The quick and dirty debug module

There's a great module called the debug module. I'd give you the link… but it doesn't exist. Or rather, it's not a module you download. It's a module you write yourself, and write again, over and over again.

Do you ever want to inspect the result of a method call, or the data you get back from a service, the result of a query, or the result of some other procedure, without having to wade through the steps in the UI, submit forms, and so on?

This is where the debug module comes in. It's just a single page which outputs whatever code you happen to want to poke around with at the time. On Drupal 8, that page is made with:

  • an info.yml file
  • a routing file
  • a file containing the route's callback. You could use a controller class for this, but it's easier to have the callback just be a plain old function in the module file, as there's no need to drill down a folder structure in a text editor to reach it.

(You could quickly whip this up with Module Builder!)

Here's what my router file looks like:

  path: '/joachim-debug'
    _controller: 'joachim_debug_page'
    _admin_route: TRUE
    _access: 'TRUE'

My debug module is called 'joachim_debug'; you might want to call yours something else. Here you can see we're granting access unconditionally, so that whichever user I happen to be logged in as (or none) can see the page. That's of course completely insecure, especially as we're going to output all sorts of internals. But this module is only meant to be run on your local environment and you should on no account commit it to your repository.

I don't want to worry about access, and I want the admin theme so the site theme doesn't get in the way of debug output or affect performance.

If you sometimes want to see themed output, you can add a second route with a different path, which serves up the same content but without the admin theme option:

  path: '/joachim-debug-theme'
    _controller: 'joachim_debug_page'
    _access: 'TRUE'

The module file starts off looking like this:


function joachim_debug_page() {
  $build = [
    '#markup' => “aaaaarrrgh!!!!”,

  // ============================ TEMPLATE

  return $build;

  return $build;

The commented-out section is there for me to quickly copy and paste a new section of code anytime I want to do something different. I always leave the old code in below the return, just in case I want to go back to it later on, or copy-paste snippets from it.

Back in the Drupal 6 and 7 days, the return of the callback function was merely a string. On Drupal 8, it has to be a proper render array. The return text used to be 'It's going wrong!' but these days it's the more expressive 'aaaaarrrgh'. Most of the time, the output I want will be the result of dsm() call, so the $build is there just so Drupal's routing system doesn't complain about a route callback not returning anything.

Here are some examples of the sort of code I might have in here.

  // ============================ Route provider
  $route_provider = \Drupal::service('router.route_provider');

  $path = 'node/%/edit';
  $rs = $route_provider->getRoutesByPattern($path);

  return $build;

Here I wanted to see the what the route provider service returns. (I have no idea why, this is just something I found in the very long list of old code in my module's menu callback, pushed down by newer stuff.)

  // ============================ order receipt email
  $order = entity_load('commerce_order', 3);

  $build = [
    '#theme' => 'commerce_order_receipt',
    '#order_entity' => $order,
    '#totals' => \Drupal::service('commerce_order.order_total_summary')->buildTotals($order),

  return $build;

I wanted to work with the order receipt emails that Commerce sends. But I don't want to have to make a purchase, complete and order, and then look in the mail logger just to see the email! But this is quicker: all I have to do is load up my debug module's page (mine is at the path 'joachim-debug', which is easy to remember for me; you might want to have yours somewhere else), and vavoom, there's the rendered email. I can tweak the template, change the order, and just reload the page to see the effect.

As you can see, it's quick and simple. There's no safety checks, so if you ever put code here that does something (such as an entity_delete(), it's useful for deleting entities in bulk quickly), be sure to comment out the code once you're done with it, or your next reload might blow up! And of course, it's only ever to be used on your local environment; never on shared development sites, and certainly never on production!

I once read something about how a crucial piece of functionality required for programming, and more specifically, for ease of learning to program with a language or a framework, is being able to see and understand the outcomes of the code you are writing. In Drupal 8 more than ever, being able to understand the systems you're working with is vital. There are tools such as debuggers and the Devel and Devel Contrib modules' information pages, but sometimes quick and dirty does the job too.

Regenerating plugin dependency injection with Module Builder

Dependency injection is a pattern that adds a lot of boilerplate code, but Drupal Code Builder makes it easy to add injected services to plugins, forms, and service classes.

Now that the Drupal 8 version of Module Builder (the Drupal front-end to the Drupal Code Builder library) uses an autocomplete for service names in the edit form, adding injected services is even easier, and any of the hundreds of services in your site’s codebase (443 on my local sandbox Drupal 8 site!) can be injected.

I often used this when I want to add a service to an existing plugin: re-generate the code, and copy-paste the new code I need.

This is an area in which Module Builder now outshines its Drush counterpart, because unlike the Drush front end for Drupal Code Builder, which generates code with input parameters every time, Module Builder lets you save your settings for the generated module (as a config entity).

So you can return to the plugin you generated to start with, add an extra service to it, and generate the code again. You can copy and paste, or have Module Builder write the file and then use git to revert custom code it’s removed. (The ability to insert generated code into existing files is on my list of desirable features, but is realistically a long way off, as it would be rather complex, a require the addition of a code parsing library.)

But why stop at generating code for your own modules? I recently filed an issue on Search API, suggesting that its plugins could do with tweaking to follow the standard core pattern of a static factory method and constructor, rather than rely on setters for injection. It’s not a complex change, but a lot of code churn. Then it occurred to me: Drupal Code Builder can generate that boilerplate code: simply create a module in Module Builder called ‘search_api’, and then add a plugin with the name of one that is already in Search API, and then set its injected services to the services the real plugin needs.

Drupal Code Builder already knows how to build a Search API plugin: its code analysis detects the right plugin base class and annotation to use, and also any parameters that the constructor method should pass up to the base class.

So it’s pretty quick to copy the plugin name and service names from Search API’s plugin class to the form in Module Builder, and then save and generate the code, and then copy the generated factory methods back to Search API to make a patch.

I’m now rather glad I decided to use config entities for generated entities. Originally, I did that just because it was a quick and convenient way to get storage for serialized data (and since then I discovered in other work that map fields are broken in D8 so I’m very glad I didn’t try to make then content entities!). But the ability to save the generating settings for a module, and then return to it to add to them has proved very useful.

Triggering events on the fly

As far as I know, there's nothing (yet) for triggering an arbitrary event. The complication is that every event uses a unique event class, whose constructor requires specific things passing, such as entities pertaining to the event.

Today I wanted to test the emails that Commerce sends when an order completes, and to avoid having to keep buying a product and sending it through checkout, I figured I'd mock the event object with Prophecy, mocking the methods that the OrderReceiptSubscriber calls (this is the class that does the sending of the order emails). Prophecy is a unit testing tool, but its objects can be created outside of PHPUnit quite easily.

Here's my quick code:

  $order = entity_load('commerce_order', ORDER_ID);

  $prophet = new \Prophecy\Prophet;
  $event = $prophet->prophesize('Drupal\state_machine\Event\WorkflowTransitionEvent');


  $subscriber = \Drupal::service('commerce_order.order_receipt_subscriber');


Could some sort of generic tool be created for triggering any event in Drupal? Perhaps. We could use reflection to detect the methods on the event class, but at some point we need some real data for the event listeners to do something with. Here, I needed to load a specific order entity and to know which method on the event class returns it. For another event, I'd need some completely different entities and different methods.

We could maybe detect the type that the event method return (by sniffing in the docblock... once we go full PHP 7, we could use reflection on the return type), and the present an admin UI that shows a form element for each method, allowing you to enter an entity ID or a scalar value.

Still, you'd need to look at the code you want to run, the event listener, to know which of those you'd actually want to fill in.

Would it same more time than cobbling together code like the above? Only if you multiply it by a sufficiently large number of developers, as is the case with many developer tools.

It's the sort of idea I might have tinkered with back in the days when I had time. As it is, I'm just going to throw this idea out in the open.

Drupal Code Builder unit testing: bringing in the heavy stuff

I started adding unit tests to Drupal Code Builder about 3 years ago, and I’ve been gradually expanding on them ever since. It’s made refactoring the code a pleasant rather than stressful experience.

However, while all generator types are covered, the level of detail the tests go into isn’t that deep. Back when I wrote the tests, they mostly needed to check for hook implementations that were generated, and so quick and dirty regexes on the generated code did the job: match 'mymodule_form_alter' in the generated code, basically. I gradually extended those to cover things like class declarations and methods, but that approach is very much cracking at the seams.

So it’s time to switch to something more powerful, and more suited to the task.

I’ve already removed my frankly hideous attempt at verifying that generated code is correctly-formed PHP, replacing it with a call to PHP’s own code linter. My own code was running the generated PHP code files through eval() (yes, I know!) to check nothing crashed, which was quick and worked but only up to a point: tests couldn’t create the same function twice, as eval()ing code that contains a function declaration brings it into the global namespace, and it didn’t work at all for classes where while tests were being run, as the parent classes in Drupal core or contrib aren't present.

It's already proved worthwhile, as once I'd converted the tests, I found an error in the generated code: a stray quote mark in base field definitions for a content entity, which my approach wasn't picking up, and never would have.

The second phase is going to be to use PHPCS and Drupal Coder to check that generated code follows Drupal Coding Standards. I'm currently getting that to work in my testing base class, although it might be a while before I push it, as I suspect it's going to complain about quite a few nipicks in the generated code that I'll then have to spend some time fixing.

The third phase (this is a 3-phrase programme, all the best ones are) is going to be to look into using PHP-Parser to check for the presence of functions and methods in the code, rather than my regex-based approach. This is going to allow for much more thorough checking of the generated code, with things such as method order in the code, service injection, and more.

After that, it'll be back to some more refactoring and code clean-up, and then some more code generators! I have a few ideas of what else Drupal Code Builder could generate, but more ideas are welcome in the issue queue on github.

Brief update on Drupal Code Builder

I've completely revamped the Drush commands for Drupal Code Builder:

  • First, they're now in their own project on Github
  • Second, I've rewritten them completely for Drush 9, completely interactive.
  • Third, they are now geared towards adding to existing modules, rather than generating a module as a single shot. That approach made sense in the days of Drupal 6 when it was just hook implementations, but I increasingly find I want to add a plugin, a service, a form, to a module I've already started.

The downside is that installing these is rather tricky at the moment due to some current limitations in Drush 9 beta; see details in the project README, which has full instructions for workarounds.

Now that's out of the way, I'm pushing on with some new generators for the Drupal Code Builder library itself. On my list is:

  • plugin types (as in the plugin manager service, base class and interface, and declaration for Plugins module)
  • entity type
  • entity type handlers
  • your suggestions in the issue queue...

And of course more unit tests and refactoring of the codebase.


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