⚠️ This content has been written a long time ago. As such, it might not reflect my current thoughts anymore. I keep this page online because it might still contain valid information.

On being a frontend developer for a weekend

2023-04-14 // I proofread this article and fixed some links.

Two weeks ago, I open-sourced TravisLight, a build monitoring tool – also known as a build wall – for Travis-CI. That was a weekend project I did for fun but also to embrace frontend development.

When I was at Nelmio, I was mainly a backend dev, even though I worked on some JavaScript stuff. I spent most of my time writing APIs for the frontend developers, not JavaScript apps. That needed to change!

The beginning

I started to read Backbone Fundamentals as I wanted to learn Backbone.js. Backbone.js is a JavaScript framework that offers a structure to write a web application.

Since working on a project is the best way to learn, I decided to write a Backbone.js application using the Travis-CI API. TravisLight – the project I developed over a weekend – was something I always wanted in order to manage my own open source projects. I needed a tool that was simple and clear. That was the perfect project to start, especially for a weekend!

Instead of using Underscore.js, I used Lo-Dash, an alternative to Underscore.js delivering consistency, customization, performance, and extra features as they say. I also used RequireJS and Moment.js. In order to manage all these dependencies, I needed a tool: Bower (from Twitter) looked like the right tool.

Bower, a package manager for the web

Bower is a package manager for the web (i.e. for JS/CSS libraries). Even if it is more a package downloader for now, it’s worth using it to avoid putting libraries in git directly.

Bower relies on a component.json file that looks like this:

  "name": "travis-light",
  "dependencies": {
    "jquery": "~1.8.3"

Running bower install will install the dependencies into a components/ folder. To add a new library, we can run bower install <lib> --save to install it. This command will also update the component.json file automatically.

At the beginning of the development phase, I needed a tool to perform some tasks on my application like running jshint or compiling my files. I tried Grunt, a build tool written in JavaScript, and it turned out to be a good choice.

Grunt, the JavaScript build tool

Grunt is a task-based command line build tool for JavaScript projects. At first glance, this tool seems hard to use but once you get it, it’s magic! You can lint your files, minify your JS/CSS files, run the test suite, and so on.

In TravisLight, I mainly used Grunt to package the application. This includes:

  • compiling the JavaScript files
  • compiling the CSS files
  • using the compiled files into the HTML markup
  • copying the required libraries

Thanks to the grunt-contrib-requirejs plugin, compiling the JavaScript files is straightforward:

requirejs: {
  compile: {
    options: {
      name: "main",
      baseUrl: "js/",
      mainConfigFile: "js/main.js",
      out: "dist/compiled.js"

Compiling the CSS files in TravisLight is a two-step task. First, all the images in the CSS have to be embedded using the grunt-image-embed plugin:

imageEmbed: {
  application: {
    src: 'css/application.css',
    dest: 'dist/application-embed.css',
    deleteAfterEncoding : false

Then, the CSS files are minified using the grunt-contrib-mincss plugin:

mincss: {
  compress: {
    files: {
      'dist/compiled.css': [

At this point, the last task is compiling the HTML to use the JS and CSS compiled files. This is achieved by using the grunt-targethtml plugin:

targethtml: {
  dist: {
    src: 'index.html',
    dest: 'dist/index.html'

The index.html file looks like:

<!doctype html>
<html lang="en">

  <body data-api-url="https://api.travis-ci.org">
    <!--(if target dist)>
    <script data-main="compiled" src="js/require.js"></script>
    <!--(if target dummy)><!-->
    <script data-main="js/main" src="components/requirejs/require.js"></script>

target dummy (the default) loads the code in development. This is a nice way to keep a single HTML file with the ability to switch from development to production (or whatever environment you want). That was an issue I was unable to solve until I found this plugin!

Last but not least, the grunt-contrib-copy plugin is used to copy some important files to the dist/ folder (which is where the final build of the application is located):

copy: {
  dist: {
    files: {
      'dist/js/require.js': 'components/requirejs/require.js'

Running grunt package performs all these tasks. See the TravisLight’s grunt.js file for more details, especially the aliases.

With a great build system and lots of code written already, I needed to write tests so I looked at some of the existing JavaScript testing libraries. I already knew QUnit but I wanted to use something different. I ended up using Mocha and Chai.

Testing a Backbone.js application

In the JavaScript world, there are plenty of testing libraries such as QUnit, Mocha, Jasmine, Chai, Sinon.js, Expect.js, Should.js, and a lot more that I probably don’t even know.

As I wrote before, I used Mocha and Chai. These libraries can be installed using npm (the Node.js package manager). This tool uses a package.json file to define both the “normal” and “dev” dependencies:

  "name": "TravisLight",
  "version": "0.0.1",
  "dependencies": {
  "devDependencies": {
    "mocha": "~1.7.4",
    "chai": "~1.4.0"

A node_modules/ directory contains the different packages specified in this package.json file and installed by running npm install.

From there, I created a new file (test/index.html) that executes the test suite in a browser:

    <meta charset="utf-8">
    <title>TravisLight Test Suite</title>
    <link rel="stylesheet" href="../node_modules/mocha/mocha.css" />
    <div id="mocha"></div>
    <script src="../node_modules/chai/chai.js"></script>
    <script src="../node_modules/mocha/mocha.js"></script>
    <script src="../components/jquery/jquery.min.js"></script>
    <script src="../components/requirejs/require.js"></script>
    <script src="setup.js"></script>
        function () {

First, Mocha and Chai are loaded, followed by jQuery and RequireJS. Then, a setup.js file is loaded. It contains the Mocha and RequireJS configurations as well as two global variables (assert and expect) that are used in the test files:

var assert = chai.assert,
expect = chai.expect;

  ui: 'bdd'

  baseUrl: '../js/',

I decided to follow the Behavior Driven Development style but this isn’t mandatory. Here is an example of a test file for the TravisLight’s router:

], function (router) {
  "use script";

  describe('router', function () {
    it('should be an instance of Backbone.Router', function () {

    it('should have a routes property', function () {

You will find more tests in this test/ directory.

Achievement unlocked! I wrote a JavaScript application that is tested.

Using Travis-CI with JavaScript projects

I am a big fan of Travis-CI and I wanted to put TravisLight on it. Thanks to Grunt, it couldn’t be easier!

The grunt-mocha plugin allows to use Mocha and PhantomJS to run a test suite. Here is the TravisLight’s configuration for this plugin:

mocha: {
  all: [ 'test/index.html' ]

A simple grunt mocha runs the test suite using PhantomJS (a headless browser):

$ grunt mocha
Running "mocha:all" (mocha) task
Testing index.html...................OK
>> 19 assertions passed (0.14s)

Done, without errors.

Not bad, right? However, Travis-CI needs to be configured with a .travis.yml file. JavaScript projects have to use the node_js environment on Travis-CI and the application requires a set of libraries installed with Bower.

language: node_js

  - 0.8

  - export PATH=\$PATH:`npm bin`
  - bower install

Travis-CI automatically runs npm install and npm test. This second command is configured in the package.json file:


  "scripts": {
    "test": "./node_modules/grunt/bin/grunt test"

The end

I sincerely enjoyed this weekend project. Working on a real project, even a small one like TravisLight, allowed me to discover new things and understand a bit better what it is like to be a frontend developer.

I also kinda felt in love with the JavaScript community. There is a lot of awesome libraries and frameworks these days! Great stuff, looking forward to writing more JavaScript in the future.

Feel free to fork and edit this post if you find a typo, thank you so much! This post is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International (CC BY-SA 4.0) license.

Recent articles


No comments here. You can get in touch with me on Mastodon or send me an email if you prefer.