Alpha Testing

Josh David Miller edited this page May 9, 2014 · 13 revisions

Becoming an Alpha Tester

Welcome! If you're reading this page, you've heard about Warlock and want to give it a try. Fantastic! This page will guide you through some core concepts, installation, and usage. After reading this page, you should be up and running with the latest alpha of Warlock!

However, before we begin, let me try to talk you out of it.

Are you sure?

As many of you will know, Warlock is based on ngbp, but it is a complete rewrite that no longer uses Grunt. The idea is to have a generic, flexible build system that can support any kind of structure or process, but using a "convention over configuration" philosophy to encourage the best practices found in the current version of ngbp. AngularJS, SASS, LESS, CoffeeScript, and their kin are plugins to this core build system. In many ways, Warlock is like Grunt, Gulp, and Yeoman - but on steroids.

As it is written completely from scratch, Warlock is still very incomplete. It is capable of building code, but there are some bells and whistles from the current ngbp that are incomplete (such as watching for changes) and some that are missing entirely (such as unit testing). We'll get there, but so far it's just me in my spare time; I have found it more difficult to find contributors for Warlock than ngbp due to my own time constraints and because the Warlock engine uses Node streams (similar to Gulp) and the concepts used in the backend can be a little confusing at first. I mention all of this to say that it's currently in active development, the API's changing quite a bit day-to-day, and there's no documentation (except this page).

If you're feeling adventurous, keep reading. Make no mistake, however, that Warlock certainly has bugs and missing features. I take no responsibility for the storm of wild ostriches that may seize your home or office to swallow up the code you try process with Warlock. It will be buggy.

Warlock 101

You've decided to keep reading - woo! Warlock certainly needs testers. Before we begin, let's talk about what Warlock is.

The goal of the project is to create a generic, flexible build system that can support any kind of structure or process, but using a "convention over configuration" philosophy to encourage best practices. As such, Warlock is a strong departure from ngbp. Warlock is a build system that a project that looks like ngbp could use; that is, version 0.4 of ngbp will use Warlock instead of Grunt.

Warlock is very high-level; Unlike Grunt or Gulp, getting started requires no configuration whatsoever - there is no Gruntfile to write - and unlike Yeoman, Warlock doesn't output one either. Because it emphasizes convention and best practices, configuration need only occur when one wants to deviate from the norm. As you'll see later in this guide, said configuration is very straightforward.

Warlock should save developers time.

Since web applications follow predictable patterns, any reasonable build tool should already know about them. We shouldn't have to describe to our build tool what a web app is every time we create one. This was the initial motivation for creating ngbp, but we quickly started running into trouble. While they all look the same, different projects use different helpers: some use straight CSS, while others use SASS, LESS, or [Myth][myth]; some use straight JavaScript, while others use CoffeeScript or TypeScript; some use HTML, others Jade. Including all of these into a boilerplate quickly creates a very complex build process that is difficult to change or upgrade that leads to a lot of cruft. Instead of helping to save time and effort, the boilerplate becomes a kludge. There should be a way to specify what features we want on the fly, enabling and disabling them as we need to, and the build tool should "just know" how to handle them - because web apps follow predictable patterns.

So we need an intelligent tool that understands what we're trying to do and will, for the vast majority of cases, just do it.


A "flow" is a path through which some form of data traverses during your build; in a web application, there are flows for JavaScript, CSS, HTML, and assets. Flows are in turn comprised of a series of steps. The JavaScript flow follows these steps:

  1. Read in files from disk based on glob pattern.
  2. Lint each to ensure they follow our project's convention.
  3. Concatenate the files into one file.
  4. Minify the file to reduce file size.
  5. Write the file back to disk based on the project's target.

The steps above are a little oversimplified and make no distinction between build and compile tasks, but should show what counts as a step. Steps (technically streams) are like tasks in Grunt and streams in Gulp, except that they are handled automatically by Warlock. Everything is completely configurable, but the core philosophy of Warlock is that out of the box everything needed to manage a client-side web application based on accepted best practices should "just work" - no Gruntfile needed.

A project can contain any number of flows, which originate either from plugins (called "spells") or from the user. Creating these is straightforward, but beyond the scope of this document.

Enhancing the Core with Spells

As I said, "spells" is just a fancy name for "plugins" to fit the theme. They are analogous to Grunt or Gulp tasks and in many ways to Yeoman generators (less scaffolding - for now), but the key difference is that they work out of the box with no configuration. Using npm install warlock-spell-coffeescript will do everything necessary so that CoffeeScript files are automatically linted, compiled, and then treated like your other JavaScript files. The concept works similarly with LESS, SASS, Jade, and anything else that your project may want to handle a certain way.

This works by building on a base. The flows discussed in the previous section are part of the webapp spell and define everything necessary to manage a standard client-side web application. Spells like coffeescript can be used to augment the base with additional functionality. Here's a diagram that may help to show this:

Warlock Flows and Spells Concepts

As you can see from the diagram, flows can exist on their own, starting and ending on the file system, or they can be merged into other flows. For example, once CoffeeScript files are linted and compiled, they are no different than any other JavaScript source file in our project, so we add them to the JavaScript flow at the point that makes the most sense - and then the CoffeeScript flow is done because that the files started out as CoffeeScript no longer matters. This is possible because regardless how they start, web applications have a finite number of types at the end of the build.

The internals of spells are mostly straightforward, but are beyond the scope of this quick guide. If you're curious what's going on behind the scenes, check out the base webapp and then see how the coffeescript adds to it. There are other spells too.

Getting Started

Now that you have some idea of what Warlock is and does, let's give it a spin.

Warlock is available through NPM and, following the pattern of Grunt and Gulp, has a command-line tool you should install (use sudo if you're on Linux):

$ npm install -g warlock-cli

Now let's check out one of the examples. As virtually all readers of this guide will be coming from ngbp, let's use that example:

$ git clone -b warlock example-angular
$ cd example-angular
$ npm install
$ bower install

You'll now have the application all ready to go; let's dive into some detail. Here's how it currently looks:

|-- node_modules/
|-- src/
|   |-- app/
|   |   |-- home/
|   |   |   |-- home.js
|   |   |   |-- home.css
|   |   |   |-- home.tpl.html
|   |   |-- about/
|   |   |   |-- about.js
|   |   |   |-- about.tpl.html
|   |   |-- app.js
|   |   |-- app.css
|   |   |-- app.spec.js
|   |-- assets/
|   |-- index.html
|-- vendor/
|-- bower.json
|-- package.json
|-- warlock.json

This structure isn't new to ngbp users, though there are a few subtle (and mostly irrelevant) changes. The real difference is that there is no Gruntfile.js and no build.config.js. Formerly, these two files were the engine behind ngbp. Now, that engine and its power are hidden away in its NPM dependencies. If you take a look at its package.json file, you will see it depends on warlock-spell-angular, which also brings in warlock and warlock-spell-webapp as peer dependencies. warlock is the core build engine, warlock-spell-webapp provides basic support for managing client-side web applications, and warlock-spell-angular adds support for AngularJS to said web apps.

The best practice conventions come from these NPM packages, while any overrides go in warlock.json:

  "globs": {
    "vendor": {
      "js": [

It is indeed quite short as the defaults should suffice in most cases. Here, we want to include a vendor JavaScript file that is particular to our application and so instruct Warlock to pick it up when it processes the vendor files. (Unfortunately, most of these configuration points, while functional, are not documented yet.)

The configuration brevity is due to another goal of Warlock: it should get out of our way. This repository has very few files that are not part of our application. A key advantage of this approach is that you can update Warlock simply by running npm update - no more merging configs and juggling grunt files. This alone is a great victory.

Well, what are we waiting for? Let's build this mo-fo! Simply run:

$ warlock

Voila! You will then have "build" and "bin" directories just like with the current ngbp. Inside, you will find your built app, with index.html runnable right from your local machine - no server required. Magic!

Now let's say we want to add CoffeeScript support to our app. We just install the spell for it:

$ npm install --save warlock-spell-coffeescript

That's it! CoffeeScript will now be handled appropriately. To test it, delete src/app/app.js and replace it with a src/app/ file containing this:

mod = angular.module 'ngBoilerplate', [

mod.config ( $stateProvider, $urlRouterProvider ) ->
  $urlRouterProvider.otherwise '/home'

mod.controller 'AppCtrl', ( $scope, $location ) ->
  $scope.$on '$stateChangeSuccess', ( event, toState ) ->
      $scope.pageTitle = '#{} | ngBoilerplate'

And now run the warlock command again and then open build/index.html in your browser. Everything still works - the CoffeeScript is processed and compiled right alongside the JavaScript. Boom! You could follow the same procedure to add support for LESS or SASS - just check out the other spells.

That should be enough of a trial run to get some initial feedback. If you want to explore a little bit, try warlock --help to see the additional options; not all are implemented just yet.

Have fun! And beware the ostriches.

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