:false}}]
DELETE /todos/33e93b30-2371-4071-afc5-2d48226d5dba

Cowboy Dispatch and Supervisor

Dispatch rules are matched by Cowboy to know what handler to send the request to. Here we have two rules. One that matches just the URL /todos and one that matches the URL with an additional element which will be associated with the atom todo. Both requests will be sent to the module bcmvc_todo_handler.

Dispatch = [{'_', [{[<<"todos">>], bcmvc_todo_handler, []},
                   {[<<"todos">>, todo], bcmvc_todo_handler, []}]}],

Cowboy provides a useful function child_spec for creating a child specfication to use in our supervisor. The child spec here tells Cowboy we want a TCP listener on port 8080 that handles the HTTP protocol. We additionally provide our dispatch list for it to match against and pass on requests.

ChildSpec = cowboy:child_spec(bcmvc_cowboy, 100, cowboy_tcp_transport, 
                              [{port, 8080}], cowboy_http_protocol, [{dispatch, Dispatch}]),

Cowboy Handler

Now that we have a server on port 8080 that knows to send certain requests to our todo handler, we can build the module. The first required function to export is init/3. This function let’s Cowboy know we have a REST protocol, this is how it knows what functions to call (some have defaults and some existing in our module) to handle the request.

init(_Transport, _Req, _Opts) ->
    {upgrade, protocol, cowboy_http_rest}.

Knowing that this is a REST handler Cowboy will pass the request on to allowed_methods/2 to find out if our handler is able to handle this method. Next, the content types accepted and provided by the handler are checked against the incoming request. The expected HTTP response status codes are returned if any of these fail. 405 for allowed_methods, XXX for content_types_accepted and XXX for content_types_provided.

allowed_methods(Req, State) ->
    {['HEAD', 'GET', 'PUT', 'POST', 'DELETE'], Req, State}.

content_types_accepted(Req, State) ->
    {[{{<<"application">>, <<"json">>, []}, put_json}], Req, State}.

content_types_provided(Req, State) ->
    {[{{<<"application">>, <<"json">>, []}, get_json}], Req, State}.

Now the request is sent to the function that handles the HTTP method type of the request.

For a POST, a request to create a new todo item, the function process_post/2 is sent the request. Here we retrieve the body, a JSON object, from the request, convert it to a record and save the model. We’ll see how this record conversion is done when we look at the model module. To inform the frontend of the id of our new resource we set the location header to be the path with the id.

process_post(Req, State) ->
    {ok, Body, Req1} = cowboy_http_req:body(Req),
    Todo = bcmvc_model_todo:to_record(Body),

    NewId = bcmvc_model_todo:get(id, Todo),
    {ok, Req2} = cowboy_http_req:set_resp_header(
                   <<"Location">>, <<"/todos/", NewId/binary>>, Req1),

    {true, Req2, State}.

For this handler we expect PUT for an update to an object, that is what Batman.js does, but a PATCH would make more sense. For a PUT the URL contains the id for the todo item to be updated. That is retrieved with the binding/2 function. The todo record is created the same as in process_post/2 but then the this id is set for the model and the update/1 function is used to save it to the database.

put_json(Req, State) ->
    {ok, Body, Req1} = cowboy_http_req:body(Req),
    {TodoId, Req2} = cowboy_http_req:binding(todo, Req1),
    Todo = bcmvc_model_todo:to_record(Body),
    Todo2 = bcmvc_model_todo:set([{id, TodoId}], Todo),
    {true, Req2, State}.

For a GET request, which for this application we do not deal with a request for a single todo item, all todo items are retrieved from the model module. Each of these is passed to the model’s to_json/1 function and the result of converting each to JSON is combined into a binary string and placed between brackets so the Batman.js frontend receives a proper JSON list of JSON objects.

get_json(Req, State) ->
    JsonModels = lists:foldr(fun(X, <<"">>) ->
                            (X, Acc) ->
                                 <<Acc/binary, ",", X/binary>>
                         end, <<"">>, [bcmvc_model_todo:to_json(Model) || Model <- bcmvc_model_todo:all()]),

    {<<"[", JsonModels/binary, "]">>, Req, State}.

And lastly, DELETE. Like in PUT the todo item’s id is retrieved from the bindings created based on the dispatch rules and this is passed to the model’s delete function.

delete_resource(Req, State) ->
    {TodoId, Req1} = cowboy_http_req:binding(todo, Req),
    {true, Req1, State}.


Model’s are repsented as records and must provide serialization functions to go between JSON and a record. Each model uses a parse transform that creates functions for creating and updating the record. The transform is a modified version of exprecs from Ulf Wiger that also uses the type definitions in the record to ensure when setting a field that it is the correct type. For example in the todo model isDone is a boolean, so when the model is created the boolean convert function will be matched to convert the string representation to an atom:

convert(boolean, <<"false">>) ->
convert(boolean, <<"true">>) ->

So the key pieces of the bcmvc_model_todo are:

-compile({parse_transform, bcmvc_model_transform}).

-record(bcmvc_model_todo, {id = ossp_uuid:make(v1, text) :: string(),
                           body                          :: binary(),
                           isDone                        :: boolean()}).

to_json(Record) ->
    ?record_to_json(?MODULE, Record).

to_record(JSON) ->
    ?json_to_record(?MODULE, JSON).

The ?record_to_json and ?json_to_record macros are defined in jsonerl.hrl. These marcos are generic and work for any record that is typed and uses the model transform.


Clearly, much of what the resource handler and model do is generic and can be abstracted out so that implementing new models and resources can be even simpler. This is the goal of my project Maru. Currently it is based on Webmachine but is now being convered to Cowboy.

In the end, using Cowboy for building a RESTful interface for your application allows you to build interfaces for the frontend entirely separted from backend development, and if you want multiple interfaces (like native mobile and web), they both talk directly to the same backend. Also, from the beginning you have the option to open up your application with an API for other developers to take your application new places, and, shameless plug here, add your API to Mashape to spread your new app!

Erlang, Cowboy and Batman.js for Building Web Applications

I’ll have a complete walk of through using Cowboy and Batman.js to build the TodoMVC clone in a few days. For now I have the slides from my talk at the Chicago Erlang User Group:

Chicago Erlang User Group April, 4th 2012

I couldn’t get iframe embedding to work with WordPress… So if anyone knows what that is up with please comment.

Erlang/OTP Release Structure

How to organize Erlang/OTP releases over on my personal blog. Worth reading if you are in the process of figuring out how to manage Erlang in your organization.

New Screencast: Sinan – Building Enterprise Erlang Applications

Sinan – Building Enterprise Application from Eric Merritt on Vimeo.

Opa Plugin Development with a PubNub Example

This will be a two part series of posts on writing plugins for Opa. One of Opa’s greatest features is you write everything in the functional, staticly typed Opa language. This even includes the frontend code you’d usually do in Javascript. This means your code is less error-prone which significantly reduces the amount of time spent on debugging code.

But how do you use Javascript library X within your Opa code?

While you can include Javascript code in a resource, like we do here for Google Analytics:

do Resource.register_external_js("/resources/js/google_analytics.js")

This isn’t what we want to do if we want to call external Javascript functions from Opa code. For this we create an Opa plugin. In this post I’ll be showing how I built the Opa client side bindings for the PubNub Javascript API, fork it on github and see all the other language bindings. PubNub is a cloud hosted real-time publish and subscribe interface for all types of applications.

Opa allows binding to external functions through its Binding System Library (BSL). In order to use this to create a plugin for some external Javascript, we create a file pubnub.js that we will compile to a plugin using opa-plugin-builder. Below is an example of one of the external functions that needs to be defined to use PubNub’s publish.

##register publish : string, string -> void
##args(c, m)
                       channel : c, message : m

    return js_void;

The first line registers the function publish and specifies its arguments to be two strings and its return value to be void. The next line names the arguments. You can think of ##args like Javascript’s function keyword. In the function, we can use the PUBNUB library just like we would normally. Here we pass to publish the channel and the message to be published. Note that the message can be any Javascript object, even though its a string to the plugin. We simply must serialize the JSON before passing to publish, which we’ll see shortly.

Now after defining external functions for all PubNub api calls in the pubnub.js file we can compile it:

$ opa-plugin-builder src/plugin/pubnub.js -o pubnub

This creates the plugin pubnub.opp.

To make using the plugin easier, we create a package in pubnub.opa that will contain a module PubNub. Below is the contents of pubnub.opa for the publish function that will show how to register the external functions and create a module named PubNub around them.

package pubnub

pubnub_publish = %%pubnub.publish%%

@client publish_client = pubnub_publish

PubNub = {{
  publish(channel: string, j : RPC.Json.json) =
    publish_client(channel, Json.to_string(j))

do Resource.register_external_js("")

The first thing to notice is setting the pubnub_publish variable. The %% syntax is specifying that pubnub.publish is the key of an external primitive. pubnub is the name of the plugin (pubnub.opp) and publish is the function we registered in the plugin.

After this we create another variable publish_client that specifies that that this function (variables can contain functions) is to be run on the client side. Lastly, we define a module PubNub and a publish function inside the module to be used by our Opa programs.

At the end we make sure that the needed PubNub Javascript file is includes in all resources by registering it and giving the URL to the PubNub CDN.

Now we can compile it all together with the opa-plugin-builder command from above and use the plugin.

import pubnub

broadcast(author, msg) =
   username : RPC.Json.json = {String = author}
   message : RPC.Json.json = {String = msg}
   record_json : RPC.Json.json = {Record = [("username", username), ("message", message)]}
   do PubNub.publish("chat", record_json)

The broadcast function is part of pubnub_chat.opa. broadcast takes 2 arguments, the username of the user sending the message and the message itself. We then construct three variables of Opa’s json type, username, message and record_json. username and message are simply Json strings and they are then combined into a Json Record type that is a list of string/Json pairs. Since our PubNub.publish function converts the Opa Json to a string before sending to the Javascript binding we can simply pass the Opa Json variable record_json.

Lastly, lets take a quick look at the subscribe function. Defining it in pubnub.js look like:

##register subscribe : string, (string -> void) -> void

Since it takes a callback function you’ll notice that the second argument’s type looks different from in publish. (string -> void) is defining that the function takes a variable that is a function which takes a single argument of type string and has a void return type.

Now in pubnub.opa we have a subscribe function that is hardly different from the publish function we described above.

subscribe(channel: string, callback) =
  subscribe_client(channel, callback)

But how do we define a function we can pass to subscribe? That is the great thing, it can be any Opa function!

PubNub.subscribe("chat", (x -> user_update(x)))

Above we are subscribing to the channel chat and passing an anonymous function that takes a single argument and sends it to the function user_update.

user_update(x) =
  match Json.deserialize(x) with
         | {some={Record = [("username", username), ("message", message)]}} ->
                    line = <div class="line"> <div class="user">{Json.to_string(username)}:</>
                             <div class="message">{Json.to_string(message)}</>
                    do Dom.transform([#conversation +<- line ])
         | _ -> void

Now every time a message is posted to the chat channel, our callback, the anonymous function, will be run and call the function user_update which we see deserializes the Json string to get an Opa Json Record. The rest is basic Opa DOM manipulation to add the new message to the messages in the conversation element.

In my next post on Opa and PubNub, I’ll be describing an Opa server side API for PubNub.

Major OpaDo Speed-Up with @publish

I received a patch for OpaDo from Francois Regis Sinot that has made the hosted OpaDo on Dotcloud MUCH faster, adding and removing item is now instantaneous. He placed @publish around explicitly server side functions that caused adding todo items to go from 21 to 1 server calls. I thought this simple but maybe not obvious for new Opa developers (it certainly wasn’t to me!) needed a blog post so that beginners like my self may find it and be able to start using the @publish directive. Check out the Opa manual for some more information on @publish, specifically I’d look at Section 4.7.4 and 10.2

Below are the changes he made. Which you can also of see in the commit diff on Github and check out the entire source.

-   @async
-   db_make_done(username: string, id: string) =
+   @publish @async
+   db_make_done(id: string) =
+       username = User.get_username()
        items = /todo_items[username]
        item = Option.get(StringMap.get(id, items))
        /todo_items[username] <- StringMap.add(id, {item with done=true}, items)
-   @async
+   @publish @async
    db_remove_item(id: string) =
      username = User.get_username()
      items = /todo_items[username]
-   @async
+   @publish @async
    db_add_todo(id: string, x: string) =
      username = User.get_username()
      items = /todo_items[username]
      /todo_items[username] <- StringMap.add(id, { value=x done=false created_at="" }, items)
+   @publish
    add_todos() =
      username = User.get_username()
      items = /todo_items[username]

Erlang DC: December 3rd, 2011

ErlangDC is coming up in a month and will be featuring our own Eric Merritt speaking on building enterprise applications with Erlang and Sinan, as well as other great presentations from Erlang experts. You can still submit your own proposal.

Get your tickets now!


Adding JS To all Opa Resources: Use Case Google Analytics

I decided I wanted to add Google Analytics to OpaDo but had no idea how to easily tell each page to include the necessary Javascript. I asked on the Opa mailing list and got a quick and simple response. Frederic Ye pointed me to Resource.register_external_js

It couldn’t have been any easier. You simply place your google_analytics.js file in your project and use the Resource.register_external_js function to modify the default customization of all Resources. See code below or on the github repo.

package opado.main

import opado.user
import opado.admin
import opado.todo

urls : Parser.general_parser(http_request -> resource) =
  | {Rule.debug_parse_string(s -> Log.notice("URL",s))} -> error("")
  | "/todos" result={Todo.resource} -> result
  | "/user" result={User.resource} -> result
  | "/login" result={User.resource} -> result
  | "/admin" result={Admin.resource} -> result
  | (.*) result={Todo.resource} -> result

do Resource.register_external_js("/resources/js/google_analytics.js")
server = Server.of_bundle([@static_resource_directory("resources")])
server = Server.make(urls)

For a longer article/tutorial on dealing with external resources check out this blog post from the Opa team Dealing with External Resources.


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