Working on Buttondown — or any mature, complex codebase — effectively and quickly requires a lot of tacit knowledge that I've done a hitherto-poor job of documenting, a fact I am learning more and more quickly as I start to scale up the number of folks working on the codebase.

Documentation in the literal sense is a good first step and final step, of course, but when a codebase is in the "process" of being documented writing down "this is how you do X" does often not actually solve the problem of making sure everyone can do X safely and quickly.

One thing that I've found useful, in the spirit of shifting process to the left, is capturing steps in tests. Here's a simple (but real!) example: adding new Django modules to the codebase. Whenever you run python startapp, you also need to add the new app to a bunch of different places:

The perfect solution to this problem is creating a script that automatically adds a new app to all the relevant places and stuffing it into a Justfile, but that's a pretty big piece of work that requires thought and error handling and a whole slew of other stuff. Instead, it's comparatively easy to just capture these constraints in a test:

# This test suite ensures that, when we create or rename a module,
# we update all the relevant configurations so that we lint/test/etc. that module.
from django.conf import settings

RELEVANT_FILES = ["./pyproject.toml", "./pytest.ini", "./modules.txt"]

def pytest_generate_tests(metafunc):
    parameters = []
    for filename in RELEVANT_FILES:
        for module in settings.BUTTONDOWN_APPS:
            parameters.append((module, filename))
    metafunc.parametrize("module,filename", parameters)

def test_module_is_present_in_pytest(module: str, filename: str) -> None:
    assert module in open(filename).read()

This approach also works well when you're trying to enforce a norm or invariant for all new code. (At Stripe, we called this approach "ratchet testing", though initial Googling seems to indicate that this metaphor has not exactly spread like wildfire.)

Another example: Buttondown uses Django-Ninja to generate an OpenAPI spec from the live API. OpenAPI is great, but it sadly lacks an ergonomic ability to document each value of an enum, so we maintain a separate enums.json file that needs to be updated whenever a relevant enum has a new addition — even though some enum values are undocumented!

A similar approach works well here:

import json

ENUMS_FILENAME = "../shared/enums.json"
OPENAPI_SPEC_FILENAME = "assets/autogen/openapi.json"

RAW_ENUMS = json.load(open(ENUMS_FILENAME))

def pytest_generate_tests(metafunc):
    parameters = []
    enums = RAW_ENUMS.keys()
    for enum_name in enums:
        extant_enum_values = RAW_OPENAPI_SPEC["components"]["schemas"][enum_name][
        for enum_value in extant_enum_values:
            parameters.append((enum_name, enum_value))
    metafunc.parametrize("enum_name,enum_value", parameters)

# Do not add more items to this ratchet unless you need to!
    ("CreateSubscriberErrorCode", "metadata_invalid"),
    ("ExternalFeedAutomationCadence", "daily"),
    ("UpdateSubscriberErrorCode", "email_already_exists"),
    # ... and so on.

# This technically does not exercise Python code; it's testing that `shared/enums.json` is up to date.
def test_enum_is_exhaustively_documented(enum_name: str, enum_value: str) -> None:
    assert (
        enum_name in RAW_ENUMS
    ), f"Enum {enum_name} is not documented in {ENUMS_FILENAME}"
    if (enum_name, enum_value) in KNOWN_MISSING_PAIRS:
    assert (
        enum_value in RAW_ENUMS[enum_name]
    ), f"Potential value {enum_value} of enum {enum_name} is not documented in {ENUMS_FILENAME}"

What I find most lovely about this approach is that test-driven invariants are self-documenting. A task like "adding a new value to an existing enum" is not obviously a thing that should require searching an internal knowledge base, but a test that captures information about it can contain code pointers, technical explanation, and a way to fix it.

In general, a good mental exercise whenever you're reviewing a PR is "could a test have caught this?", and then reminding yourself that a test should be defined less as "a thing that exercises business logic" and more as a "script that exercises your codebase".

Lightning bolt
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