Dropbox Express with ECMAScript 6+
Part 4: Introducing the Dropbox API.

May 25 2015.

This is how I built a simple server-side JavaScript app on top of the Dropbox API, using Express.js, ECMAScript 6 (and one thing I hope will be in ES 7), and Zombie.js for testing. It was my first time using any of these things (except JavaScript, natch), so there are probably better ways to do some of it. Let me know!

In part 3, we wrote the simplest Express app I could think of. Now, let's write the simplest Express app I can think of that uses the Dropbox API. All it will do is count the number of files in a folder.

An app test.

In test/acceptance_test.js, change what the it block tests:

  it('displays information about the Dropbox folder', function() {
    this.browser.assert.text('body', /Files found: 0/i);
  });

That's it for the test! We'll come back later and complicate it, but for now, we just need the app to report that an empty folder is empty.

A test app.

To use the Dropbox API, we need to register an app with Dropbox. Go to the Dropbox App Console and click the "Create App" button. Create a Dropbox API app, limited to its own folder. Call it whatever you like; I called mine "journal dev," because I knew what kind of app I was going to write.

Configuration.

We're not going to do proper authentication with OAuth 2. I couldn't get Zombie, or any other testing tool I tried, to make it through the Dropbox login process, and eventually I decided I didn't need it for my own purposes. Instead, you'll generate an access token that your own app can use to access your own files.

When you created an app just now, you ended up on a settings page for the new app. Under the heading "Generated access token," click the "Generate" button to generate your token. We'll use that token to configure the app.

One way to do that would be to hard-code the token in our source code, but this is both insecure and inflexible. Another approach, used in hosting environments such as Heroku, is to store it in an environment variable, but this can be a pain during development. The dotenv package lets you simulate environment variables by storing them in a file called .env. To install it:

npm install --save dotenv
git ignore .env

In general, you shouldn't check your security credentials into git, so we told git to ignore the .env file. Now let's create it, filling in your access token from the settings page:

DROPBOX_AUTH_TOKEN=Y0urL0ng&My5t3r10u5Acc355T0k3nG03sH3r3

And add a line at the top of test/acceptance_test.js to get this configuration loaded:

require('dotenv').load();

Now we can use the Dropbox token in our Express application.

Application code.

Most of app.js needs to change. Here's the new code:

const express = require('express'),
  Dropbox = require('dropbox');

// Initialize a Dropbox client.
const client = new Dropbox.Client({
  // Get auth token from `.env` or environment variables.
  token: process.env.DROPBOX_AUTH_TOKEN
});

// Create an Express application.
const app = express();

// When a browser requests `/`, count the files in the Dropbox folder.
app.get('/', (req, res) => {
  // Ask Dropbox for a list of files in the app folder.
  client.readdir('/', (error, entries) => {
    // We get either `error` or `entries` depending on whether
    // reading the directory worked.
    if (error) {
      // Failure! Tell the user of our disgrace.
      console.log(error);
      return res.send(error.response.error);
    }

    // Success! Tell the user what we've learned.
    res.send(`Files found: ${entries.length}`);
  });
});

module.exports = app;

client.readdir is an asynchronous method, because that's how JavaScript rolls: it returns immediately, but it doesn't return anything useful. Instead, it goes off and requests information from Dropbox, and when Dropbox responds, readdir calls the callback function that we provided, supplying it with either an error or a list of entries. Our callback then reports the results to the browser.

We need to install the Dropbox package (created, but not officially supported, by Dropbox):

npm install --save dropbox

Run npm test. It passes! Our folder is empty!

We can't actually try it in the browser yet, because our development server (index.js) doesn't load the dotenv configuration. In part 5, we'll fix that, discover some gotchas, and write a better test.

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