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The ASF manages its board meetings via a text file that contains the agenda for the meeting. PMC reports, comments on those reports, and action items associated with those PMCs are stored in separate places in that text file. The agenda tool brings this data together and makes it easier to both navigate and update that file.

I cannot stress enough how important this tool is. I was doing things the "old" way until recently. I was unaware of how far this tool had advanced. I now spend around 50% less time on board meeting prep than I used to before switching to this tool. I imagine secretary gets even more benefit than that. Multiply this across all directors and you have a tool of immense value.

— Ross Gardler, ASF President


This has been tested to work on Mac OSX and Linux. It likely will not work yet on Windows.

The easiest way to get started is with Docker (see below), but if you prefer a more hands on approach read on.

For a partial installation, all you need is Ruby and Node.js.

For planning purposes, prereqs for a full installation will require:

  • A SVN checkout of board.

  • A directory, preferably empty, for work files containing such things as uncommitted comments.

  • The following software installed:

    • Subversion
    • Ruby 1.9.3 or greater
    • io.js
    • PhantomJS 2.0
      • Mac OS/X Yosemite users should either use brew install phantomjs or get the binary from comments on 12900.
      • Ubuntu users can get a working binary from the comments on 12948.


  • The installation of PhantomJS on Linux current requires a 30+ minute compile. The binary provided for OS/X Yosemite is not part of the standard distribution for PhantomJS. Feel free to skip this step on your first ("give it five minutes") pass through this. If you see promise, come back and complete this step.

Kicking the tires

You have three choices Vagrant, Docker, or directly on your machine.


Vagrant users can clone this repository and then run:

    vagrant up
    vagrant ssh -c "cd /vagrant && rake server:test"

Then visit http://localhost:9292/


Docker users can get up and running by cloning this repository and running the following two commands in that directory:

    docker build -t whimsy-agenda .
    docker run -p 9292:9292 -d whimsy-agenda

Now visit http://youdockerhost:9292


After installing the above prerequisites run the following commands in a Terminal window:

gem install bundler
git clone https://github.com/rubys/whimsy-agenda.git
cd whimsy-agenda
npm install
bundle install
rake spec
rake server:test

Visit http://localhost:9292/ in your favorite browser.


  • If you don't have PhantomJS installed, or have a version of PhantomJS prior to version 2.0 installed, one test will fail.

  • If you don't have io.js installed, two additional tests will fail.

  • The data you see is a sanitized version of actual agendas that have been included in the repository for test purposes.

Viewing Source (Live Results)

At this point, you have something up and running. Let's take a look around.

  • The first thing I want you to do is use the view source function in your browser. What you will see is:

    • A head section that pulls in some stylesheets. Most notably, the stylesheet from bootstrap.

    • a <div> element with an id of main followed by the HTML used to present the first page fetched from the server. If you want to see a different page, go to that page and hit refresh then view source again. This content is nicely indented and other than an abundance of data-reactid attributes that React uses to keep track of things, it is fairly straightforward.

    • a few <script> elements that pull in react, jquery, bootstrap, and the agenda app itself. I suggest that you leave that for the moment, we'll come back to it.

    • an inline script that calls React.render with a datastructure containing all the data the app needs on the client to do navigation. Most importantly, this page contains a parsed agenda. Mentally file that away for later consideration.

  • Next I want you to find and launch your browser's JavaScript console. In it, enter the following expression: Main.item. If you are currently on the agenda page, the results will be underwhelming. If so, go to another page, and try again. You will see the data associated with the specific page you are looking at. Instance variables will be preceded by an underscore. Methods and computed properties will not be.

  • If you are so inclined, you can actually make changes to the datastructures. Those changes won't be visible until you re-render. Something to try: Main.item._report = 'All is Good!'; Main.refresh()

  • One last thing before we leave this section, go to an agenda page, and replace the final / in the URL with .json. The contents you see is what is fetched by the client when it needs to get an update of the data. This data is heavily cached on both the client and server, so it takes negligible resources to check for updates.

Viewing Source (this time, Actual Code)

  • While you are unlikely to need to look at it, the agenda parsing logic is in agenda.rb plus the agenda subdirectory.

  • the views/pages/index.js.rb file contains the code for the agenda page. It defines a class with a render method. Names that start with an underscore become HTML elements. Nesting is generally represented by do...end blocks, and occasionally (rarely) by curly braces. Attributes are represented by name: value pairs. Note the complete lack of <%= ... %> syntax required by things like JSP or erb. Iteration is done by naming what you want to iterate over, and following the do with a name in vertical bars that contains the instance.

    Element names that start with a capital letter are essentially macros. We'll come back to that.

  • the views/pages/search.js.rb file contains the code for the search page. There are more methods defined here. You will find definitions for these methods in the React Lifecycle Methods. You will see logic mixed with presentation. React is deadly serious when it adopted the slogan "rethink best practices". What makes this work is the component lifecycle that React provides. Components have mutable state (which are the variables which are preceded by an @ sign), and are passed immutable properties (variables preceded by two @ signs). Some methods are prohibited from mutating state (most notably: the render method). And one method (componentWillReceiveProps) even has access to the before and after values for properties. Don't get hung up on the logic here, but do go to the navigation bar on the top right of the browser page, and select Search and play with search live.

    Two items of special note. dangerouslySetInnerHTML is React's "don't blame me if things go wrong" way of allowing you to add text that you have properly escaped into the content of an element. Also, we are directly making use of the browser APIs for updating the history of the window.

  • At this point, I suggest that you make a change. More specifically, I suggest you break something. Insert the keyword do into a random spot in either this or another file, and save your changes. This will cause the server to restart. Hit refresh in the browser, and you will see a stack traceback indicating where the problem is. Undo this change, and then lets continue exploring.

  • The views/forms/add-comment.js.rb file is probably a more typical example of a component. The render function is more straightforward. Not mentioned before, but element names followed by a dot followed by a name is a shorthand for specifying HTML class attributes. And an element name followed by a dot followed by an exclamation point is shorthand for specifying HTML id attributes. Both of these innovations were first pioneered by markaby.

    Of special interest in this file is the onChange and onClick attributes. Both are examples of how you associate an event with a method. The save method will call post which will send data to the server, wait for the response, update pending based on that response, and then close the modal window.

    Finally, finding DOM elements is a common enough need that I've usurped the ~ operator to expand to the various ways to find a dom element based on a CSS selector (including document.getElementById, document.getElementByClassName, ...). I've got an alternate implementation that maps such strings to jQuery calls. I've gone back and forth, but for now I and am leaning towards the native implementation.

  • views/actions/comment.json.rb is the code which is run on the server when you save a comment. It gets a list of pending items for this user, modifies it based on the parameters passed, puts this data back and then returns the modified list to the client (this is the last line, in Ruby the keyword return is optional, and generally not used unless returning from the middle of a method). Most server actions will be simple. Some will do things like commit changes to svn.

  • I mentioned previously that element names that start with a capital letter are effectively macros. You've seen Index, Search, and AddComment classes, each of which start with a capital letter. These actually are examples of what React calls components that I have described as acting like macros. `views/main.html.rb' contains the 'top'. views/app.js.rb lists all of the files that make up the client side of the application.

  • This brings us back to to the app.js script mentioned much earlier. If you visit http://localhost:9292/app.js you will see the full script. Every bit of this JavaScript was generated from the js.rb files mentioned above. Undoubtedly you have seen small amounts of JavaScript before but I suspect that much of this looks foreign. Nicely indented, commented, vaguely familiar, but still somewhat foreign. Many people these days generate JavaScript. Popular with React is something called JSX, but that's both controversial and doesn't support if statements. I make plenty of use of if statements (and more!) in my render methods.

    While you can bring the generated source up in your browser's Javascript console, you don't have to. Through the magic of Source Maps, you can view source and set breakpoints using the Ruby code that was used to generate this script. The way this is done varies by browser. On Google Chrome, for example, Ctrl+Shift+J will bring up the JavaScript console. Clicking on sources will show directores for buttons, elements, etc.

  • Layout of the page is done by three files: views/layout/header.js.rb, views/layout/main.js.rb, and views/layout/footer.js.rb.

  • Should you ever happen to look for the main routing functions, they are routing.rb on the server and views/router.js.rb on the client.


If you've made it this far, you've undoubtedly spent more than the five minutes I've asked of you. Hopefully, that's because I've piqued your interest. Having a test suite is important as it will allow you to confidently make changes without breaking things. If you haven't yet, I encourage you to install Poltergeist and io.js.

Before running the tests, run rake clobber to undo any changes you make have made to the test data by running the application.

Now onto the tests:

  • spec/parse_spec.rb is a vanilla unit test that verifies that the output of a parse matches what you would expect. This approach is good testing out server side logic.

  • spec/index_spec.rb, spec/reports_spec.rb, and spec/other_views_spec.rb use capybara to verify that the html produced matches what you would expect. This makes use of the server side rendering of pages. Generally this involves identifying things to look for in the HTML with CSS paths and either text or attribute values. Clearly this approach is focused on verifying HTML output.

  • spec/forms_spec.rb shows how client side logic (expressed in Ruby, but compiled to JavaScript) can be tested. It does so by setting up a http server (the code for which is in spec/react_server.rb) which runs arbitrary scripts and returns the results as HTML. This approach excels at testing a React component.

  • spec/client_spec.rb takes this a bit further to do a client side unit test. Instance variables set in tests are passed to the React server, and arbitrary JavaScript code can be executed using this data. Output is in the form of XHTML-style tags which is then matched against CSS (or xpath) expressions.

  • For complete end to end testing, spec/navigate_spec.rb actually tests functions with a real (albeit headless) webkit browser. This test verifies that the back button actually works (verifying the browser history API calls were made correctly).

  • Finally, actions_spec.rb verifies the server side logic executed in response to posting a comment.

Despite the diversity, the above tests have a lot of commonality and build on standard Ruby test functions. Together they should be able to cover pretty much any type of testing requirements.

Running for real

So far, you've run with test data. If you want to run for real, you need to have a recent checkout of https://svn.apache.org/repos/private/foundation/board and a directory to store pending updates. If you have both, create a file named .whimsy in your home directory. The file format is YAML, and here is mine:


- /home/rubys/svn/foundation
- /home/rubys/svn/committers
- /home/rubys/svn/site/templates
- /home/rubys/svn/apmail

- /home/rubys/git/wunderbar/lib
- /home/rubys/git/ruby2js/lib
- /home/rubys/svn/whimsy/lib

:ldap: ldaps://ldap1-us-east.apache.org:636

:agenda_work: /home/rubys/tmp/agenda

Adapt as necessary. You don't need to have all those entries in the svn value to run the board agenda tool. The lib value is is an array of libraries that are to be used instead of gems you may have installed. This is useful if you are making changes to the agenda parsing logic, ruby2js or wunderbar. You can remove this too. If you drop the ldap entry, one will be picked randomly for you from the list of ASF LDAP servers.

With this in place, start the server with rake server instead of rake server:test. It will tell you what directories are being watched for changes - this list includes libraries listed in the .whimsy file. It will also tell you what svn directory and agenda work directories are being used.


Congratulations for making it this far. To recap:

  • You have gotten the whimsy agenda application running locally on your own laptop or desktop. You've seen how to inspect and interact with the running code, and explored a number of representative functions.

  • You've made a change and saw it deployed immediately (even though the change was to break things).

  • You've run the tests, so you can confidently make changes and know that they didn't break anything.

  • Most of all, you've seen that things seems unreasonably fast without you needing to expend much effort to make it so.

This code clearly isn't complete. What I'm looking for is people who are wlling to experiment and contribute. Are you in?

Sketching out some ideas: adding a new page to the navigation dropdown would involve:

Adding a new modal dialog would involve:


Nothing is perfect. Here are a few things to watch out for:

  • On the server, Ruby code only has access to the standard Ruby libraries, which includes methods like File.read and YAML.parse. On the client, Ruby code is translated to JavaScript which only has access to JavaScript libraries, which includes methods like history.pushState and JSON.stringify.

    Ruby2JS filters reduce this gap by converting many common Ruby methods calls to JavaScript equivalents (e.g., a.include? b becomes a.indexOf(b) != -1). Currently the agenda tool makes use of the react, functions and require filters.

  • In Ruby there isn't a difference between accessing attributes and methods which have no arguments. In JavaScript there is. To make this work, parenthesis are required when calling or defining methods that have no arguments. Parenthesis are still optional when arguments are involved.

  • In Ruby, every method or block is expected to return something. In JavaScript, many methods are expected to return nothing. Ruby2JS knows enough to insert a return statement for property definitions (method definitions that don't have parenthesis), and the filters that are in place will insert return into blocks passes to .map, but in general if you want to return something from a function, you will need a return statement. There is a return filter that will add more, but in general it seems easier to remember to add a return when you need it than to add return statements that return null or unspecified.

  • In Ruby, $ is not a legal method name, so this common alias for jQuery isn't directly available. jQuery isn't needed for react, but is needed for Bootstrap. As such there will be few places where this will be needed. As previously mentioned, I've considered using the ~ operator for this.

If you encounter any other gotchas, let me know and I'll update this README.

Further reading:

  • bootstrap - the most popular HTML, CSS, and JS framework for developing responsive, mobile first projects on the web
  • capybara - helps you test web applications by simulating how a real user would interact with your app
  • react - a JavaScript library for building user interfaces
  • ruby2js - minimal yet extensible Ruby to JavaScript conversion.
  • phantomjs - a headless WebKit scriptable with a JavaScript API
  • sinatra - a DSL for quickly creating web applications in Ruby with minimal effort
  • wunderbar - easy HTML5 applications