Mocking a server for Backbone applications with Sinon.JS


It's not always clear how a Backbone application will interact with a server during the early stages of it's development process. If you are a front-end oriented developer, you might take the "resource" aspect of an application for granted, leaving the server/api interaction in your application to be implemented last. A more optimal development process would take the persistence functionality into account from the start.

However, it may not always be feasible to serve actual requests to your application. You may be working in a sandboxed environment with no access to a server. Or installing the server on your local machine might be excessive or impractical, and spinning up an actual server instance costs money you would rather not spend. Maybe the iteration process (make changes and restart) of tweaking the server takes too long, and your API is constantly changing and uncertain.

One solution is to create a mock server in JavaScript. The rest of this post details how to do so using Sinon.JS. The examples are in CoffeeScript (sorry, purists.)

Sinon.JS is a standalone library that provides test spies, stubs, and mocks. Except in this case, we aren't going to use it in a typical testing environment (such as Mocha or Jasmine.) Sinon.JS provides a fake server that acts exactly like a real server would to your Backbone app.

Lets say we have a model and a collection:

class WidgetModel extends Backbone.Model

class WidgetsCollection extends Backbone.Collection

  model: WidgetModel

  url: '/api/widgets'

Per the Backbone CRUD mappings, fetching the WidgetsCollection would make a GET request to /api/widgets. A specific model could be retrieved from /api/widgets/[id], and a model could be created by POSTing to /api/widgets.

Let's make a fake database with some nested objects:

database = {
  widgets: [
      id: 0
      foo: 'bar'
      id: 1

Yeah, not exactly big data. Now we can create a fake server with Sinon.JS that uses this data to respond to requests:

server = sinon.fakeServer.create()
server.autoRespond = true
server.autoRespondAfter = 400

I set the autoRespond flag so that when the server receives a request, it will automatically respond. Otherwise you have to run server.respond() after every request you make (like a WidgetCollection.fetch(), for example.) I also added a delay, which forces you to face the fact that things happen asynchronously in your web application.

Now, to make the server to respond to a GET on the collection, we can do this:

server.respondWith('GET', '/api/widgets',
    {'Content-Type': 'application/json'}

Creating a new model on your fake server requires a little more:

server.respondWith('POST', '/api/widgets', (request) ->
  widget = JSON.parse(request.requestBody) = (new Date()).getTime()  # Ghetto id creation


    {'Content-Type': 'application/json'},

Models created by Backbone don't have IDs, only a "client" id (cid.) Syncing a model with the server for the first time should create an ID, so that's what (new Date()).getTime() is doing. Hopefully your real server has a better process for assigning IDs :)

Sinon.JS' fake server is a high level API for manipulating the FakeXMLHTTPRequest interface it provides, so there's a lot more flexibility if you need it. Additionally the server has a bunch of other options, like support for regular expressions in routes (this is how to would implement a response to a /api/widgets/[id] POST.)

More information is available at the Sinon.JS docs. Happy mocking!