Building a Node.js App to Generate Release Notes from Trello Cards

One of the things that I volunteered for in my job as Product Manager at Tier 3 was the creation of release notes for our regular cloud software updates. It helps me stay up to date by seeing exactly what we’re pushing out. Lately we’ve been using Trello, the sweet project collaboration from Fog Creek software, to manage our product backlog and assign activities. To construct the August 1st release notes, I spent a couple hours scrolling through Trello “cards” (the individual items that are created for each “list” of activities) and formatting an HTML output. I figured that there was a more efficient way to build this HTML output, so I quickly built a Node.js application that leverages the Trello API to generate a scaffolding of software release notes.

I initially started building this application as a C# WinForm as that’s been my default behavior for quick-and-dirty utility apps. However, after I was halfway through that exercise, I realized that I wanted a cleaner way to merge a dataset with an HTML template, and my WinForm app didn’t feel like the right solution. So, given that I had Node.js on my mind, I thought that its efficient use of templates would make for a more reusable solution. Here are the steps that I took to produce the application. You can grab the source code in my Github.

First, I created an example Trello board (this is not real data) that I could try this against.

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With that Trello board full of lists and cards, I created a new Node app that used the Express framework. Trello has a reasonably well documented API, and fortunately, there is also a Node module for Trello available. After creating an empty Express project and installing the Node module for Trello, I set out creating the views and controller necessary to collect input data and produce the desired HTML output.

To call the Trello API, you need access to the board ID, application key, and a security token. The board ID can be acquired from the browser URL. You can generate the application key by logging into Trello and visiting this URL on the Trello site. A token is acquired by crafting and then visiting a special URL and having the board owner approve the application that wants to access the board. Instead of asking the user to figure out the token part, I added a “token acquisition” helper function. The first view of the application (home.jade) collects the board ID, key and token from the user.

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If the user clicks the “generate token” hyperlink, they are presented with a Trello page that asks them to authorize the application.

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If access is allowed, then the user is given a lengthy token value to provide in the API requests. I could confirm that this application had access to my account by viewing my Trello account details page.

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After taking the generated token value and plugging it into the textbox on the first page of my Node application, I clicked the Get Lists button which posts the form to the corresponding route and controller function. In the chooselist function of the controller, I take the values provided by the user and craft the Trello URL that gets me all the lists for the chosen Trello board. I then render the list view and pass in a set of parameters that are used to draw the page.

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I render all of the board’s lists at the top. When the user selects the list that has the cards to include in the Release Notes, I set a hidden form field to the chosen list’s ID (a long GUID value) and switch the color of the “Lists” section to blue.

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At the bottom of the form, I give the user the opportunity to either group the cards (“New Features”, “Fixes”) or create a flat list by not grouping the cards. Trello cards can have labels/colors assigned to them, so you can set which color signifies bug fixes and which color is used for new features. In my example board (see above), the color red is used for bugs and the color green represents new features.

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When the Create Release Notes button is clicked, the form is posted and the destination route is handled by the controller. In the controller’s generatenotes function, I used the Trello module for Node to retrieve all the cards from the selected list, and then either (a) loop through the results (if card grouping was chosen) and return distinct objects for each group, or (b) return an object containing all the cards if the “non grouping” option was chosen. In the subsequent notes page (releasenotes.jade), which you could replace to fit your own formatting style, the cards are put into a bulleted list. In this example, since I chose to group the results, I see two sections of bulleted items and item counts for each.

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Now all I have to do is save this HTML file and pop in descriptions of each item. This should save me lots of time! I don’t claim to have written wonderful Javascript here, and I could probably use jQuery to put the first two forms on the same page, but hey, it’s a start. If you want to, fork the repo, make some improvements and issue a pull request. I’m happy to improve this based on feedback.



Categories: General Architecture, Node.js

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