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Patrick Schönfeld
Patrick Schönfeld

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Testing javascript in a dockerized rails application with rspec-rails

The other day I wanted to add support for tests of javascript functionality in a (dockerized) rails application using rspec-rails.

Since rails 5.1 includes system tests with niceties like automatically taking a screenshot on failed tests, I hoped for a way to benefit from this
features without changing to a different test framework. Lucky me - only recently the authors of rspec-rails added support for so-called system specs. There is not much documentation so far (but there are a lot of useful information in the corresponding bug report #1838 and a friendly guy named Thomas Walpole (@twalpole) is helpfully answering to questions in that issue).

To make things a little bit more complicated: the application in question is usually running in a docker container and thus the tests of the application are also run in a docker container. I didn’t want to change this, so here is what it took me to get this running.


Let’s see what we want to achieve exactly: From a technical point of view, we will have the application under test (AUT) and the tests in one container (let’s call it: web) and we will need another container running a javascript-capable browser (let’s call it: chrome).

Thus we need the tests to drive a remote running browser (at least when running in a docker environment) which needs to access the application under a different address than usually. Namely an address reachable by the chrome-container, since it will not be reachable via as is (rightfully) assumed by default.

If we want Warden authentication stubbing to work (as we do, since our application uses Devise) and transactional fixtures as well (e.g. rails handling database cleanup between tests without database_cleaner gem) we also need to ensure that the application server is being started by the tests and the tests are actually run against that server. Otherwise we might run into problems.

Getting the containers ready

Assuming you already have a container setup (and are using docker-compose like we do) there is not that much to change on the docker front. Basically you need to add a new service called chrome and point it to an appropriate image and add a link to it in your existing web-container.

I’ve decided to use standalone-chrome for the browser part, for which there are docker images provided by the selenium project (they also have images for other browsers). Kudos for that.

    image: selenium/standalone-chrome
      - chrome
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The link ensures that the chrome instance is available before we run the tests and that the the web-container is able to resolve the name of this container. Unfortunately this is not true for the other way round, so we need some magic in our test code to find out the ip-address of the web-container. More to this later.

Other than that, you probably want to configure a volume for you to be able to access the screenshots, which get saved to tmp/screenshots
in the application directory.

Preparing the application for running system tests

There is a bit more to do on the application side. The steps are roughly:

  1. Add necessary depends / version constraints
  2. Register a driver for the remote chrome
  3. Configure capybara to use the appropriate host for your tests (and your configured driver)
  4. Add actual tests with type: :system and js: true

Let's walk them through.

Add necessary depends

What we need is the following:

  • rspec-rails version >= 3.7.1
  • rails itself > 5.1.4 (unreleased at time of writing)
  • capybara and capybara-selenium

The required features are already part of 3.7.0, but this version is the version I used and it contains a bugfix, which may or may not be relevant.

One comment about the rails version: for the tests to properly work it's viable to have puma use certain settings. In rails 5.1.4 (the version released, at time of writing this) uses the settings from config/puma.rb which most likely collides with the necessary settings. You can ensure these settings yourself or use rails from branch 5-1-stable which includes this change. I decided for the latter and pinned my Gemfile to the then current commit.

Register a driver for the remote chrome

To register the required driver, you'll have to add some lines to your rails_helper.rb:

  selenium_url =

  Capybara.register_driver :selenium_remote do |app|,
        {:url => selenium_url, :browser => :remote, desired_capabilities: :chrome})
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Note that I added those lines conditionally (since I still want to be able to use a local chrome via chromedriver) if an environment variable DOCKER is set. We defined that environment variable in our Dockerfile and thus you might need to adapt this to your case.

Also note that the selenium_url is hard-coded. You could very well take a different approach, e.g. using an externally specified SELENIUM_URL, but ultimately the requirement is that the driver needs to know that the chrome instance is running on host chrome, port 4444 (the containers default).

Configure capybara to use the appropriate host and driver

The next step is to ensure that javascript-requiring system tests are actually run with the given driver and use the right host. To achieve that we need to add a before-hook to the corresponding tests ... or we can configure rspec accordingly to always include such a hook by modifying the rspec-configuration in rails_helper.rb like this:

RSpec.configure do |config|
  config.before(:each, type: :system, js: true) do
    if ENV['DOCKER']
      driven_by :selenium_remote
      ip = Socket.ip_address_list.detect{|addr| addr.ipv4_private? }.ip_address
      host! "http://#{ip}:#{Capybara.server_port}"
      driven_by :headless_chrome
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Note the part with the ip-address: it tries to find an IPv4 private address for the web-container (the container running the tests) to ensure the chrome-container uses this address to access the application. The Capybara.server_port is important here, since it will correspond to the puma instance launched by the tests.

That heuristic (first ipv4 private address) works for us at the moment, but it might not work for you. It is basically a workaround to the fact that I couldn't get web resolvable in the chrome container - which may be fixable on the docker side, but I was to lazy to further investigate that.

If you change it: Just make sure the host! method uses an URI pointing to an address of the web-container that is reachable to the chrome-container.

Define tests with type: :system and js: true

Last but certainly not least, you need actual tests of the required type and with or without js: true. This can be achieved by creating tests files starting like this:

RSpec.feature "Foobar", type: :system, js: true do
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Since the new rspec-style system tests are based on the feature-specs which used to be around previously, the rest of the tests is exactly like it is described for feature specs.

Run the tests

To run the tests a commandline like the following should do:

docker-compose run web rspec
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It won't make a big noise about running the tests against chrome, unless something fails. In that case you'll see a message telling you where the screenshot has been placed.


Below I add some hints about problems I've seen during configuring that:

Test failing, screenshot shows login screen

In that case puma might be configured wrongly or you are not using transactional fixtures. See the hints above about the rails version to use which also includes some pointers to helpful explanations.

Note that rspec-rails by default does not output the puma startup output as it clutters the tests. For debugging purposes it might be helpful to change that by adding the following line to your tests:

ActionDispatch::SystemTesting::Server.silence_puma = false
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Error message: „Unable to find chromedriver ... “

This indicates that your driver is not configured properly, because the default for system tests is to be driven_by selenium, which tries to spawn an own chrome instance and is suitable for non-dockerized tests.

Check if your tests are marked as js: true (if you followed the instructions above) and that you properly added the before-hook to your rspec-configuration.

Collisions with VCR

If you happen to have tests that make use of the vcr gem you might see it complaining about not knowing what to do with the requests between the driver and the chrome instance. You can fix this, by telling VCR to ignore that requests, by adding a line where you configured VCR:

VCR.configure do |config|
  # required so we don't collide with capybara tests
  config.ignore_hosts 'chrome'
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Top comments (5)

tensho profile image
Andrew Babichev

Hi Patrick, could you please highlight the issue with Warden you mentioned at the beginning of the article? I have a problem all my AJAX requests from Angular to Rails become unauthorize (401) after the switch from PhantomJS to Selenium + Chrome Headless (in Docker). Seems like login_as(user) stubs authentication only for the first request and has crystal clear session for the subsequent one.

aptituz profile image
Patrick Schönfeld • Edited

I am sorry. But after all that time, I cannot tell you any more then what‘s written in the post and the links.

I think the warden problem was either related to the driven_by configuration (you mention selenium and as far as I recall this is not suitable because it tries to spawn an own chrome instance instead of driving the previously started) or to a bug that might have been resolved in the gem versions I used in my setup.

Best Regards,

mottalrd profile image
Alfredo Motta

Hi Patrick, I also stumbled upon the same problem before rails system tests came out and I wrote about it here!

aptituz profile image
Patrick Schönfeld

Thanks for the post and pointing it out! :)

I didn't find your post on my own research - would have saved me some work. I only found a few other posts about certain aspects that at least helped find and connect the pieces. Basically I wrote the post because of that.

Reading your post I see that you used firefox as the browser and your process is otherwise very similar. I would suggest, though, to get rid of the shell-out for the application-container-address. ;)

mottalrd profile image
Alfredo Motta

thanks, I'll update it!