Saturday 31 July 2021

The CLI GUI Plays Favourites



My last change to the CLI GUI was to add the capability to decode a Salesforce CLI command string and regenerate the command page for it. This was the first step towards favourites functionality, so that I could save frequently used commands and quickly re-run them. As usual, it wasn't quite as straightforward as that, but this afternoon I pushed an update to the repository to add support for favourites.

A Few of My Favourite Things

If you are already using the CLI GUI, you'll need to run npm install as I'm using a different mechanism to convert the command string into it's component parameters - string-argv. Previously I had a very complicated regular expression that I found online, but it didn't handle string parameters containing spaces too well, or MacOS directories.

The first change you'll notice when the GUI starts is the new datalist and a couple of buttons. The datalist allows you to select from the favourites you've saved, and you can either Open the command window with the favourite decoded, or run it immediately. As an aside, running a favourite that does something destructive or that can't be undone (like deleting a scratch org) is a pretty dangerous thing to do, so you'll be asked to confirm it. I really only use this for opening orgs without having to go via the command window:

Obviously there won't be anything in the datalist yet, as you'll need to create a favourite or two first.

Favourites are added and removed from the command window, which now has a section at the bottom of the page for this. Once you have set the various parameters, give it a name and click the Save Favourite button:

Note that the directory you are working in is saved with the favourite.

Returning back to the main screen, the new favourite is now available in the datalist, and selecting it enables the buttons:

Clicking the Open button opens the command window with the favourite details, and a button to remove it:

Clicking the Run button first asks you to confirm you really want to do it:

If you choose to continue, the command will immediately execute, in the directory you were in when you saved the favourite, and the output shown in a similar modal to that of the command window:

Right now there's no mechanism to update a favourite - you have to remove the existing one and then save the updated command with the same name. Yes it's a couple more clicks, but think of how grateful you'll be if I do add this capability.

The latest code is in the Github repository, and this week I'm back to the usual test environments of MacOS and Windows 10.  I haven't flogged it to within an inch of its life though, so I'm sure if you look hard enough you'll find something that doesn't work. If you do, feel free to raise an issue.

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Saturday 10 July 2021

The CLI GUI Decodes Command Strings


Something I've been meaning to add to the CLI GUI for a while is the ability to enter a CLI command string and decode that into a command page with the appropriate parameters set. This would allow someone to understand more about a command without having to run a help command, match to the parameters, and the additional instructions etc defined in the GUI configuration file can be displayed.

I finally got around to adding that capability this week, which wasn't quite as clunky as I was expecting it to be, although to be fair it is still a little clunky.

The Solution

The decoder is offered as part of a new group named 'Built In' - this is so named because it is added to the configured set of commands in the code and will always be present.

Clicking this opens up the command window with a single input to capture the command string:

In this case it's the command I've used in the past to create an org depdendent package, and made sure to write it down for the next time I needed it,

Clicking the Decode Command changes the page to reflect this command, with any additional instructions. And the first clunky bit, in that I always use the short version of the flags so the command generated in this page doesn't match character for character the one pasted in, although it effectively is the same.

The other clunky part is excluding certain functionality from the page when the command is the decoder, but unless I created a whole new page just for that, I was always going to have to do something along those lines. My command configuration file also now knows about the long and short version of every flag, so that it can decode either. 

The Latest Code

I've pushed the latest code to the Github repository - at the moment it's only tested against MacOS as I won't have access to my Windows machine for a day or so. I can't think of any reason why these changes wouldn't work equally well, but if you hit problems before I get a chance to test, raise an issue in the repo.

One thing to bear in mind is that this can only decode the commands and parameters that it knows about. For example, I haven't configured any of the commands to extract data, so there will be no match found when decoding those. 

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Saturday 3 July 2021

Low Code Still Needs Unit Tests


First off let me make clear this is not dumping on low code or some King Canute like attempt to push back the advance of clicks not code in favour of having to write every tiny automation in Apex. When I started working with Salesforce back in 2008, I didn't look at workflow rules and think "Oh nose, I wanted to write a bunch of code to update the contents of a rich text area field", I thought 'That's cool, someone else can configure the simple automation and I get to work on the more challenging scenarios". 

On the developer side we've spent years convincing people that unit tests are a good thing, and we even have test driven development that turns the requirements into tests as a first step, after which we write the code that allows the tests to pass. Some people still moan about having to write tests to deploy to production, but most of us recognise this is a good thing and we'll be grateful we had to do it at some point in the future. 

So when I see messaging (from Salesforce and many others) that not being able to write unit tests is a benefit of whatever Low Code platform is being talked about, it strikes me as an attempt to brand a negative as a positive without explaining the downsides. You might be able to get things into production quicker, but realistically you should be swapping unit test effort for extended QA and UAT effort, not just trousering the difference. If you don't, it's quite likely you are getting bugs into production quicker!

Unit Testing is Important

Unit testing is basically writing code that verifies that other code works as expected. Now that low code includes more and more business logic, and the cyclomatic complexity is increasing, unit testing is something which is needed more than ever. As an aside, I felt the same when Aura components were first introduced and moved a bunch of business logic to the front end, so I did a talk at Dreamforce on unit testing those.  

Unit testing brings the following benefits, which apply equally to all types of code:

  • The nearer you find a bug to the developer, the less it costs to rectify.
  • With good test coverage and appropriate assertions, you can make changes with confidence that if you break behaviour that someone else is relying on, one or more tests will fail (this is the main benefit for me).
  • If someone else makes a change that breaks your code (adding a validation rule is the classic situation here), the next time the unit tests run this will be picked up. 
  • It keeps your users happier, as more bugs are found during the development cycle rather than after the system has been released to them.

Testing No and Low Code

No Code tends to be discrete units that can be used to apply automation, like a workflow rule that sent an email and updated some fields if a record transitioned to a specific state, or a validation rule that checks dependencies between fields. There's no point in unit testing that with many different combinations of record fields, for the same reason that in Apex we don't write unit tests to check that the compiler and run time is working as expected. The workflow engine is tested by Salesforce and we can trust it. Manually running a few records through is fine for testing a scenario like this, as the logic that causes the workflow or validation rule to fire is typically very small and rarely changes.

In Low Code, a number of these kind of items are assembled into some more complex automation in a flow, including conditional logic and loops, which is much closer to traditional code. The medium of expression might be different, but we are now in a world of complexity and reuse, especially if it's a subflow that can be dropped into any other flow. In this world it makes sense to run the flow with a variety of inputs, with the underlying database in a variety of states, and as users with a variety of profiles, and many different combinations if these. Doing all this manually every time there is a change isn't going to be practical. Doing it via test automation tools is possible, but tends to be testing an entire transaction rather than the smallest unit, and it can't happen in production as the changes aren't rolled back at the end of the test.

Right now the only way to do this is in a genuine test environment is to write Apex tests. This somewhat defeats a key benefit of flow for smaller organisations - they would still need a developer on staff to write the unit tests for the flows that the admins have created. (Slightly off topic, I also think it would be hard to find a developer who wanted that job for any length of time, so you'd have to be prepared for some significant churn). Apex can't hook directly into the flow engine in all cases though, so for record triggered there's a compromise that the transaction must actually complete, after which verification that the flow aspect had the desired effect can take place. This is more like an integration test, as there are other aspects of automation taking place that could impact the work done by the flow, but it's definitely better than nothing. Once you have Apex tests, you can take advantage of many existing solutions for scheduled execution, making them part of a deployment pipeline etc.

What Might the Future Hold

Ideally what we need is a Low Code test builder that can execute flows/subflows in isolation and generates actual unit tests, with assertions, that run in an isolated environment where the transactions are rolled back open completion. Generating Apex seems like a reasonable approach to me, as does targeting another engine. Given all the effort that has gone into flow over the last few years, it feels like this should be doable. 

Many years ago when Salesforce was seen as shadow IT, my approach to bring the technology departments into the fold was to tell them how their governance and best practice was needed to ensure that things were done properly and were able to scale. Bringing best practice from the Pro Code world feels like a good way to get everyone on board with the Low Code approach.