Appalling Farrago

A blog about stuff

Ember Cli and Data
03 Aug 2014

I’ve been working on a breakable toy with a couple other developers and we decided to build it using ember with a rails backend. This was a perfect opportunity to try developing with ember-cli. I wanted to talk about some of the tools it provides for dealing with data and when I think you should use them.

Before we start a quick disclaimer; ember-cli is currently in heavy development, we started on version 0.39, are now on 0.40 and breaking changes are coming thick and fast. With that out of the way lets start with something native to ember.


Fixtures are ember’s solution for quick development of your application before the back end is ready. It allows us to setup fake data for each model so we can see what our application will look like with data before wiring things up.

The guides suggest attaching your fixtures to to your models using the global App variable, however, ember-cli uses E6 modules, therefore we need to reopen the class as described in this blog post .

These end up appearing in your development environment and your tests. This is not ideal, as it leads to mystery guests in your tests. It’s also not ideal for your development as there will be difficulties when it comes to wiring up to the backend. For example, the FixtureAdapter doesn’t have querying data implimented . If your app needs to query your backend (chances are it will) then you’ll be better off waiting on implementing that until the backend catches up to ensure you don’t waste time and resource.

Using fixtures is great as you can develop without having to concern yourself about how the backend will look. Fixtures are also very dangerous for this same reason. If you already have a backend then you should just wire everything up from the beginning. If you don’t, then you want your frontend to drive backend development. In this case you should use the second tool I’d like to talk about.


API-stubs are provided by ember-cli and can be very confusing as there is little documentation concerning them. You can start using api-stubs by running the generator provided by ember-cli:

ember g api-stub posts

This will create three files within a server folder, an index.js, a .jshintrc and routes/posts.js. The index can be ignored but it defines a minimal express server that ember-cli will start when you run ember server. This server will use the files you’ve defined under the routes folder to return requests. Here you can specify fake data that your backend will eventually provide. Let’s take a look at our posts file:

module.exports = function(app) {
  var express = require('express');
  var postsRouter = express.Router();
  postsRouter.get('/', function(req, res) {
  app.use('/api/posts', postsRouter);

We can update this to return our fake data:

module.exports = function(app) {
  var express = require('express');
  var postsRouter = express.Router();
  postsRouter.get('/', function(req, res) {
        {id: '1', title: 'Awesome', body: 'first post'},
        {id: '2', title: 'Wah', body: 'second post'}
  app.use('/api/posts', postsRouter);

Run ember serve and see if it works!

[~] curl http://localhost:4200/api/posts
{"posts":[{"id":"1","title":"Awesome","body":"first post"},{"id":"2","title":"Wah","body":"second post"}]}

Now we can develop our ember application while also creating robust examples of how we expect the backend to behave.

API-stubs are fantastic for driving development forward so we can understand precisely what we require from the backend before writing any code. Once completing a feature we can produce a fully developed example of how our api should act.

The small express server that delivers the api-stubs when we run ember serve does not get run when we run ember test. This is an indication from ember-cli that we are not expected to use api-stubs in our tests. This confused me at first, as I had assumed api-stubs were designed for testing. I started looking around for other solutions to testing and found one in an example app from the creators of ember-simple-auth.


Pretender is a mock server library for capturing requests and returning stubbed responses. To get pretender in you tests first install via npm install ember-cli-pretender --save. Here is a test from our diplomacy app using pretender:

`import startApp from '../helpers/start-app'`

App = null
server = null

module 'Authentication',
  setup: ->
    App = startApp()
    server = new Pretender -> '/token', (request) ->
          { "Content-Type": "application/json" }
          '{ "access_token": "access_token" }'
      this.get '/api/current_users/me', (request) ->
          { "Content-Type": "application/json" }
          '{ "current_users": {"id":"me", "email":"[email protected]", "server_id":"1"} }'

  teardown: -> App, 'destroy'

test 'visitor sucessfully signs in', ->

  visit '/login'
  fillIn 'input#identification', 'letme'
  fillIn 'input#password', 'in'
  click 'button#submit-login'

  andThen ->
    equal currentPath(), 'index'

user_sees_logout_link = ->
  equal find('#logout').length, 1

user_sees_own_email = ->
  equal find('#current-user').text().trim(), '[email protected]'

To be honest I don’t feel great that a lot of this test file concerns stubbing our requests but it does allow me to be clear about what the server is responding with for each test.


Obviously I’ll be working more with api-stubs and pretender and I’ll post more on my experience with them here. Ember-cli is still very much a work in progress but I’ve found working with it to be a joy. Although fixtures are easy to employ, I’ve found using pretender makes it far easier to test drive the application and api-stubs allows me to charge forward with code that expects a backend without having built one out.