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Ask Izzy


Dependency Status

If you're working on this codebase, some understanding of the following will help:

  • Node/npm
  • webpack
  • React
  • jsx (inline templating)
  • babel (es6 transpiler)
  • flow typesystem
  • mocha (unit testing)
  • yadda (BDD testing)

Getting the code

git clone
cd ask-izzy
npm install
bower install

Running the dev server

You will need API keys for ISS and Google.

ISS_URL=... GOOGLE_API_KEY=... ./script/dev-server

Dealing with HTTP and browsers

Ask Izzy is a fully static site in production (see conf/nginx.conf for the rewrite rules that make this work - there is duplicated logic from routes.js).

Pages which do not require ISS data are pre-generated and generally work without javascript. See HtmlDocument.js, server/render-static.js (prod) and server/render.js (dev).

Once the page JS loads:

  • React attaches the react-router component to the document
  • react-router looks at the page url to decide which components to render (see routes.js)
  • component 'mount' hooks fire and start fetching data from ISS
  • components build a model of the DOM they expect (in render)
  • the page is updated with any differences between the expected DOM and actual DOM (usually none)
  • once any async data arrives from ISS, the page is updated again

Ask Izzy Routes

Here are the explict paths that AskIzzy supports:






Examples for routes terms are given below:

<service-id> e.g. 820532-infoxchange
<personalise-path> e.g. personalise/, personalise/summary, personalise/page/location
<category-name> e.g. housing, food, money-help
<suburb> e.g. Melbourne, Richmond, Run-O-Waters
<state> e.g. VIC, NSW, Victoria
<static-pages> e.g. about, homeless-shelters

Note: Ask Izzy categories or static pages must NEVER be named "search", "static", "session", "service", "category" or "in".

Building HTML pages

See server/render-static.js

Building JS and CSS

Ask Izzy uses Webpack to organize building JS / CSS.

Webpack configuration is very powerful but unfortunately quite complex. The current configuration compiles javascript files using babel (for JSX and flow) and CSS files using sass, then writes the result to public/static/main-<MD5>.<css|js>. The file server/webpack-stats.json is also generated, so that our code can find the path to the files.

By convention, we have one SCSS and one JS file per react component. Each component renders an element with a class equal to the name of the component. This class is used in the SCSS file to avoid rules applying to the wrong component. script/generate-component-index is required to be manually run each time you introduce a new react component.

Javascript features

The babel compiler and polyfill allows us to use advanced features which are not yet available in all browsers.

Promises, async and await

We've used async and await extensively in Ask Izzy. Under the hood these are syntactic sugar for promises (which are well documented online).

Any function defined as async function foo() will have its return value converted to a promise (any exception will result in a promise error and the result is the promise result).

Within an async function, you can use [my variable] = await [a promise] which will pause the function until the given promise resolves to a value or an error. If it's a value it's returned, if the promise has an error an exception is raised.

Promises are part of the JS standard and are supported natively in every browser except IE (where they are polyfilled), but async and await are not yet standardized (see for the in-progress standard)

Type system (flowtype)

Flow is configured using the .flowconfig file.

All JS files in the repo either start with /* @flow */ if they are typechecked or /* flow:disable */ if they are not.

You can run flow on its own using ./node_modules/.bin/flow. It's also run as part of the precommit hooks and in CI.

Libraries which aren't part of the code have type definitions in the interfaces directory.

Search query generation

When a ResultsPage is added to the page, it builds a query by calling issParams which iterates through personalisationComponents (inherited from BaseCategoriesPage) and calls getSearch to build up a search object which is passed to search in iss.js.

For category pages, BaseCategoriesPage checks constants/categories.js to get the list of personalisation components.

If any personalisation component has not been answered, it will return null from getSearch, and the ResultsPage will redirect to the personalisation page to answer the question.

The whole personalisation space is a twisty mess of side effects and inheritance. Changes which fit into the existing model are super easy but I would be very careful testing any changes to the control code.

The question classes mostly derive from BaseQuestion or BaseMultiQuestion.

Google services


All google analytics events are sent by calling the push method in google-tag-manager.js.


We use the react-google-maps component to handle the maps integration.

The removeOutliers method in ResultsMap.js was implemented because results sometimes include e.g. a hotline which is headquartered hundreds of km away. removeOutliers is reasonably well commented and tested (see ResultsMapTest.js) but it is quite complex.

Directions / travel times

We use the google directions matrix API to fetch transit / walking times. See maps.js for the implementation, called from iss.js

Places autocomplete

We use the google places API to autocomplete place names. See locationSuggestions.js for implementation.

This approach means that we frequently have bugs where a location is known to google but not ISS. The obvious fix would be to use ISS as the source of location autocomplete data.

Outstanding issues

The search implementation attempts to build a free-text query. This is fundamentally not really a workable approach but for organisational and technical reasons it's very difficult to make changes to ISS3 which serves the queries.


All tests live in the test toplevel directory.

Unit tests live in test/unit and are invoked from test/unit.js. They use mocha. BDD features live in test/features with step definitions in test/steps invoked from test/feature.js. They use yadda. Maps features live in test/maps with step definitions in test/steps invoked from test/maps.js. They use yadda. Personalisation features live in test/personalisation with step definitions in test/steps invoked from test/personlisation.js. They use yadda. Search features live in test/search with step definitions in test/search-steps invoked from test/search.js. They use yadda.

Forklift / docker

The dockerfile can run the tests but there's currently no development server in (should be easy to fix but I don't use docker locally).

If you're using forklift then you can add a config file ~/.config/forklift/ask-izzy.yaml:

    ISS_URL: ...
    # ISS_URL: http://localhost:5000

And run:

forklift -- ./script/dev-server

There's also a mock ISS server available as ./script/mock-iss. This will start a server on localhost:5000.

Adding new icons

  • Add your icon to
  • Clone the designs repo. e.g. git clone ~/git/designs
  • The Iconify script requires babel, install by running sudo npm install -g babel-cli
  • Run .script/iconify <path_to_cloned_designs_repo>. e.g. ./script/iconify ~/git/designs/icons/*.svg

The icons/index.js file will be updated, and a new js file for the icon will be generated in /icons.


Link up the git hooks:

ln -s ../.githooks .git/hooks

Add the git merge strategies to .git/config:

    path = ../.gitmerge/strategies

Run the linters:


Running the tests:


Pass SELENIUM_BROWSER=firefox|phantomjs|chrome to choose a browser to run the feature tests with (default is firefox)

You can pass BROWSER_LOGS=yes to dump logs from the browser. Be aware not all browsers support this.

If you have issues running tests on Ubuntu, follow the steps here:

Then use Chrome as the selenium browser to run the tests.

If you're using a virtual machine open a terminal in the VM to run them.


Bits of the repo setup were based on @ 413c6533ae23 under the MIT licence