GhostLab: Bringing love back to website testing

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GhostLab

Every now and then a tool gets released that completely blows me away; something so useful that I just had to buy it immediately. Today, that tool is GhostLab. GhostLab is a simple Mac application that makes synchronized testing for websites easy. If you're on a Mac and you're a web developer, this is one of those apps that you have to take a look at.

Any web developer will tell you that one of the biggest pain points in designing and developing a website is cross-browser testing. It's even more painful when you throw mobile browsers in the mix. Third-party services like BrowserStack offer great solutions to help with this but tend to be hindered a bit by a cumbersome workflow. Sometimes you just want to get in and test something quickly prior to any rigorous testing with services like BrowserStack. That's where GhostLab come in handy.

GhostLab blew me away based on three core features:

Any Site. Any Client.

When it comes to the websites you want to test, GhostLab doesn't care where it is. It can be static files sitting in a folder, a local IP or web address, or any external website. As long as you can get to it locally, GhostLab can test it. Just drag in a folder or URL and GhostLab will set it up so that you can test it. It's that easy. GhostLab has it's own built in server so all it's really doing is tunnelling all the traffic from whatever site your testing through it's own server. By doing so, GhostLab is able to bypass any of the complexity surrounding most workflows when it comes to cross-browser testing. It even works with virtual machines and emulators. As long as the browser you're on can access the GhostLab server then you're good to go!

Synchronized Testing

Imagine being able to open a website within multiple browsers and have it detect scrolling, clicks, reloads, and form inputs from no matter which browser instance you're using. Yep! GhostLab does it! I use CodeKit when developing sites and whenever I make changes to my code CodeKit will automatically refresh my browser window for me. What's neat about this is refreshing that window will also refresh any other browser that's running the same GhostLab site. That's a nice little bump in my productivity.

Another useful feature is the Workspace feature. Usually when I'm testing my code for a responsive design, the chrome and buttons in my browser get in the way of viewing how a site might look at a given screen size. With GhostLab, I can fire off an Open Workspace command and the site will open up into three different chromeless windows sized at three different mobile breakpoints. Very, very handy! Only thing I haven't been able to figure out is how to create and/or update a workspace.

Inspection

This is the killer feature for sure! I can't tell you how annoying it is not having proper inspectors in Internet Explorer much less the absence of them in mobile browsers. GhostLab solves this by utilizing weinre, an open-source remote debugger. I looked at weinre in the past and thought about adopting in but getting it to work was a royal pain. With GhostLab, weinre is built right in so no setup or configuration required. This gives you a Webkit-like inspector for any browser. I personally hate the web inspector in Internet Explorer and prefer the Webkit inspector so having this feature available is a huge time saver for me!

I typically test using a few different virtual machines. I have a couple of Windows VM's for testing different versions of Internet Explorer and other Windows-based browsers. I have the iOS Simulator that I use to test iOS devices. And I have the Android SDK for testing Android-based tablets and phones. Usually, I have to test each of these one at a time and, without inspector abilities or synchronize testing, the process of debugging can be tedious at best. With GhostLab in the mix though, the workflow couldn't be any easier! Not only do I have the power or synchronized testing but full inspection and console access to boot! I'll likely still use BrowserStack for more thorough testing but for a basic testing workflow I don't think you can beat GhostLab. Check it out!