Automating PHPUnit with Node

I've been trying to automate everything this year. When working on OSS, this is usually as simple as setting up Travis CI; in some cases, even that becomes a little more involved, but remains possible.

But that's continuous integration. What about continuous development?

Continuous development?

With continous integration, every time I push to a branch associated with a pull request or on the origin repository, a build is triggered. Which is great, because I can verify and validate that my code runs fine on all the target platforms. But I have to wait for the build to trigger and then run.

Ideally, I should also be testing locally; I likely don't want to push anything upstream that will fail! So, I look in the contributing guidelines, and determine how to run coding standards checks and unit tests, and do those manually.

Manually? Ugh. Too easy to forget, and too easy to lose track and make a ton of changes between runs, making breakage easier.

I'd like to automate running these as part of my development process. I want continuous development cycles.

Preparing your project

The first step is preparing your project. I like to run my tests and CS checks using Composer, as that allows me to change what I'm using later, but also allows me to standardize invocation of the tools. I define the following scripts in my composer.json:

"scripts": {
  "check": [
  "cs-check": "phpcs --colors",
  "cs-fix": "phpcbf --colors",
  "test": "phpunit --colors=always"

You may, of course, need to alter these to use the tools specific to your own project. The main thing is that you have a "check" target, which runs all the various QA tools.

You don't need to do this. But I definitely recommend it. If you can simplify invocation for your users, and for your tools, automation is far easier.

Using gulp

Node has some great tools for watching the filesystem and reacting to it. Two of these are considered "build" or "workflow" tools: Grunt and Gulp.

I've opted for Gulp here, as the setup is far simpler; that said, it's not difficult to do in Grunt, either.

First, you'll need npm, which usually comes packaged with node, or yarn, a more recent addition to the node ecosystem. Once you have these, you can continue.

Second, I installed a few dependencies:

  • gulp is the actual taskrunner. It needs to be installed both globally, and locally. It includes the functionality for watching the filesystem.
  • gulp-shell provides the ability to execute arbitrary command line tools.
  • gulp-notify ties into your system's notifications abilities.

Navigate to your project directory, and install these as follows:

$ npm install -g gulp # this may require sudo, depending on your system
$ npm install --dev gulp gulp-shell gulp-notify

If you are using yarn:

$ yarn global add gulp # this may require sudo, depending on your system
$ yarn add --dev gulp gulp-shell gulp-notify

Third, create the following gulpfile.js in your project:

/* jshint: node: true */
var gulp = require('gulp');
var notify = require('gulp-notify');
var shell = require('gulp-shell');
var project = require('path').posix.basename(__dirname);

gulp.task('default', ['watch']);
gulp.task('php_check', function () {
    .pipe(shell('composer check'))
    .on('error', notify.onError({
      title: project + ' failures',
      message: project + ' CS checks and/or tests failed'
gulp.task('watch', function () {
    ['phpunit.xml.dist', 'phpcs.xml', 'src/**/*.php', 'test/**/*.php'],

What the above does is:

  • Watch the filesystem for changes to any of:
    • phpunit.xml.dist, which would indicate a change to the test runner behavior.
    • phpcs.xml, which would indicate a change to the coding standards.
    • PHP files found in either the src/ or test/ directories.
  • On changes, run composer check.
  • On errors running composer check, create a system notification.
Using the gulp automation

Once you've done the above, run the following within your project directory:

$ gulp

This will spawn a process that watches the filesystem; any time you save a change to any of the files listed, it will run composer check, which in turn runs your CS checks and unit tests. If either of these processes fails, it spawns a system notification, which will draw your attention to the fact that you've just done something wrong. (If no errors occur, no notification is created.)

What this means is that I can spawn the process in a terminal that I hide, and then start editing in my favorite editor or IDE, and get notifications immediately when I break something.

Making it reusable with node

The above is nice, but do you really want to add this to every project? While it's a useful utility, different projects run things differently, and some may or may not be amenable to adding tooling just to support specific development workflows.

So, I decided to take this a step further, and see if I could automate for the more generic use case. The result is an npm package, phly-php-qa-watch, which ships with the binary php-qa-watch.

Install it as follows:

$ npm install phly-php-qa-watch -g  # via npm; may require sudo
$ yarn global add phly-php-qa-watch # via yarn; may require sudo

Once installed, you can run it in your project:

$ php-qa-watch

If you need to specify an alternate checker, or a different list of files, flags will provide this:

  • -c|--check-command allows you to specify an alternate check command to use; it defaults to composer-check.
  • -w|--watch-files allows you to specify a comma-separated list of files, directories, and globs to watch. It defaults to phpunit.xml.dist,phpcs.xml,src/**/*.php,test/**/*.php.

So, as an example, I could run:

$ php-qa-watch \
> -c "./vendor/bin/php-cs-fixer fix --dry-run && ./vendor/bin/phpunit" \
> -w ".php_cs,phpunit.xml.dist,phpunit.xml,lib/**/*.php,tests/**/*.php"

The above would run the locally installed php-cs-fixer in dry-run mode and phpunit. Further, it would re-run if the php-cs-fixer configuration changes, the local or project PHPUnit configuration changes, or if PHP files in either the lib/ or tests/ directories change.

This finally hits the sweet-spot for me with automation: it's literally the least effort I can muster in any given repository in order to automate my testing tools.

Automate all the things

It's terribly easy to get complacent and lazy when developing, particularly on open source where you may be investing your off hours, and want to economize your activity. This can lead to having patches rejected, or frustration at only discovering a completely avoidable build error days later, as you left your console immediately after issuing a pull request. For these reasons, I try and automate whenever possible, not just for continuous integration, but for my own development workflow.


This post is derived from a talk I prepared recently on quality PHP packages, and details one facet of the "automation" section. I plan to blog on the topics covered, and release related tools, in the coming weeks.